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Monday, August 30, 2010

Labour leadership contest splutters into life

In retrospect that headline may be an exaggeration but nevertheless the extraordinary intervention of Lord Mandelson through his warning that Ed Miliband would take the party into an "electoral cul-de-sac"is noteworthy at the very least.

According to Sky, the former Business Minister said the younger of the Miliband brothers would take Labour back to the past by only appealing to the party's "core" supporters:

"If you shut the door on New Labour you're effectively slamming the door in the faces of millions of voters who voted for our party because we were New Labour."

Lord Mandelson, one of the architects of New Labour, criticised former leader Neil Kinnock and former deputy leader Roy Hattersley for attempting to "hark back to a previous age" by supporting the more left-wing of the brothers.

In a swipe at the former energy and climate change secretary's reputation for being a strong communicator, he said Labour was not a Church and therefore did not need a "preacher".

He praised David Miliband for his recent speeches but stopped short of formally endorsing him, saying only he would "cast his vote like everyone else".

The ex-Business Secretary said: "I think his brother Ed... is wrong when he describes new Labour as a comfort zone.

"On the contrary, it was about some difficult choices and some tough decisions on policy. There was nothing comfortable about many of the issues we had to face up to," he added.

Lord Mandelson's comments come after David Miliband, the former foreign secretary, told Sky News he would "struggle" to server under his brother but aides denied this meant he would quit.

Presumably Labour members will want to make their own minds up on this, though it is not unusual for the Mandelson-Blair axis to decide what is best for the party. I suppose that comes from winning three successive General Elections.

Today's Daily Telegraph for example reports that Tony Blair attempted to prolong his time as prime minister after he was warned that George W Bush’s US administration had “grave doubts” about Gordon Brown’s suitability to follow him into No. 10.

They say that the White House warnings, which were reiterated by other leading US-based figures, played a key role in Mr Blair’s attempt to cling on to power until at least 2008, and to groom David Miliband as his successor.

However, he was forced to abandon this plan following a “coup” led by Mr Brown’s supporters. Mr Brown eventually became prime minister in June 2007 and pursued a foreign policy that was far more independent of America than Mr Blair’s had been.

These sorts of wounds tend to run deep within Labour. It will be interesting to see how easily these warring factions come together behind whoever wins this contest and for how long.
Sorry to disppoint you Peter there will be no civil war in the Labour Party whoever wins the leadership contest. Historically political parties are always united when they have something to oppose.Before 1914 the Liberals were often all over the place on many issues but what united them was a real dislike of the Tories and defence of free trade. The cuts agenda of the Coalition will provide exactly the same sort of glue to the Labour Party in the next few years. The real Blairites were always a tiny minority. As for Blair's electoral success any Labour Leader would have won in 1997 and the other victories owed more to the failure of the Tories to get their act together than any real enthusiasm for Blair as the millions of lost votes show. Labour will also learn from the mistakes the Tories made in opposition and there will be no rerun of the early 1980s. Instead there will probably be a pretty disciplined and well thought out attack on the policies of the Coalition from a new leadership team. Look at Balls interesting speech on the economy last week and the article praising him by Irwin Seltzer in the New Statesman. Far from being finished Labour is in a pretty strong position as the results in next year's Assembly and English local elections will show. As for the effect of Mandelson's intervention on the actual leadership election . If I were Ed Miliband I would be quite pleased and confident that all it did was persuade many party members that there is a need for real change and a new approach which doesn't hark back to a Blairite mythical view of the past.
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