Wednesday, 1 September 2010

We need a leader who shows Labour is back in business

It may come as no surprise that I am backing David Miliband when I cast my vote in Labour's leadership election. I have known and worked with him at various times over the last fifteen years, and while not always agreeing with him, have no doubt that he is the only one of the five candidates with the range of qualities needed not only to lead the Labour Party but to be Prime Minister. His speeches including that at the King Solomon Academy recently reflect an understanding of why we lost and how we should respond to the coalition that is frankly absent from any of his rivals.

Ed Miliband has been the surprise of this campaign, at least to me: his bizarre decision to tack leftwards reflects a lack of seriousness about the role that he seeks and a misunderstanding of how to reconnect with the voters we lost in droves in the 2010 election in constituencies like mine and across the South and South West. I have no doubt that he is often the better speaker at engaging seminar audiences than his brother, but that is not in itself a qualification for the top job. He may have attracted union endorsements and the support of the New Statesman in the process, but he has also made it far harder to win back lost voters.

Yet this has been a campaign that - fratricidal elements aside - has largely failed to ignite the attention of the public. On the one hand, that may be to the good: our support has held up well in the polls and council by-elections. But once the result is declared it is vital that the energy displayed by Tony Blair after 1994 is on display from our new leader. There must be boldness, renewal and new policy. Rather than re-running the 2005 election on Iraq, we need to prepare for an election in 2015 (or before) with a cunning and a maturity that gives people the confdidence to vote Labour again. On the evidence of recent months, David Miliband is readier to strike that balance than his opponents. But if - and, hopefully, when - he wins, he needs to redouble his efforts to show that Labour is once again back in business.

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