Monday 28 September 2009

The problem with Ed's Milibandwagon

Shares in Ed Miliband rose once again inside the Westminster-on-sea bubble following his rallying call to the Labour party yesterday.

Last year, he had to remain loyal to his boss and his brother, as the possibility of a leadership challenge dominated the party conference. That he did so, quietly and with his own reputation enhanced, confirmed the general view that he is among the brightest and the most personable of Labour's emerging generation.

But, with a planet to save, and a party-saving election manifesto to write, he is not keen to encourage the swirl of speculation about his prospects in a future leadership contest sometime after the next General Election.

At last night's Fabian Question Time fringe, I noted that Ed Miliband is now reportedly the favoured candidate of both Derek Simpson and Peter Mandelson, which would make writing the campaign platform rather fun.

But the coalition turned out to be broader still. Tory blogger Iain Dale was keen to point out that he had been an early adopter, tipping Ed M for the top in his GQ profile of the Milibands.

I hope that won't keep Ed awake at night worrying about whether Lord Ashcroft might be next to endorse him (or even purchase the Milibandwagon outright) but he already appears well on course to constructing one of the biggest tent ever constructed in British politics.

Broad coalitions are a very good thing - as James Purnell and Jon Cruddas discussed yesterday at the Fabian fringe.

And there are many good reasons why membership of the Ed Miliband fan club is growing.

He speaks openly about Labour values, and the Copenhagen climate brief may give him additional exposure to ideas about the new 'movement politics'. He has put a good deal of effort of engaging with respect on the manifesto across the broad range of party opinion in a more open and inclusive way than before. That is a very good thing for the manifesto coordinator.

But, however well liked Ed is, he can't be all things to all people forever.

Right now, the hypothetical idea of an Ed Miliband led Labour party seems to be becoming an opportunity for everybody to project their personal idea of what their ideal Labour party might be. That is easy enough as Ed's role as manifesto coordinator mean he has focused on Labour's broad argument and mission, while feeling it would be inappropriate to pitch heavily in to major open policy issues. .

So there is a strange echo the 'waiting for Gordon' period between 2004 and 2007. Apart from a handful of Blairite ultras and Campaign Group lefties who stood out against the broad consensus, everyone else imagined that Gordon Brown would do whatever it is that they wanted.

Well, politics never quite works like that.

Still, there will be plenty of time - some time after a General Election - to hear more from Ed Miliband and the rest of his generation, and there is no point whatsoever in a leadership contest by proxy when there is a General Election to fight.

Once we find out what he (and others) really think, it might be a good sign it may be a good sign if at least a few people in British politics are clear that they have found something to disagree with.

PS: Ed has not stopped doing "people mistake me for David" jokes, But David does now increasingly do "people mistake me for Ed" jokes, as at last night's New Statesman party. Close Miliband-watchers think it is time for a mutual ceasefire.

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