The election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader should have provided the party with an opportunity to move on from the disappointment of the general election. Here was a fresh, new leader, untainted by the Blair/Brown years and Iraq in the way that his opponents were, able to inspire the Party towards a resounding success in 2015 (or possibly sooner depending on his performance as Leader of the Opposition). However, the manner in which he was elected has presented more challenges than it should have solved.
The biggest challenge that Miliband the Younger faces is not the one that some elements of the media seem to be dwelling on: repairing the relationship with his brother. Let’s face it, if that really was a concern, he probably would not have run in the first place.
Instead the questions posed over the support he received from the unions to propel him into the top job poses a serious problem for the party. It certainly is not a problem that the new leader has the support of the unions. Labour was born out of trade unionism and should embrace that. Although, given that it was only through union support that he was elected, it will be interesting to see how Ed deals with the next big strike action – will he be willing to stand up to the unions at the risk of losing that support?
Because that is where the real problem for Ed lies. Neither the Parliamentary Labour Party or the wider membership really wanted Ed as leader – they chose David. Ed Miliband is actually the Labour leader that the Labour Party never actually elected. There is clearly a lot of work to be done to bring the party around to truly back him. While there is lots of talk from supporters of other leadership hopefuls that they will be unifying behind Ed, it may not be as simple as that.
This is not helped by his desire to draw such a strong line over Labour’s history in government. A short mention of Labour’s successes in his conference speech today was followed by a long line of apologies of everything Blair and Brown got wrong. Most newsworthy was the statement that the decision to go to war with Iraq was wrong. Such a statement may have had the intended impact of distancing Ed from the legacy of the previous government. But it could have the unintended consequence of being more divisive within the party that some of the bad decisions that were made. Already some high profile members, including Jack Straw, have publicly disagreed with Ed over Iraq.
But this is a common theme with Ed Miliband. Early in the leadership contest, Ed was very quick to point out that Labour got it wrong at the election. Few would disagree with him. But it must be remembered that the man who wrote Labour’s manifesto, and therefore after Brown and Mandleson would have had the biggest influence over Labour’s election performance was Ed himself. Yet, we have not heard one personal apology for the state Labour found itself in on May 6th.
Which then begs the final question: is Ed Miliband a leader that we will be able to trust or will we see him continue to blame the bad times on the New Labour ideology that he was a child of? Clearly the election of the younger of the two brothers has not been the resounding success for the party that it should of been. Unless Ed starts winning people round and soon, 2015 could be more gloomy for Labour than 2010.