Ed Miliband has a long list of reasons to worry. Polls tell him he has yet to make a dramatic impact on the public's consciousness. His party remains fraught with tensions from the fraternal struggle that culminated in Manchester 12 months ago. Headlines continue to focus on the ghosts of New Labour, Blair and Brown, who remain a force of division within the party, even when not present in public life. Miliband's conference speech was a brave attempt to move the political agenda forward, but the coverage in the immediate aftermath suggests he will be denied by the past.
Whilst Miliband pointedly remarked he was neither Blair nor Brown and argued that Cameron was the last hurrah of an out-dated reverence to markets and greed, his argument has since been viewed through a paradigm of pro and anti-business, equality versus competition and state against enterprise. This speech was unable to escape the judgement of the left/right political compass of the 1980s. Indeed, Miliband's attempt to break from the past, and appear as the leader of the future, has probably only strengthened the dismissive belief that he is merely a political hangover from the pre-Blair era.
Those that believe Miliband to be a caricature of Old Labour are wrong. There is something remarkably admirable and refreshing for a politician to be talking about unfairness and the power of the state after decades of political anxiousness has proclaimed the danger of government interference and the importance of markets. But the threat for Ed Miliband is that his vision is all too often in danger of being perceived as a nostalgic admiration of 'Old Labour' politics. Any hint of tax and spend rhetoric, any relationship with the unions, and any sense of class envy are all emphasised by the press and the Conservatives as clues that unmask Miliband as truly a sympathiser of his father's academic writings.
Many, therefore, write off Miliband as 'unelectable'. Often these people foolishly state that Miliband simply doesn't 'look like a Prime Minister'. 'Can you imagine him walking into Number 10 Downing Street? I don't think so', is the regular nonsense spouted by those who simply do not know their history. Edward Heath was seen as weak, with malicious rumour and gossip spreading across Westminster about the Conservative Leader's bachelorhood. It is often overlooked that the entire country, as well as large chunks of the party, could not quite believe what the Conservatives had done electing a relative unknown woman as leader. As the late Barbara Castle said of Thatcher, 'power made her beautiful'. Surprisingly enough, one only begins to look Prime Ministerial when they become Prime Minister.
And it is from the model of Thatcher's leadership in the build-up to 1979 that Team Miliband are plotting and strategising the Labour leader's rise. It is difficult to see the similarities: the girl from Grantham, who believed in the innate righteousness of freedom and markets, with a deep suspicion of the state and a glorious love affair with the most American of Presidents, Ronald Reagan; and the boy from Hampstead, son of a Marxist academic, open about his admiration of Scandinavian Social Democracy and a believer in the benign state. Yet, on the reading list for all Miliband's staff over the summer was Thatcher's 1979 Manifesto which took her to power. Can Miliband be the Thatcher of the left?
Miliband was right to promote young stars such as Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasy. Whilst none are fully formed politicians - it would be strange if they were just one year into their parliamentary career - all are bright, energetic and curious. Unattached from New Labour triangulation, they have the ability to be the minds and leaders of new political movements and ideas.
Yet, change in personnel will not in itself represent the modernity that must be at the heart of Labour's new project. I agree with Miliband when he states that the inherent unfairness of aspects of our capitalism is a centre-ground issue. If it wasn't, progressives should just go home. But Miliband has so far been unable to make the next step, portraying the elements of the 'new economic settlement' he is calling for. In his conference speech, the abstract ideas of 'good businesses' and 'bad businesses' have no real poignancy with the public, and in reality don't lead to any realistic policy initiatives. It is wise not to announce a series of detailed policies (the kamikaze tactics of opposition), but there needs to be an improved sense of how Labour can make a difference without spending.
There are plenty of other people in the Labour party who are thinking about what this next step is. Graham Cooke's important piece 'Partying Like its 1995', shows us just how radical and fresh new thinking needs to be in the centre-left to cope and grapple with modern social developments. Blue Labour, aspects of which Cooke adopts, offers an important intellectual starting point from which Labour can avoid an out-dated tax and spend approach. The recent book, Purple Labour, also offers fascinating policy proposals, especially in Alan Milburn's chapter on social mobility. But the themes from these books need to be brought to life ferociously by the leadership. If Miliband knows the principles he stands for, he must now turn this into a convincing and attractive narrative.
Of course, this is not a simple task. Those that believe David Miliband would have been striving ahead in the polls are mistaken. The political context, as seen across Europe, is not easy for parties of the centre-left. Ed Miliband still has the capability, but must show how his admirable openness about inequality and unfairness can win an election. He may find answers in very different places than he expected - becoming more pro-small businesses, calling for more radical public service reform, highlighting the need for real localism, rather than simply opposing the Tory policies and, as he has already started doing, standing toe-to-toe with the Unions, demanding they modernise.
'What's Past is Prologue' as a phrase is used to suggest the past is a necessary starting point to begin the future. For Miliband, the past is both a lesson and a threat. Thatcher is an example of a politician determined to move beyond the status quo, and who rightly believed there was popular support for change. Miliband believes the same now. But he must show why his vision is modern, and not simply a soft-left critique of capitalism. He can do it. He is a man who knows what he stands for. He must now go and stand for it. As the next line in The Tempest reads, 'What's past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge'.
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