The final hustings was the best I’ve seen for more clearly differentiating the candidates than in any other. Most important of all was the disagreement over the deficit and the cuts. Andy Burnham, honest, straightforward, traditional Labour right-winger that he seems to be, said that we needed to admit that Labour, if it was in government, would be making cuts and would be making people redundant. David Miliband agreed with him. Ed Balls (who was at his best) and Ed Miliband believed that Labour should not, in the current crisis be cutting spending or jobs, but continuing to build schools and houses to meet needs and sustain the economy. Diane Abbott clearly agrees with the latter position.
At the same time, there was a clear desire by all the candidates for unity, inclusiveness and opposition to the policies of the Coalition government. David Miliband, for example, said that the differences between the 5 candidates was negliigible in comparison with their collective hostility towards the Coalition. Ed Miliband was at pains to stress his commitment as Leader to include all his opponents in his team.
There is a clear contradiction between these positions which identifies the task of the Left, whoever wins the leadership: the desire for unity after the election will be enormous. The reality and extent of the devastation caused by the Coalition’s planned cuts will serve only to strengthen this desire for unity, even in the face of tactical disagreements about the nature of the opposition to the cuts.
The Left will need to press its case forcefully both for progressive policies and democratic reform in the part — whoever wins. Even if Ed Miliband defeats his brother, we must ensure that the desire for unity does not prevent Labour adopting the policies which are needed to defeat the Coalition and overcome this economic crisis.