Saturday, 15 May 2010

Comparative Milibandism: your essential briefing

The Next Left blog's claim to be perhaps the world's most active home of comparative Milibandism may now face greater competition as the Labour leadership contest prepares to gets underway.

David Miliband announced first as a candidate for leader this week, and Ed Miliband's speech to the Fabians tomorrow is widely trailed in the morning newspapers as he begins his own candidacy for the leadership. Their fraternal contest is to be welcomed, as we argued earlier this week.

A Miliband v Miliband contest seemed unlikely several months ago, when we were quietly encouraging a fraternal contest. We do, however, seem to have been less successful in keeping both Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls in the field.

One of the most interesting things about Ed Miliband's candidacy is how broad his support might be. That can be quite useful in an election, not least one with a transferable votes system. This reflects his popularity in the party, having worked hard to engage as many people as possible in the manifesto and his Copenhagen climate campaigning. However, Next Left wondered last Autumn what would happen when some of those - from Peter Mandelson to Derek Simpson - who seemed keen to clamber abroad Ed's Milibandwagon might have to be disappointed.

One interesting thing about David Miliband's candidacy is that he is the so-called "Blairite" candidate who is not really a Blairite. (However, that case may be best made by non-Blairites rather than, say, Lord Falconer who argued that on Question Time).

I made that point in a long piece about David's Milibandism - and the "progressive fusion" of social democracy and liberalism - for Open Democracy back in August 2008:

Gordon Brown run on ‘change’ a year ago, but he has not defined the change since. His government has had much more continuity with the Blair years than this promised. Miliband would need to show that he is not advocating a change back to Blairism. That really would be déjà vu all over again.

And Miliband’s ‘progressive fusion’ argument does place him some way to the social democratic left of Tony Blair. Miliband will argue that narrowing inequalities in life chances define the mission of the centre-left; Blair could never bring himself to say that the gap mattered. Miliband also places a greater emphasis on bottom up approaches than traditional, Brownite social democracy. Perhaps Miliband’s social democratic-liberal ‘fusion’ approach could be described as ‘Blairite means to Brownite ends’. (Matthew Taylor, one of Miliband's successors in Downing Street has previously suggested that Miliband combines Blairite pluralism with Brownite values).

But that would be a mistake too. The last thing next generation Labour needs is to have the Blairite and Brownite labels inherited down the generations. The Bevanite/Gaitskellite factions divided Labour for 25 years, but at least that was about something at the outset. Take the personal allegiances out of it, and policy differences about public service reform are not an ideological argument to cascade down the generations.

A ‘next generation’ Blair/Brown divide would depend on defining the substantive differences about ideas, policy and politics which divide David Miliband, once head of policy for Blair, from his brother Ed Miliband, former head of policy for Brown. I am willing to offer a free internet-based phD certificate in comparative social democracy to anybody who can do that.

Assessing the main philosophical, political and policy differences between David and Ed Miliband - which always struck me as potentially the perfect tie-break question if interviewing for a Fabian Society research director - is now a question that the entire Labour party will have to consider.

PS: David Miliband has said their mother will abstain, which is an understandable instinct but perhaps not most the rational response if she wishes to help her sons without favouring either: that is also an abstention between Milibands, Balls, Cruddas et al - so she might be better advised to toss a coin to decide her first and second preferences, so that the vote might go to either son who needs it).

1 comment:

jdc said...

Or she could join the Fabian Society for an extra vote, and use one vote for each.

(do the Socialist Societies still get a vote? If not delete and insert "a trade union")