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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.

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I saw this on the train the other day and it left me troubled:

Ok so basically, Essex County Council is currently out of pocket by around £300 million – quite a substantial figure I am sure you will agree. And in all its wisdom, the Council decides that an advert on the commuter trains into London Liverpool Street are the best way to go about making that saving.

It may well be the case that even in times of cuts, it is important not to skimp on your marketing but this seems utterly ridiculous. It may only have cost the Council thousands rather than millions but surely there must be a better way to go about getting people to recycle and save on landfill tax (?) than using a poor advert with pictures that look like they are telling a history of Essex libraries.

The most ironic thing about this all is that I took this photo on a train from London Liverpool Street to Gidea Park, which for anyone who does not know the area, means that the train did not even enter Essex County Council territory on this occasion.

Two words for you Essex – epic fail!

Aggressively ridiculous?

So the Pope’s here. During his first speech, he decides that the UK needs to protect itself from the “more aggressive forms of secularism”. Ignoring the fact that this is clearly a thinly veiled attack on the likes of Richard Dawkins, this idea presents quite an interesting scenario.

Now I have to admit that I am not too fussed either way by the Pope’s visit. On the one hand it is a very expensive PR activity by the leader of an organisation that has been exposed for abhorrent acts recently. On the other, it is an opportunity for the millions of Catholics to get a much-needed boost for their spiritual health. But this statement did catch my eye.

This tweet from @Emma_Campaigner made me laugh:

anyone tell me what the “more aggressive forms of secularism” are? #pope

All I could instantly imagine was someone, who did not look dissimilar to Dawkins, screaming at me “There is no God!”. But let’s take this idea further. We know that theists can be aggressive either in their evangelicalism or in martyrdom. We also know that secularists, as the Pope likes to call them, can also be aggressive – just read The God Delusion for Richard Dawkins’ no-holds-barred savage attack on anyone even contemplating religion. But what about that other group of people, the agnostics – can they be aggressive?

Imagine being at home one day and there being a knock at the door. You go to answer and there are two people standing there. You say hello politely to be greeted by an almighty (no pun intended) shout of “I don’t know if there is a God!”

Now that is someone I may consider signing myself up to be indoctrinated by.

It does not matter whether you are living your life to change the world or just to get rich, we all seem to live by our own principles to guide our actions. But it would seem that sometimes, principles can be a nuisance and get in the way of what we really want.

A good friend of mine whilst I was at university was a vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons. However, I remember one day noticing that the jacket that he invariably wore around campus was leather. Taken aback, I questioned him on it and his answer was that it was synthetic. To be fair, it was a nice jacket and it did suit him well. But, for me, even the idea of it being synthetic leather seemed to be at odds with such a strong principle.

We can all be accused of this idea of principle-hypocrisy. There are plenty of other examples that I have come across: an environmentalist who likes Formula 1, a couple of enjoy ‘fakon’ – the vegetarian alternative to bacon and anyone who calls themselves a social smoker. Why do we even bother with principles if we always look for the first opportunity to bypass them?

Arguably, the king of the principle-bypasser has to be our Right Honourable Deputy Prime Minister. Here is a man who only days before the election was attacking the Conservatives on their proposed program of spending cuts, calling for sweeping political reform, particularly a proportional representation electoral system and defending students against increased tuition fees. However, having joined in coalition with the Tories, he has effectively embraced their cuts agenda, settled for (a referendum on) AV and, by the looks of things, condemned students to even higher tuition fees.

Some would argue that Clegg was pragmatic. He saw an opportunity of a lifetime to really push the Lib Dem agenda higher than it had ever been before. In the position he now finds himself, he can argue that he can achieve more than he would ever have done had he not compromised on his principles. But was it the right choice?

In order to be objective here, it is always worth remembering that Clegg was not the first and he probably will not be the last. We cannot forget that Labour went back on principles that they had held for decades in order to reshape themselves into a party that won three consecutive elections. But at what cost?

My attack here is on the hypocrisy rather than the priciple of having principles. If you want to live by principles then make sure you understand the consequences of both abiding by them and compromising on them. A synthetic leather-clad vegetarian may just look quite cool but the consequences of Nick Clegg’s ‘pragmatism’ has yet to be fully discovered. An opportunity for the short term could lead to disaster in the long term.

Love it or loath it, the Big Society is going to be the biggest shift in British Politics since New Labour was brought into our lives. It is going to define Cameron’s premiership and will be how history frames his actions in years to come. Given that, it is about time that we got on board with the idea to make sure it works for us all.

Just to lay my cards on the table, I am Labour Party supporter and I work for a charity. If I was to follow the trend, I should be attacking the Big Society for being a thinly veiled cover for cuts, as well as worrying about the capacity for the charity sector to deliver more for less. But instead, I am actually quite excited about the potential for the Big Society and what it could mean for British politics.

The Big Society is not about cuts. Anyone who believes this is Cameron’s rationale is missing the point entirely. It is about rolling back the state and reducing ‘big government’. It is a central theme for both conservatives and Conservatives. This is not to say there is not a link between the cuts and the Big Society agenda but it is not the one you may think.

Now, I do not agree that government can be defined as ‘big’ or ‘small’. I do believe that government should be playing a central role in upholding justice, equality of opportunity and ensuring that no matter what your status is, everyone has the ability to lead a rewarding life. But I also believe in the importance of community and individual responsibility. As a result of all this, the Big Society sounds like it could end up being the best thing since sliced bread.

That’s not to say that there are not some significant challenges. Things are still fairly vague as to what it will actually look like. But it should be remembered that this is always going to be the way of it – central government barging in, telling people how to run the Big Society rather defeats the object.

And then there’s the cuts. But let’s face it, without the current environment that we find ourselves in, the Big Society would never work. Unless people feel the need to get involved (because government will no longer be taking on the roles it used to), no one actually will. It is no wonder that there were so few free schools being set up – wait until the education cuts really take hold and the applications are bound to sky rocket.

Of course, asking people to do more for less is a real problem. But in the face of adversity, let’s hope that some innovation starts to flourish.

The most important thing is that we all engage with the Big Society agenda. It is going to happen and at this stage, anything is up for grabs. There are a few ideas that are looking quite well established – the Big Society bank, free schools, the Localism Bill, to name a few – but everything else is still to be formulated.

I certainly do not agree with the whole agenda. Free schools actually scare me quite a lot. But for those like me who are excited about the prospect of a Big Society, it is an opportunity to radically change British politics to empower people in a positive way. For the cynics, it is a change to prevent the whole thing from being an unmitigated disaster. Either way, if you are not engaged in the debate, you are going to lose out.