And so "Red" Ed Miliband pipped David Miliband to the post thanks to the affiliated votes of rank and file trade unionists. Predictably some Blairites have been crowing about this while mendaciously ignoring the affront to democracy of the MPs and MEPs section, where one of their votes counts for that of 600 members. The Tories and LibDems immediately jumped on it too, some of them making themselves look completely stupid in the process. Strangely, some of the loudest mouths attacking the trade union section are enthusiasts of open primaries. Well, what is more open than a primary of 250,000 people?
Andy has a good piece defending the trade union vote.
Contrary to the worst nightmares of the triangulators, we are highly unlikely to see the return of social democracy circa 1983. During the campaign he did make some very soft noises in this direction. There was the pledge to extend the 50% tax rate. The junking of New Labour's civil illiberalism. The commitment to review industrial relations legislation. A coherent industrial strategy. A more 'independent' foreign policy. A refusal to demonise immigrants. The need to reconnect with core working and middle class support. Hardly the stuff of a latter day transitional programme, but a clear break with New Labour into the sunlit uplands of (right wing) Labourism. And neither are they the electoral albatross some in the party and the press like to pretend.
But there is a gap in his politics that will ultimately determine the outcome of his political career and whether Labour are able to win the next general election. And that's his attitude to the cuts.
His piece in the Telegraph this morning flags up a certain ambiguity on this issue. He writes:
But I will do that in a way that doesn’t fall into the trap of opportunism. On the deficit, we will not oppose every cut. After years of expansion that transformed our public services from the days of leaky roofs and portable cabin classrooms, our public services will now need to learn to do more with less.This is followed by a list of qualifications and excuses that amount to 'too deep, too soon'. This sounds more like a slightly fluffier version of Alastair Darling's commitment to arbitrarily cut the deficit in half in four years (this was also the programme David Miliband was wedded to). But then again the way the language is couched could leave the door open for Ed Balls' alternative, which doesn't talk about cuts (nor, for that matter, rules them out), but at least has the virtue of offering a powerful challenge to the coalition's cuts consensus. Unfortunately, rumours abound that his aggrieved brother's in the frame for the shadow chancellor's job - a move I believe will cost Labour dearly down the line. So on this crucial issue, the indicators point to an uncomfortable fudge that concedes way too much to the Tories.
Then there's Ed Miliband's attitude to workers' struggles and labour disputes. He might be committed to looking at the law in this area (without offering concrete proprosals), but on further commitments he's proving more slippery than an eel dipped in KY jelly. On this I agree with what Louise says, his Delphic language about genuine grievances and "justified strikes" means we won't be seeing Ed on a picket line any time soon.
Overall, Ed Miliband's election represents less a move to the left and more an awkward shuffle. But that in itself opens more political opportunities for socialist ideas than would have been the case under the alternative. However, it means those of us who want the Labour party to become a properly effective weapon in the battle against the Tories still have a job of work ahead of us.