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By all means bring back David …. to a new shadow cabinet, which understands why New Labour lost

David & Ed MilibandRumours of a possible return to the front bench by David Milliband abound. That, some pundits say, is the reason for abolishing shadow cabinet elections. As we argued last week, we favour democracy but the 300,000 plus people that put Ed into his job carry more weight with us than the 258 people who isolated him in his shadow cabinet. But we’re intensely relaxed about the presence of David Miliband in the shadow cabinet, we believe in an inclusive leadership, provided that it’s in a shadow cabinet committed to change — the basis on which Ed was elected.

Labour List pointed out the positive potential of another embrace between the Miliband brothers at party conference this September, in conjunction with the announcement of David’s return to the front bench. Brain Barder commented on that piece that for him:

the defining image of the last party conference was not the two Milibands’ fraught embrace, but the shot of David Miliband rebuking Harriet Harman for applauding his brother’s repudiation of the Iraq disaster.

That was an image that illustrated not only the difference between the Miliband brothers, but the key issue that divides the majority of the PLP from the majority of the party outside, Progress from mainstream Labour. Ed is committed to change. As he reaffirmed this weekend:

We also, though, must face up to the truth of what happened to us. We are in opposition today, because in addition to the many good things we did, we also made mistakes…. We can only win if we change.”

Progress thinks otherwise. Under the heading “New Labour is right for Labour“, they say in an editorial in their latest issue:

Some blame New Labour for the mistakes which led to the party’s third worst election defeat in its history. Others believe that the term has become so intrinsically linked to the loathed practices of spin and ‘command and control’ as to be counterproductive. Ed Miliband is blunter still: New Labour, he declared during the leadership contest, is ‘dead’.

We disagree – and not simply because it would be foolish to think Labour has nothing positive to learn from a politics which delivered the party three historic general election victories, record investment in, and the renewal of, our public services, and a decade of economic growth and prosperity.

But it wasn’t really New Labour that won in 1997. It was the public’s antipathy to the Tories, Tony Blair’s undoubtedly effective presentational skills and, in policy terms, the programe largely inherited from John Smith. Blair’s presentation was based on “Newness”, created by symbolic acts in his early days, notably the abandonment of Clause IV, which had little meaning for the public except for the impression of modernity.

But modernity never lasts long (though that hasn’t stopped other parties trying it since), and nor does the loyalty of the electorate if they don’t like what they get. And what they got lost the votes of 5 million people, once the programme inherited from John Smith had been implemented in the first term.


  1. Duncan says:

    He could bring David back without getting rid of Shadow Cabinet elections. I would be perfectly relaxed about him so doing. Getting rid of Shadow Cabinet elections is a massive mistake though, and one we will ultimately be very sorry not to have opposed more consistently!

  2. Curlew says:

    A David in the shadow cabinet is one step closer to a David in the next leadership election

  3. Jon Hudson says:

    David M did not stand in the last Shad Cab elections; if he had he would have topped the poll. He could still rule himself out of an appointed team, so abolishing them is not relevant surely?

  4. Gary Elsby says:

    I’m struggling to accept any of the current arguments for scrapping democracy in favour of autocracy.
    I need more proof that the wider membership has more voting weight than MPs, either actual or moral.
    I hear no calls to remove the electoral college in favour of OMOV either.
    If Ed Miliband is good enough to think he is a Leader, never mind being one, then he should have enough charisma and clout to bend the Party his way without the desire to pick and choose which moral code and rules to abandon.
    A very retrograde step removes party democracy for the sake of political convenience.

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