First thoughts on Ed Miliband’s election as Labour leader

by Stephen Tall on September 25, 2010

Here are some first thoughts on what Ed Miliband’s wafer-thin election victory in the contest to lead Labour might mean…

1. He’s going to have to work hard to prove he’s his own man. There’s no doubt the right-wing press and the Conservatives will do all they can to show Ed Miliband is little more than a puppet of the unions, given he won Labour’s electoral college thanks to the votes of trade unionists, having lost the vote among party members and MPs/MEPs. The pressure will be on for him to show he can stand up to union power or risk letting that impression be cemented among the public.

2. The blogs and pollsters called it right. Congratulations are due to Left Foot Forward and YouGov for managing, quite remarkably, accurately to predict the result of such a close contest in a complicated electoral system. Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting stuck his neck out to tip Ed as a result. Indeed, it was ironic watching the BBC coverage this afternoon to hear Nick Robinson call the result for David Miliband at exactly the same time as LFF’s Will Straw tweeted that Ed was now a “dead cert”. It just showed how specialist knowledge of an organisation can often trump the broadcasters’ generalism.

3. Ed Miliband’s election could be good for progressive causes. Ed Miliband is a strong suppoter of the alternative vote: “Yes. I am in favour of AV and will campaign for it if there is a referendum.” He is also in favour of equal marriage for LGBT, a policy formally adopted by the Lib Dems this week: “I want to see heterosexual and same-sex partnerships put on an equal basis and a Labour Party that I lead will campaign to make gay marriage happen.” Not only is this right in principle, but the common cause it will forment across the currently bitter Lib/Lab divide might also usher in a slightly more grown-up discourse between the two parties.

4. David Miliband’s stock will now rise, which makes him a powerful figure within Labour. The older Miliband brother clearly won the leadership contest among Labour members, and among the ranks of MPs/MEPs; yet he lost. As the rapturous applause for Gordon Brown showed, Labour loves a dignified loser, and no-one can have failed to have been impressed by David’s poise as this personally devastating result was announced today. Moreover, he fought the campaign on his own terms: he could’ve tacked left, he could’ve made glib promises to the unions, yet he refused. It may have been bad politics, naive campaigning — but it will have earned him the respect of many in and beyond the Labour party.

5. Ed’s first priority now must be to come up with a credible economic policy. Much will hinge on his choice of shadow chancellor. If it’s David, then we can expect a more centrist Labour opposition, attacking specific Coalition measures but recognising Labour would’ve also had to make unpopular decisions. If it’s Ed Balls (or Yvette Cooper), it will suggest Ed’s strong backing for all-out attack on the Coalition in favour of avoiding cuts and a much slower deficit reduction plan.