The word on the political street is increasingly that Labour must step up both pace and impact, to stand any chance of winning the next election – whenever that might be. The task, it is agreed, is both big and urgent.
So how is this challenge to be achieved? Obviously, it depends quite largely on the resolve, conviction and dynamism of the party leader. Perhaps however we have misread the current likelihood of driving forward on at least the last of these three elements of leadership: Only rarely, as with the Tories’ present determination to secure very rapidly their scorched earth policies and degovernance, has it been so important for the political left to deliver driven resistance, and fast.
Our first task then is to ensure that basic assumptions about who is doing what are right; but I am not sure this has happened.
Here’s a quote from an article in today’s Observer, written by Andrew Rawnsley, the newspaper’s chief political corrrespondent:
We know that Ed Miliband is capable of the bold – indeed the ruthless – stroke. He won the leadership by taking on his older brother. His problem is that this is the only thing that many voters know about him. As leader, he has been characterised by caution.
It’s an interesting observation, but I suspect it’s awry in one critical respect. The question I ask is, did Ed Miliband actually expect to win the Labour leadership contest?
Or did MiliE in reality run on a ‘me too’ basis, intending only to make his mark for another contest at some point in the future?
Regular readers will know I think the evidence suggests this second possibility is the more likely.
My feeling is only a hunch, I have no inside information, but it could explain a lot….. not least the discrepancy Andrew Rawnsley sees between Ed Miliband’s pre- and post-leadership election style. Perhaps Ed Miliband really didn’t expect, at least at the time of nomination, to win against his brother David.
In that case Ed’s reason for seeking nomination was precautionary rather than (in Andrew Rawnsley’s words) ‘bold’; it was as cautious as has been most of his positioning since he because leader.
In this scenario Ed Miliband at the time simply didn’t want to be seen later on as having dodged the challenge of seeking the Labour leadership, even if his brother was also a candidate. He was dotting his ‘I’s and crossing his ‘T’s, in case an apparently more promising opportunity to stand for the leadership arose in the future.
Viewed in this light the post-leadership-election style of the present leader of the Labour Party makes sense. He’s a younger brother, keen not to have been left out and now learning on the job, but cautiously, one step at a time; and some fear he may not be very eager to seek too much advice from those who already know how to do the job well. (There are a lot of relatively inexperienced post holders in the shadow cabinet.)
Andrew Rawnsley is correct that there’s a problem somewhere here, but I’m not quite convinced by his analysis of why that problem exists. And I’m afraid I myself am even less convinced by his hope of dynamic leadership potential for the future.