Two Eds are better than one

by David Talbot

As Gordon Brown succumbed to the inevitable late on that May evening – with an emotional and dignified statement to end his tumultuous premiership – the final chapter of New Labour was being written. A project that had started in earnest in the mid 1990s had met a sorry end. Achieving a meagre 29% of the vote would make Michael Foot blush, but as the former prime minster left number 10 for the last time, two young loyal lieutenants that had served the party since the early 1990s slipped into opposition determined to bring Labour back to the cusp of power.

The howl of indignation across vast swathes of the press and the Blairite bastions at the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader was an object lesson in frustrated establishment entitlement. His election was not ordained, the media had thrown its weight behind his brother, David, as the continuity candidate – and so had the New Labour hierarchy.

It didn’t take long for the repercussions to start, the Murdoch press predicted imminent disaster, the ever buffoonish Sun labeled him ‘Red Ed’ and disgruntled former ministers began spitting poison around the Manchester conference bars.

The very fact that Ed Miliband won was due in part because he caught a wave of opinion and optimism within the labour movement that was determined to see the party move on from New Labour and its discredited agenda of triangulation, authoritarianism and penchant for privatisation. Miliband offered a new vision and, even in these early stages, there can be no serious doubt that he represents a real and significant shift beyond New Labour politics. The danger is not this breach of the old order, but that the diehard Blairites, who apparently have no clue why Labour lost 5 million votes, continue to snipe and undermine the new leadership.

From his impassioned statement on the imperative of intervening in Libya, to his feisty and assured performance in response to the budget, Miliband has shown little of the scars from the brutal reception to his leadership. He won despite the media, and it shows. By November 2010, merely a month into his leadership, he was facing a diatribe of abuse from the Conservatives and their allies in the press.

The Tories had hoped that this onslaught and the loss of 91 seats would induce the self-destructive mutual recrimination in which Labour has so often indulged. But, the truth is, Labour is remarkably united by historic standards. Whilst there certainly isn’t much to get too triumphant about, grim satisfaction can be expressed in that the party has hauled itself back into contention with a sustained lead in the polls.

Key to Labour regaining its election-winning potential is the recapture of its once formidable economic reputation. Enter Ed Balls. Miliband should have appointed Balls shadow chancellor in the first place – it was a mistake not to – he is clearly the most formidable economist the Labour party have. A Financial Times leader writer in his early twenties and long time Treasury advisor, he is steeped in economics in a way that few – if any – parliamentarians can match. Osborne won’t be sleeping easily in his expensive sheets now he has to face Balls across the dispatch box.

The greater economic authority and greater political aggression he will inevitably bring will help realise an old Balls maxim, “getting the politics right demands we get the economics right”. Since his Bloomberg speech during the leadership election last year he has worked hard to shift the national economic debate by hammering home the threat to the economy that the coalition’s austerity drive represents.

Against the indifferent reign of Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor, the Tory led government did to some extent successfully blame the economic situation on the previous administration. But Labour should not wrestle with its past, but come out fighting. Balls should be at his most pugilistic when he counters that the financial crisis, the reason for the deficit, was not limited to those territories ruled by Gordon Brown and the Labour party; it was global, it was systemic and it was caused by the larcenous greed of bankers. Every time Cameron or Osborne says Labour failed to regulate the banks, quote back to them their clamour for less regulation. Every time they accuse Labour of over spending, remind them of their pledge to stick to Labour’s spending promises.

Miliband and Balls now have the opportunity to build a powerful duopoly at the head of the Labour party and carve out a genuinely progressive alternative to what is already a savagely regressive administration.

The importance of consolidating Labour’s new course should be clear enough, and with it the prospect of a Miliband government in 2015 appears to be real enough. Having been young apprentices at the birth of New Labour, the two Eds are now perfectly placed to write the next chapter.

David Talbot is a political consultant.

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2 Responses to “Two Eds are better than one”

  1. Yes, agree that the Tories need to be reminded of their own support for deregulation of the banks that led to the debt and their support
    for our spending commitments.

    But conversely I also believe that the main point is conveniently sailing over many labour party members heads.

    Labour had a choice, we were in power…the actual government. 
    We could have chosen not to deregulate the banks. We didn’t. 

    I’ve never really heard anyone in our party explain why we agreed to deregulation other than to say “because the banks were screaming at us to deregulate”. Well, of course they were, and now we know why, don’t we?

    We have to own the decision that we took and we need to explain why we took it and explain it in terms that the electorate who deserted us understand and hope they’ll forgive us. 

    It’s fine to say that the other fella would have done the same as us and arguably the tories would have deregulated more.

    But it was a labour government that was in charge and when you’re in charge the buck stops with you.  And its you, and only you, who is accountable for the decision that you took.

  2. iain ker says:

    Peter C Johnson nails it with…

    ‘But it was a labour government that was in charge and when you’re in charge the buck stops with you. And its you, and only you, who is accountable for the decision that you took.’

    You may argue that the Conservatives didn’t deserve to win, but tough, they are in power now (with their auxiliaries) and you’ll just have to suck it. What you seem to be forgetting is that TUCLabour certainly deserved to lose.

    And however ‘pugilistic’ Ed Balls gets (and however important that is to you in the bubble) everyone outside TUCLabour will remember the extent to which this economic colossus was right at the heart of the Brown machine which oversaw an implosion of the banking system and the collapse of the UK economy.

    If Balls really is ‘the most formidable economist the TUCLabourParty have’ then God help you.

    You will never regain power with one or other or both of the two Eds at the helm. But if convincing yourselves otherwise makes you happy then convince yourselves otherwise.

    I’m sure George Osborne sleeps pretty well.

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