Thursday, 29 July 2010

Why I am backing Ed Miliband for Labour leader


Why am I backing Ed Miliband for Labour leader? Ed understands how we can use our values to inform our direction. With New Labour, the direction the party was travelling in informed our values - which meant being all things to all people, too much focus on triangulation and the Third Way and not doing enough to break down the old Conservative orthodoxies about the relationship between the state and citizen. This is not saying Labour needs to vacate the centre ground - far from it. What Ed believes in, and I agree with, is that we need to use our values, our core values, and project them in a way that attempts to reshape the political argument instead of kowtowing to the status-quo.

Indeed, what is striking is that values drives Ed. This seems an obvious point to make of any politician, but more so with Ed Miliband. Values have been articulated through many of the ideas and policy statements that run through his leadership campaign. These include: the call for a living wage and a High Pay Commission that looks into the pay gap not just in the public sector but, more importantly, in the private sector. The need for a better life/work balance. Reclaiming the civil liberties agenda as our own and moving away from New Labour's authoritarian tendencies. Fair markets and fair financial regulation not a return to the risk-taking indulgences of the past with light touch regulation. A clearer focus on green issues as a way of informing policy. A graduate tax, and unapologetically calling for the 50 pence tax band to be made permanent.

Unlike any of the other major contenders in the leadership campaign, you get a sense that there is a mission behind Ed Miliband that drives him to make the Labour Party again the vehicle for social progress and solidarity. You can picture how a Labour Party would be under Ed Miliband. No, not a return to the socialist comfort blanket of the early 1980s, but a realistic, refreshed, redefined and modern social democratic party which understands that Labour needs to move on from Blairism and create a realistic, credible alternative progressive vision for this country.

Ed also, I believe, is the best leader in the sense that he has the right skills to strike the delicate balance between being a party of opposition and a government in waiting. We need to be a constructive opposition - agree with things the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get right, and disagree when they get things wrong. Ed, I believe, will strike the right balance as leader by positioning himself and the party as being pragmatic and principled. Past history shows that Ed was not at the forefront of the tensions between Brown and Blair, and Blair staff remarked that Ed was the easiest to work with in a very pressurized environment in Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. His unflappable nature suggests he can self-assured leader that would build a party with a clear, principled focus that stands up for everyone and is ready for government - but in a way that does not smack of shrillness or trying to outflank the coalition say, on crime, for the sake of cheap newspaper headlines.

He can also, in the words of Neil Kinnock, ‘lift’ people. He can connect, inspire, listen and communicate effectively. He is believable. He has integrity - as shown from the expenses scandal, where he was praised by the Telegraph for being squeaky-clean. He can unite the party, transcend the Blairite/Brownite tribes that caused the disagreements and splits within Labour. We need someone who can convey effectively the new vision and direction that can reach out to those who were of the five million that deserted Labour since 1997, but also those who have never voted Labour.

Allied to this is that Ed has a sense of honesty in saying where Labour went wrong, as much as where we got it right. Iraq. Not doing enough to close the gap between the rich and poor. Neglecting civil liberties, being too authoritarian and too close to the right on law and order. Contrary to what others have said during this campaign, the honesty to say that we got things wrong is not a dumping of Labour’s legacy, or rubbishing the progress that we had made in government. It is a sign of the humility that the next Labour leader should have in their attempt to reconnect with the electorate. Only by saying that we need to face up to the facts as to why and how we lost, and do something actively and conclusively about it, will we get the trust of the British people once more. Ed Miliband is the person who can guide the party successfully through this mission.
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