As we now all know, Ed Miliband has been elected Leader of the Labour Party, by a margin of 1.3%, after transfers from the other eliminated candidates, and on the back of strong support from the ‘affiliated organisations’ (mostly – though not entirely – Trade Unions) which account for one third of the Electoral College. MPs and Party Members preferred his older brother David.
In many ways, this makes Little Brother’s position rather difficult, and he has some thinking to do.
If he turns to those who delivered his victory, and his platform as of now is a continuation of the one he adopted over the summer, then he risks alienating a large section of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the wider membership (though it’s a sad mark of how the Labour Party has changed from its original purpose, that there can be a disconnect such as this between the Labour Party and the Unions). And in doing so, he also risks yielding the centre ground to the Coalition. However, he would also put to the test Nick Clegg’s assertion that the LibDems were never a repository for annoyed left-wingers.
Conversely, if he mends fences with his brother, and adopts what we’ll call a neo-Blairite line (though it’s best remembering that New Labour was at its most successful when it presented traditional Labour ideas in a new way – it’s when it went in a new direction altogether that things got ropey), he might help recover the middle ground, but he’ll have some very angry Unions to deal with and still might not succeed in securing support from the pro-David sections of the party.
So one way or another, there are potential electoral rewards – LibDem defections from the left, Tory defections from the centre/right – and potential risks to the party.
But there is another factor which might play in his favour, and give him carte blanche either way. The Shadow Cabinet elections are still to come and it’s possible that with momentum now behind him, pro-Ed candidates might find favour. A Shadow Cabinet shaped more in Ed’s image than in David’s will be a massive boost to the new Leader and allow him to take a new left(ish)-leaning agenda without repercussion, at least for a year. However, a Shadow Cabinet which actually reflects the David line wouldn’t be a major blow: it would be expected under the circumstances, and allow Ed to move onto the neo-Blair patch without using up much capital with the Unions as he would, potentially, simply be reflecting an agreed line of the Shadow Cabinet. A win-win scenario.
And this might be the way he’s going: after talking about how Labour took the working classes for granted, his first public appearance was used to discuss the squeezed middle classes. Going for Middle England again? Perhaps so.
However, this line isn’t sustainable in the long-term and it does, once again, come down to the Unions, but not their support for Ed Miliband. The unions can – and if necessary will – push MPs into supporting, perhaps even demanding, the agenda that Ed Miliband discussed on the campaign trail. It’s alleged that at the TUC Conference, Charlie Whelan (now a major player with Unite) targeted 12 Labour MPs to change their second preferences to Ed Miliband. He succeeded with six of them, which allegedly gave Ed Miliband the numbers across the wider electoral college. If that’s the case, then with unions being responsible for many MP’s respective positions, then it might not be the Leader who has to pay close attention (now that he’s in, it’s going to be very hard to get him out again, as opponents of both Blair and Brown found out over the years), but his backbenchers.
One last point: as Labour’s electoral college model is something of a novelty, it’s worth stating the obvious that under a LibDem or SNP model of simply balloting the membership, David Miliband would be Leader by now, while under the Tory model of MPs narrowing the field down to a shortlist of two for members to consider, members could have chosen between the two Milibands, with David emerging on top. That said, Labour’s selection for London Mayor was unveiled on Friday (Ken Livingstone, almost inevitably) following a vote from an electoral college consisting simply of 50% members and 50% members of affiliated bodies. On this model, Ed Miliband would still have won, and still after four rounds of voting, but would have overtaken David in Round 2 rather than Round 4.
Perhaps, under the circumstances, if any changes are to be made (and given the result, Ed Milband would have to have balls of steel to make them), it is more likely to be to the London model than a move to any system similar to that used by other parties.