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"This Is the Leadership Britain Needs"; or Why We Picked the Right Miliband

17/02/2014 23:04 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

At one point in his 2013 speech to Labour conference, Ed Miliband made the claim that his was the leadership that Britain needs.

At the time, this sounded a tad optimistic. After all, Miliband had struggled to find his footing as Labour leader, with some peaks and troughs as he sought to find his voice.

To say that the months since that conference last September have seen him take massive steps towards realising that claim would be an understatement. In the same speech, Ed focused on "the cost of living crisis," drawing attention to the struggles that accompany the experience of falling wages and rising prices. It is this crisis that continues to dominate the political agenda and which hasn't gone away, despite Tory hopes that better economic forecasts would lead people to ignore their own struggling finances.

Drawing attention to the cost of living was only the start.

Ed's speech on what a One Nation Economy would look like focused on the paucity of an old economic model that has failed. In place of trickle down economics, he mapped out an industrial policy fit for the 21st Century. Forget a Labour government that just fiddles at the margins of things: this was a strategy for shaping a new economy and a responsive banking system.

Last week, in his Hugo Young lecture he turned his attention to public services. This did far more than set out an agenda for public sector reform: the focus was on a 21st Century socialism that takes the humanity of each person seriously, and that through deferring power to local communities enables the humanising of state systems of support.

And now, in the wake of yet more devastating floods, Ed's taking the lead on the environmental crisis we are facing. Not enough just to stare at floods or to offer measures that will cope with the current crisis but which fail to address the root causes of such events: Ed is showing how Labour will offer policies that address urgently the challenges of climate change.

If this isn't the leadership Britain needs, what is? Does anyone seriously think David Miliband would have been as bold and creative in his direction of travel for the party? Come off it.

Triangulation and the old arts of the Blairite dinosaurs are no longer relevant for shaping a Labour government of the future. Times have changed. Out of necessity we have moved on. This is what happens. If a political party is not to die on its feet, it has to respond to changing circumstances. And this is what Ed has done brilliantly through an agenda for root and branch change which addresses the challenges we face from the financial crisis, the ecological crisis and, importantly, the crisis of trust in politics.

So what about the next steps for his leadership?

It is wonderful to see Ed become the leader that not just Labour needs, but the leader that this country needs. And, as we're sure Ed would agree, he - and Labour - need to go further.

Labour's Education policies are still not good enough. While it would be harsh to call them 'Gove-lite', the emphasis remains on the bureaucracy of registering teachers and the blind belief in parent power. And while it is great to see Liam Byrne challenging the government's handling of Higher Education, his emphasis is still on education as a driver for the economy, rather than a good in and of itself.

Our education policies at present are too technical with too little vision about the difference education can make to the richness of people's lives. Our children and young people deserve a creative strategy that will take them forward, not back to Victorian days which is where Michael Gove's agenda is taking them. Decades ago we discovered that his preferred model didn't work. Why repeat the failures of the past? We live in a fast moving world and therefore need an education model for today which will prepare our children and young people for tomorrow.

It is essential at this point to mention Tristram Hunt crossing that picket line of UCU, Unison and Unite members, who were striking for Fair Pay in Higher Education. Hunt must understand that this dispute matters because it is about a fundamental unfairness in pay. When those at the top award themselves - as vice chancellors have done - with pay rises in the region of 8%, and expect the rest to show pay restraint by settling for 1%, that cannot be right. We know that the discrepancy between the wages of those at the top and those at the bottom are at their widest for a very long time. Hunt's failure to engage with this particular dispute flies in the face of Ed's commitment to take on inequality, as well as his commitment to tackling the lack of responsibility shown by those at the top.

For Hunt not to get how important a show of solidarity is in the wake of these commitments is, frankly, staggering.

Given that in two weeks time the party meets at a Special Conference in London on Party Reform, Hunt's actions could not have come at a worse time. If Labour is to show its commitment to include union members in the decision making of the party, shadow ministers must show that they are on the side of rank and file trade unionists and that they share their struggle for better working conditions. This is perhaps the most elementary lesson of our socialism.

That Hunt doesn't get these struggles raises the problem of accommodating what we might call the neo-liberal wing of the party: those who still believe in the old diktats of Blairism (where the private is good and the public bad; where bankers are to be courted and favours bestowed: a strategy that has resulted in Labour failing to challenge the vested interest of corporate business; where the appeal to the aspirational middle class is made at the expense of all else).

Eventually, for Ed's mission to change Britain to succeed, he will have to take on the money Lord Sainsbury has spent at promoting this old agenda. If this is not done, the voice of a small part of the party will continue to have a disproportionate influence on party policy which distorts the clarity of Ed's agenda for change. Instead of concentrating on exclusivity, we need to concentrate on inclusivity - a Labour Party where all voices count, regardless of income or status.

As Ed takes Labour forward there will be other steps to take along the way.

The issue of how policy is made is vital. Ed has been extremely vocal in raising the issue of what makes for a more representative politics, promoting the need for diversity in our elected representatives that reflects the diverse nature of 21st Century Britain. His comments on the need for gender parity in parliament reflect this concern. His style of leadership is particularly attractive to women: less macho, more consensual. His commitment to more women MPs is excellent.

But how many women are there in Ed's circle of advisors? Certainly, too few of the key figures heading up our policy reviews are women. If the commitment to a more representative Labour party is to be real, this discrepancy must be addressed in order that our policies reflect the interests of a broad range of people, not just a few. This broadening out of the party base and, crucially, the hearing of all voices, will undoubtedly be part of the journey that Labour takes in the months ahead.

In making these critical comments, we are concerned only to push that Milibandite agenda forward. We believe that the path Ed has set out is a good one, and that it is one that will take him to Number 10 in 2015.

And that Government promises much, for with this kind of leadership, Ed's government can rival 1945 in terms of its legacy.