Review: Five Year Mission by Tim Bale

by Stephen Tall on May 6, 2015

tim bale bookFive Year Mission: The Labour Party under Ed Miliband by Tim Bale

You can see why this book was released ahead of 7th May, 2015. If Ed Miliband loses it will remain the first definitive account of his failed leadership. If he wins (or, at any rate, becomes Prime Minister: those two things might well not be the same) it will swiftly be re-issued with an updated foreword.

This is an absorbing, narrative account of Miliband’s ascent, related sympathetically but pretty unsparingly. The biggest surprise in it for me was that the Two Eds, Miliband and Balls, have long been aware that their electoral success would depend on their perceived economic competence and that they would likely fight this election against the backdrop of a recovery. What they hoped to do, reveals Prof. Bale, was re-frame the question: “yes, it’s the economy stupid, but what kind of economy and whose recovery?”

If that was the aim, and I now believe it must have been, it’s fair to say Miliband and Balls failed, badly. That was evident from Miliband’s first PMQs, when the Labour leader attacked the Coalition for its decision to withdraw child benefit from better-off families — a cut he was later to accept. And so the pattern was set: Labour was against all cuts in general until they weren’t.

There are, perhaps, two weaknesses in the book. The first is its too brief despatch of Miliband’s approach to Syria, done and dusted here in three pages; yet which is, for both his fans and critics alike, a defining episode of whether his leadership is the Real Deal. The second is the heavy Westminster focus: after all, were it not for his party’s plight in Scotland, Ed Miliband would right now be hot favourite for Number 10.

However, those are minor quibbles – this is a fascinating first draft of a story which is either drawing to a close or which has only just begun.