Monday, September 27, 2010

Sizing up Ed Milliband

In case you're unaware by now, the Labour Party over across the pond has elected a new leader, replacing the old one, namely, Gordon Brown. That new leader is Ed Milliband, and while I may have claimed he's sent Labour back in time to 1983, I should have probably qualified why and how he may end up doing so.

To begin with, you need to look at Labour's recent history, starting from 1994 onwards. This is the era of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the former whose memoirs are now out and I highly recommend you by for an interesting and details account of his time in office, and less than stellar, though reasonably thought out, justifications for Iraq.

But, I digress. Since 1994, Labour has gone through a lot of modernisation pains. Blair's election as leader was catalyst, and he set out changing Labour from a nearly-fringe leftist party that couldn't win more than two full terms consecutively, to a centrist, liberal organization that won three of them back to back. It was this modernisation that changed Labour's chances and fundamentally shifted the balance of power in Britain.

The key to this was Blair's ability to change the party as well as its ideology. He reduced the union's power in leadership elections, changed the party's constitution to reflect modern values, and kept pushing his reforms even when faced with Opposition. Labour was one of two governing parties, and Blair saw that Labour needed to reflect that fact. That's what ended up happening. This project was entitled "New Labour," and the rest is history.

Now, back in the present day, Labour is faced with the prospect of having those changes reversed with the election of Ed Milliband as leader. Not that he will actually send them back to "Old Labour," with its ideological baggage and long losing streaks. He will, however, set out to reserve the changes that Blair and Gordon Brown managed to bring about in the party's ideological outlook. That much is clear.

That's not a good thing, not at all. Labour's success largely depended on its ability to be flexible with the centre-left ground, much like the Liberals in Canada are. We strive to be all things to a lot of people, proposing compromise and discussion, and the occasional time when you have to get the job done, we do. You can call it opportunistic, if you wish, but it's lead to very successful spells in government. The same can be said for Labour.

Furthermore, one needs only to look back in the recent past to find examples of what happens when you launch yourself back to ideological fundamentals. 1983, Labour's worst election in recent memory, occurred because the party, by electing leader Michael Foot, decided that the previous Labour government of James Callaghan was too much "to the right." In 2001, the Conservatives lurched back to the Thatcherism that was largely abandoned by John Major's government, with leader William Hauge leading his party soundly to defeat.

Adding to this, Ed is hardly a break from the past. He was, like his brother David, at the beginning of New Labour. But unlike David, Ed sided more with Gordon Brown, eventually becoming a mediator between the two sides, earning the nickname among Blairites, "emissary from the Planet Fuck." He's part of the divisive past, and given how close the leadership election actually was, and how those fault lines are likely to appear, this does not bode well.

Ed Milliband is essentially "New Labour," but like Gordon Brown, is much more cautious version of it. If it gets any more reactionary than that, then Labour will end up having some problems. With the Coalition of Conservatives and Lib Dems facing some hard times over the budget cuts, it's important that Milliband keeps his party in line with a lot of what New Labour proposed that was so heartily endorsed by the British people. If not, then David Cameron could easily end up winning re-election against an Opposition that doesn't know where it is, or what its doing.

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