Labour’s new leader made a smart choice in picking his shadow chancellor, now he must establish what it means to be a Milibanditeby Anne McElvoy / October 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
Rarely has the election of any political leader been greeted as sotto voce as that of Ed Miliband. Arriving in Manchester the morning after he pipped his brother David to the top post, I was struck by how stunned and funereal the party felt. If this is Labour when it’s in good spirits, heaven help us when it’s feeling a bit down.
The battle of the brothers never could have had a happy outcome. Tony Blair’s old aide Peter Hyman speaks for many on the party’s right of centre when he talks of the Ed victory being “a ghastly, egotistical flight of fancy.” The sense of entitlement in this outburst is one of the reasons Ed was able to run as an insurgent, despite having written the losing manifesto and hugged Gordon Brown close for many years. But Hyman has a point. Praising Tony Benn and Michael Foot as “giants” and being garlanded for “getting our party back” by Neil Kinnock are hardly promising auguries of success.
Moreover, after several conversations with Ed Miliband over the past few months, I get no sense that his gut politics are anything other than the orthodoxies of 1980s social democracy. He adheres to the stubborn belief that if a party crafts its appeal to lower middle-income deciles, that alone should see it into power. It’s rarely like that in practice. (See Peter Kellner’s column in this month’s magazine)
And yet he has not done stupid things in his first moves. He landed some blows in a confident first prime minister’s questions. And in choosing Alan Johnson as his shadow chancellor and effective running mate he has confounded those who thought he would opt for deficit-denier Ed Balls or his more emollient wife Yvette Cooper as the foil to George Osborne. Johnson was as surprised as anyone by this move. The most popular failed rock star in politics had assumed he would remain as shadow home secretary after the leadership contest, and even elicited a pledge to that end from David Miliband. Now Johnson has the task of defining a stance on the deficit that does not resemble the ostrich position.
As a game-opener Johnson’s appointment was smart. The young boss not only soothed anxieties that his “new generation” would be exclusive and callow, he also calculated that Osborne, although ferociously bright, can misjudge the mood and sound a bit over-fond of the role…