Stick or Twist?


Written by Jared Lynn
06 Monday 06th September 2010

The Coalition government has hogged the media in recent months but Labour is back on the radar as it seeks a new leader who can bring a swift return to power. There are a few candidates vying for the role but as the finishing line draws close it appears to be an out-and-out duel between the brothers Miliband.
It’s worrying that as an individual in their young 20s I’ve never witnessed a real Labour leadership race. Blair stuck around for a decade and Brown was his natural replacement, with no-one ready or able to challenge his breeze into office. For the current generation Labour is New Labour – it is Blair and Brown – but the party now has a chance to break away from that depending on which Miliband they elect.
David Miliband will strike a familiar tune to voters. Rumoured to have been groomed by Tony Blair as a possible challenger to Gordon Brown, he has branded his leadership as Next Labour; a re-vamped continuation of New Labour. The very fact that he has name-tagged his mode of government is a striking indication of Blair’s influence and the media savvy he expressed.
David looks and acts like a Prime Minister, groomed in the age of political style where the make of your suit is almost as important as your responses during Prime Minister’s Questions. He is a fountain of soundbites which can generate a love-hate relationship with the media. A prime example of the Obama effect; an ability to look chic, offer unnerving calm, and find yourself tucked away in the glossy pages of GQ and Esquire. Oh, and you’re a politician.
It would be naïve to pass David off as simply style and soundbites. The elder Miliband was Head of Policy for Tony Blair at 29, was influential in his role as Environmental Secretary in 2006 when climate change really came to the fore, and then became the youngest Foreign Secretary in 30 years. He has a resume to compete with the very best and the natural course heads towards the Labour leadership and ultimately Number Ten. David also has support from major party figures including Lord Mandelson, Alistair Darling, and possibly Tony Blair; who came as close to offering his support as he ever will during his recent television interview with Andrew Marr.
On the other side brother Ed claims to offer a breakaway from New Labour but runs the risk of being unfairly branded as Old Labour. Ed Miliband is not the second coming of Tony Benn and he is not left-wing. He might be the most left of the candidates, but he still sits on the right with the rest of modern-day Labour. Tony Benn style politics are long gone and critics are making lazy comparisons when they class Ed as a ‘Bennite’.
In contrast, Ed is no media king. He has gained support from traditionalist Labour supporters including Lord Kinnock and importantly from the major trade unions whose importance cannot be understated. For instance 500,000 of the 1.3 million members of Unison are able to vote and most are expected to back the wider views of the union. That’s a lot of votes for Ed.
Ed’s resume is less impressive than his brothers and few would consider the leadership the next logical step. Strong ties with Gordon Brown saw him become the first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change but this relationship could harm his bid after Brown’s less than successful run as leader. However Ed is trying to sever New Labour ties by being openly critical of their mistakes whereas David has praised their successes. This is where the two brothers differ and is why the election is so important. David extends the shadow of Blair and Brown while Ed offers a fresh grassroots approach.
Predictions are always dangerous but if Labour seeks a swift return to power then David seems like the wiser option. He looks and acts like a Prime Minister with the style and attitude to compete with the sparkling smiles of Cameron and Clegg. Tony Blair warned it would be a massive mistake to stray from the ideas of New Labour and it’s hard to disagree; it won him three elections after all.
Ed offers Labour a long-term plan and appears to have more depth and substance, but is Labour so disjointed and the Coalition so strong that a complete re-build of the party is required? Labour has a strong chance of victory at the next election but with Ed as their leader - lacking that extra media pizzazz and style - they may resemble a party unready to take Number Ten.
Whoever Labour elects will shape the future of the party as they battle to avoid their customary post-government slump. It’s stick or twist for Labour, and everything depends on it.

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