The Case for David Miliband
Further to my blog post about the next leader of the Labour Party last weekend, some of the attendees of the Peter Mandelson Memorial Dim Sum Lunch have given the matter more thought.
Meaning no disrespect to Rachel Reeves, we felt that we were required to re-examine The Case for David Miliband, 6/1.
The case against him rests on two propositions:
1. He is a proven loser, who had his chance against Gordon Brown in June 2009 (James Purnell’s resignation) or January 2010 (Harriet Harman’s “cooked goose” plot) and flunked it, and who then lost, albeit to a union bosses’ stitch-up but (just about) under the rules, in September 2010.
2. It would be weird for the Labour Party, having failed under one Miliband, to replace him with another.
On reflection, neither proposition is as strong as it looks. The image of a candidate is influenced by past defeats, but it is only one fact among many and images can be changed if the candidate’s qualities fit new requirements.
Richard Nixon had been written off for the 1968 Republican nomination because of what Dwight Eisenhower called “this ‘they say’ business”. What did he mean, Ike was asked: “They say he can’t win.”* Nixon had run for the presidency against John Kennedy in 1960 and for governor of California against Pat Brown in 1962. But then, in 1968, as the race changed with Lyndon Johnson’s unexpected decision not to run for re-election and the other Republican candidates fell, including Mitt Romney’s father, George, suddenly Nixon could and did win.
Closer to home and to the present, Alan Johnson used to brush aside questions about replacing Gordon Brown as Labour leader saying that he had run for deputy leader in 2007 and “couldn’t even win that”. But I have no doubt that, had he replaced Brown, Labour would have done better in the 2010 election than it did.
Nor did David Miliband lose in 2010 because of some fundamental flaw – yes, maybe he should have campaigned harder, more ruthlessly; he should have been nicer to fellow MPs; he should have had a strategy to attract national media coverage to counter the union machine operating on low turnout assumptions; all of that – but he didn’t lose because he was unelectable. Nor were the forces against him fixed or inexorably strengthening.
We know that the leadership has fallen into the hands of the Forces of Brownness, and yet we also know that the forces of New Labourness, Light and Blairism have the edge among party members and the parliamentary party. And it is notable that, among 20- and 30-year-olds in the party and among those winning selections as parliamentary candidates, the forces of light remain, if anything, stronger than before. That is why the union machines are so worried.
The more we think about such things, the less important “this ‘weird’ business” seems. Yes, it would be curious for the Labour Party to say, “Oops, wrong one; let’s try again.” But if everything else says that David Miliband would be the best person to lead the party to victory, it wouldn’t matter.
And everything else does still say that. The ideological gap between the two brothers, one of whom believes that Labour must bend everything to winning the centre ground, remains surprisingly wide. And David Miliband continues to pack more of interest into a five-minute back-bench speech than his brother manages in a standard 40-minute leader’s boilerplate.
We will keep him on the list.
*William Safire, Before the Fall, p56.Tagged in: david miliband, labour leadership
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