That was the week that was
A suitably 1960s title as I think one of the analogies from Labour history - definitely not an exact one - for Ed Miliband is Harold Wilson, a figure who used media perceptions that he was from the party's left to skillfully bind the party together and win four General Elections on a platform of modernising Britain. Like Wilson Ed will find that a lot of the potential talent for his frontbench team sits in the ranks of the MPs who voted for the candidates he defeated. He needs to promote key Blairites (and Brownites who made the wrong call on the leadership) and integrate them into his team just as Wilson did key Gaitskellites. The inexactitude of the analogy is that Ed is objectively from the centre or soft right of the Party whereas Wilson had at least at points in his career been on the Party's left.
I had a good conference with my own NEC win and Ed's win, but it was at times an uncomfortable one as I was conscious very many of the 30,825 NEC votes I got were from people who had backed David for Leader, and that many of my closest friends in politics were mourning the defeat of their preferred candidate.
I was taken aback by the degree of passion David's candidature seemed to have generated - perhaps because I hadn't been in it I hadn't realised how much people had invested in it emotionally.
I think that Ed's speech has started the process of people who backed David getting their heads round the fact that this was not some apocalyptic Benn vs. Healey style battle for the soul of the party, but a literally fraternal contest between two brothers with different but not necessarily mutually exclusive agendas.
I am relieved that we will not have to face a confrontation between the new Leader and the Party and Unions, which I think would have happened if David had won and pursued the radical public sector reform agenda some of the thinkers around him seemed a bit fixated on.
It was actually a big surprise to me that David won in the members' section of the electoral college, but in an odd way somewhat reassuring that members behaved the way they did. I think that many of his supporters came to the wrong conclusion but for the right reasons, backing him because the media barrage saying that he was the person best placed to win a General Election was so strong. I voted for Ed for exactly the same reason - because I think he will turn-out to be the most voter-friendly candidate we had on offer. Ed now needs to harness that tremendous sense that we must get back into power - so different to the outbreak of self-indulgent ultra-leftism seen in 1931, 1951, 1970 or 1979 - and use it to do just that.
The win for Ed in the union section is also significant - a massive victory in the section that is most like the wider electorate and particularly in the GMB and Unite, the two unions with the most private sector workers in the key swing C1 and C2 social classes. To win that big in Unite you need to have won the votes of the people who build Trident submarines in Barrow, the aerospace workers in the Lancashire marginals, the automotive industry workers in the West Midlands, Luton and Swindon, white collar technical and financial workers, skilled electricians and plumbers from the old EETPU. These are exactly the kind of voters we will need to win marginal seats in the next General Election.
I was shocked by some of the hostility to trade unionism I heard after the result. We need to ensure everyone joining the Party gets a thorough education in what trade unionism is for and what is has contributed to the Labour Party and the rights of working people over the years - making us a pragmatic party grounded in tackling the bread-and-butter concerns of ordinary voters, rather than an exercise in theory. Hopefully one consequence of Ed's win will be a growing back together of the Party and our union affiliates, with a recognition that trade unions are an immense source of strength and stability for Labour, not an embarrassing elderly relative sitting in the metaphorical corner muttering. But this will also require the unions to think carefully about the electoral implications of their industrial response to the Coalition cuts, and to deepen their input into the party as affiliates. That relationship needs to go beyond the current very welcome financial support and organisational support at elections and top-level input at Annual Conference, the NEC and NPF. It needs many more TU members to be encouraged to become individual Labour members and activists, and many more TU branches to be affiliated and sending delegates to their CLPs.
The tragedy for David is that he probably would have narrowly won were it not for the sense of entitlement and threat exuding from some of the people on his campaign, and the two heavy-handed and totally counterproductive interventions by Peter Mandelson. It's also a tragedy for Mandelson who has presumably excluded himself from the new Leader's counsel when he still has a lot to offer.
For the people who backed David (I'm not using the term right of the Party because people from the right were at the heart of the campaigns of both Eds, Andy and David), the key thing to do is to accept the result and engage with Ed. The speeches I saw at the Progress Rally seemed to indicate this was going to happen. The more they do engage then the more that their policy perspectives will get woven into the agenda for Labour's next term in government, because this is a Leader who listens to ideas and can be convinced by intellectually coherent argument.
He (Ed) won't always be saying things I agree with. Truth to be told, whilst I was delighted by the rest of the speech, like David I didn't clap when he spoke about Iraq. I still think it was the right thing to do. But Ed said what he believed - and he has to lead with conviction. It's also probably the right way to go electorally. Just as some of us loyally supported Tony Blair despite having serious doubts about his position on public service reform, you don't have to agree 100% with what Ed says to give him 110% loyalty.
Any taking to the hills for guerrilla sniping by disaffected supporters of the losing candidates is likely to see them finished in politics by a leader who has rapidly consolidated his grip on the party despite the narrow results, and would represent a repeat of the errors of the TB-GB internecine fighting. My guess is that what will actually happen will be a period of unity in the Party that we haven't enjoyed for many, many years. I believe that unity will help propel Ed into 10 Downing Street.