Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ed Miliband's challenge as Labour Leader

We all thought we knew, as the Labour leadership candidates walked into the hall today. Ed looked utterly miserable, David was smiling. It seemed like an open and shut case. Despite all the rumours to the contrary, David had beaten his younger brother.  Now the whole nation knows not to play Poker with those brothers for in fact it was Ed who prevailed.

Ed looked like a man who hadn't quite thought carefully enough about what he should wish for in case he got it. He's a bright man. He knew that he didn't have the backing of the majority of his MPs, or MEPs, or members and that it was the votes of the unions, on the last round, which had delivered victory at the last gasp. For every stage of the count, David led. He was 1.6% ahead before the elimination of Ed Balls, and 1.3% behind once his votes had been redistribute with the unions by far giving him the sliver of his margin of victory.

It is a very weird way of doing things. When the Liberal Democrats choose a leader, we just send a ballot paper to every member and whoever gets over 50% under an alternative vote system wins. I know that my vote as an activist is worth exactly the same as a senior MP's. We don't send extra papers out to members of other organisations who might share some of our values.

Labour's convoluted system leaves its new leader open to accusations that he is compromised, the choice of unions rather than the party's members or elected representatives. The unions will no doubt use that to try to force the new leader's hand. Ed would be wise to remember that the Labour Party and the unions did not save one single job in the 80s - and in fact often made things a lot worse. If Labour starts re-treading these footsteps, they face long term electoral oblivion.

While Ed deserves congratulations on a well fought campaign, I do have some sympathy with his brother David. I don't agree with his politics and I don't agree with the things he did as foreign secretary to perpetuate the complicity in torture by a UK Government, but his head must be mince tonight. He's thrown his heart and soul into his campaign. He's been working on it for five months (and probably before) and was expected to win. But Labour has decided in recent days that it wants to go back to the 80s rather than New Labour with the election of Ed and the selection of Ken Livingstone as London mayoral candidate.

I worry that unenlightened Conservatives will use this result as justification for opposition to the Alternative Vote. That would be wrong. It's the fact that Labour gives the unions so much say in choosing its leader that's the problem, not the AV system.

However I had a look at the figures for Labour constituency party's votes and it may be that Ed is more representative of members in Scotland than he is in England. He was well ahead, or equal in very many CLPs north of the border.

The fact that the result was so close lends itself to years of factionalising and infighting in the Labour Party, the type of which we have seen for as long as I've been alive. If they couldn't keep a lid on internal tensions in Government, their chances in opposition aren't great.

On the plus side, Labour now has a leader who is in favour of both the alternative vote system and equal marriage. These can only be good things.

As an aside, Mark Pack has written about an aspect of this afternoon's BBC coverage that I also found intensely annoying - the interruption of the results with a voiceover from Nick Robinson talking through utter nonsense about what was happening. It's forgivable that Nick Robinson got his prediction wrong in such a tight race, but inexcusable that the facts were not allowed to speak for themselves.

I guess I understand a bit of Ed's misery today. I was once on opposing sides in an internal election with one of my best friends. I hoped my candidate would prevail, but my friend was a much better campaigner than I. The mixed emotions I felt as it became clear that my guy had won were very uncomfortable for me. If I had my time again, I'd still have gone for my guy because he's good, but as the results were announced, I looked over at my friend and saw how completely gutted he was. That was one of the worst moments of my life. Not just my political life, my actual life. To this day we are still friends, and there are no hard feelings over that between us. In fact, he trusted me to run a highly successful campaign for him some months later. It was a political campaign but when you're close to someone, you know your actions, even if they're legitimate, have an effect and you can't just walk away from that. In that respect,the winning milibrother was always bound to have the political equivalent of survivor guilt.

For Ed, that'll sort itself out in time,but the spectre of the unions coming to collect their debt remains, as do the tensions within the Party. No-one's resolved them in my lifetime, so he has his work cut out for him. He also has to decide whether he's going to continue the Labour Party's policy of "just say no" to everything or whether he's going to forge some sort of constructive opposition and engage in meaningful debate. He's damned by the electorate one way and his union paymasters the other.  I wonder if he'll come to regret his wish to be Labour leader.


Malc said...

David Miliband actually polled 500 more votes than Ed in Scottish CLPs. You can see the figures on Better Nation.

Unknown said...

Cheers, Malc. Very interesting - Ed won in almost half the seats and there were a few dead heats. A fair chunk of David's majority came from a few large CLPs.

I suspect Ed will have picked up more in transfers than David.

Unknown said...

Cheers, Malc. Very interesting - Ed won in almost half the seats and there were a few dead heats. A fair chunk of David's majority came from a few large CLPs.

I suspect Ed will have picked up more in transfers than David.

Anonymous said...

Touching on what malc has said, although David won more votes than Ed on 1st preference, we dont know what the situation is on 2nd (and further) preference. My gut feeling is that Ed picked up a lot of 2nd preferences (mine included) from members.

And, although they didnt get counted, a lot of David supporters followed their candidates lead and put Ed as 2nd preference - so I think the chances of in-fighting is less than is popularly imagined.


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