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Ed Miliband proving himself “a brave and adroit leader”

Ed MilibandPeter Oborne’s article in the Telegraph about the political strength of Ed Miliband is very welcome. I do not agree with Oborne on the question of Miliband’s proposed reforms of the party’s relationship with the unions, but his article is a very useful corrective to the erroneous “common sense” that Ed is a weak leader of the opposition.

In fact, Miliband has been extraordinarily successful in imposing his priorities, and the priorities of the Labour opposition onto the political agenda, despite the tendency of the mainstream media to sideline any opposition party. In that regard he has already been more successful than Thatcher, Cameron, Kinnock, Smith or Blair were in opposition

Oborne writes:

He has done several big and important things. The first was an act of great bravery. For roughly three decades all senior British politicians had deferred in the most demeaning and improper way to the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Mr Miliband refused to go along with this, thus helping to remove a giant stench from the heart of British public life.

His second move was almost as audacious. When Ed Miliband became Labour leader, all political parties allowed the super-rich to buy access to decision-making, and in some cases even to purchase government policy.

Again breaking with precedent, the new Labour leader refused to go weak at the knees when meeting billionaires. He even told them to pay their taxes. He has done his best to prioritise what he called the “squeezed middle” – hard-working people who obey the law, pay their taxes and find it very hard to get by. Greatly to his credit, over time he has dragged the Coalition with him in this mission.

… Now we come to Mr Miliband’s great achievement: his opposition to David Cameron’s foolish suggestion three weeks ago that Britain should take part in an impetuous military attack on Syria. The Labour leader stood up against this – and changed the course of events. Whatever the fate of Mr Miliband from now on, even suppose he falls under a bus tomorrow, he has made the history books.

Remember this: had Mr Cameron got his way, Tomahawk missiles were due to hit Damascus within 48 hours of that Commons vote. Ed Miliband’s level-headed demand for evidence, and respect for due process in the shape of the United Nations, bought the world time to think again. As a result, Assad has agreed to destroy his chemical weapons peacefully, thus creating the space for possible talks in Geneva that (let us pray) may bring an end to the conflict.

Of course, a number of factors, above all the wise and skilful statesmanship of Russia’s Sergei Lavrov (the most formidable and clear-headed foreign minister in the world today) are responsible for the changed state of affairs. But Mr Miliband played his part. Not since Hugh Gaitskell unsuccessfully tried to avert the Suez invasion in 1956 has an opposition leader diverged from the government so dramatically, or so honourably, on an urgent issue of war and peace.

These are wise words, and it is important to recognise how difficult the art of politics is. As with any skill, those who are good at it make it look easy, but what Miliband has achieved so far has been difficult, and he deserves more credit.

Going into conference Labour faces two major challenges.

Firstly, we are getting closer to a general election, and it is necessary to start fleshing out the vision of One Nation Labour with more defined policies, so that voters can see how a Labour government will actually work to benefit them, their families, their workmates and their communities.

Secondly, the relationship with the affiliated unions needs to be resolved with an acceptable compromise that does not fundamentally jettison the collective basis with which unions relate to the party, but which still helps to move towards Ed’s vision of a mass membership party.

There will be many outside the party, and sadly some inside it, who will be determined to misrepresent any compromise with the unions as a defeat or climb down by Miliband. Yet, precisely because he has demonstrated skill and bravery as leader of the opposition, he can afford to ignore those luring him onto the rocks. Compromise is not a sign of weakness, it is a manifestation of strength.

The unions and Ed Milband share a common goal to have a fairer and better Britain, they share a common goal of a Labour Party that is engaged with ordinary working people. These are the foundations for building a stronger relationship, not for breaking apart.

8 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    Miliband was lucky – Miliband’s demand for evidence would only have delayed the attack for a few days as the investigators’ report was not going to apportion blame and Miliband insisted only on referral to the UN, not UN approval.

    Had it not been for Cameron throwing a tantrum and unexpectedly ruling out military intervention Miliband would now be following Blair into ignominy.

    Putin saved Obama, Cameron saved Miliband.

    It’s a funny old world.

  2. Mike says:

    If he’s so adroit, why pick this totally unnecessary argument with the unions in the first place – just eighteen months before a general election? There’s a lot of wishful thinking here.

  3. David Pavett says:

    There is nothing new in Oborne’s comments. He has been a fan of Miliband’s “responsible capitalism” since the phrase was launched in 2011. His estimation of the Syria debate is questionable. Had Cameron had the wit to accept Labour’s amendment the whole course of events might well have been very different – as has been argued on these pages.

    But the really big questions of economic and social policy remain without clear answers from Labour and the Shadow Cabinet is notoriously weak and inactive.

    It was also distinctly discouraging that when Andy Burnham, in his recent Guardian interview, showed a real willingness to think through some of Labour’s mistakes his criticisms were immediately dismissed by Ed Miliband.

    We all want to see Miliband discard the baggage of New Labour but this can’t be done with a few catch phrases. It requires a clear and conscious rejection of the new-liberal foundations of New Labour politics. We are a long way from that as yet – although Andy Burnham gave a glimpse of what is possible.

  4. Rob the cripple says:

    What can you say, not much actually, I have said it all before, Blair was the son of Thatcher and monetarism that 100%.

    Miliband is turning out to be the son of Blair, sadly we are not sure he could be closer to being related to Cameron.

    Andy comments in April make interesting reading.

    Frankly put, Thatcher left Britain a worse, meaner and more dysfunctional society than when she took power; in contrast Blair made life better for most working people in Britain. The myth that Blairism was a continuation of Thatcherism is not entirely without foundation, but it is also highly misleading.

    Working people and then we had Brown….

  5. swatantra says:

    Its thanks to Tony’s decision to let Parliament decide whether we go to war or not. Daves decision to grandstand backfired disastrously, and if it hadn’t been for Di Abbott and the usual suspects, EdM would have gone along with the persuasive arument to intervene, or to be more precise let the Americans intervene, and let Britain get the backlash in the Med on Cyprus and Malta. So really all Edm was doing was just sitting on the fence. There is no moral high ground in that. Since when has dithering and do nothing been an excuse for adroitness? The fact is EdM is a creature of circumstance. I have no idea what he really intends to do with this poisoned challice of Oppo Leader. I don’t think anyone else does either.

  6. Andy Newman says:

    Yes this is completely right, as I said myself:

    “Frankly put, Thatcher left Britain a worse, meaner and more dysfunctional society than when she took power; in contrast Blair made life better for most working people in Britain. The myth that Blairism was a continuation of Thatcherism is not entirely without foundation, but it is also highly misleading.”

    It is paradoxical that while some arch Blairites like John Rentoul are so consumed by hostility for me, my own assessment of Blair’s record is much more positive than many of the centre left.

    This was acknowleged here:

    http://labourlist.org/2012/12/new-labour-historical-danger/

  7. David Pavett says:

    @Andy Newman

    “Yes this is completely right, as I said myself:”

    ” some arch Blairites like John Rentoul are so consumed by hostility for me …”

    “my own assessment of Blair’s record is much more positive than many of the centre left.”

    It is not entirely clear to me whether your contribution here is about Ed Miliband, or New Labour or yourself. And, since you are responding could you not respond to the various points made in reaction to your piece?

  8. John p Reid says:

    Ed Miliband have been more sucses full in opposition that the others ou mentioned, but here’s the reason, Ed inherited a united party that had resulted in the other party not getting an overall majority, Thatcher got the Tories at war with themselves, Labour back with a majority of 4 and they had just got 36% their worse result in 100 years, she wasnt treated with much confidence having won by default,Kinnock worse still,as labour had just got 27%’ Cameron had also won due to David Davis smug. Foolish speech, and they thought they had lost in 2001 and 2005 as they weren’t right wing enough,

    Blair was so far from what the members thought a labour leader should be ,he had to be careful what he said,

    I agree with Swatatntra, regarding the progress, getting upset, over the u turn on the reforms,I think their article on Barbara castle having in place of strife cancelled, cause no end of trouble in,in fighting with the unions

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