Thatcher's True Heir

I am 100 per cent convinced that Ed Miliband has courage, conviction and passion like no prime minister, since Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street. In that sense, he is her heir.

Last week, I wrote an article detailing the bizarre occasion I met Margaret Thatcher. Bizarre, in part, because she still exuded that legendary presence which was a by-product of her unflinching conviction.

While there is much one wouldn't want to replicate about Thatcher's time in office, there is also much one would want to replicate, including her steadfast conviction in her views and her government's mission.

As Ed Miliband put it, during his much lauded Commons tribute to Baroness Thatcher: "At each stage of her life, she broke the mould...willing to take on the established orthodoxies...and show[ing] that ideas matter in politics."

Ed Miliband is right: people want leaders to be strong, determined and impervious to opposition from both within and outside their party. As Margaret Thatcher said, also quoted by Ed Miliband in his tribute to her: "politics is more when you have convictions than a matter of multiple maneuverings to get you through the problems of the day."

As a Labour member, I neither agree with all the convictions Margaret Thatcher held, nor approve of all of the consequences of her actions, but she gave the country a clear a choice - a choice the country understood and voted for at three successive elections.

The reason I write this article now, though, is because I am 100 per cent convinced that Ed Miliband has courage, conviction and passion like no prime minister, since Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street. In that sense, he is her heir.

I accept, at present, I am in the minority, as Ed Miliband's credentials for the country's top job have often been ridiculed. He's accused of having little charisma and for not having made a bigger impact on the political scene. However, these were the exact same criticisms that Margaret Thatcher was pilloried with when she was leader of the opposition. In fact, as a woman, she had it worse and had to work hard to not only get her country to take her seriously but her party, too.

From having met Ed Miliband, on several occasions, I know these accusations against his character and competency are unjustified. Just as the criticisms of Margaret Thatcher turned out to be a poor assessment of her so, too, will those of Ed Miliband.

There's one occasion I particularly remember meeting Ed Miliband, back in 2009, when I was working in Parliament. We used to have Labour staff meetings, on a Monday, organised by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). A senior Labour figure - often a Cabinet minister - would be invited to attend, but more often than not we'd arrive to hear they'd pulled out. Ed Miliband didn't pull out. Not only this, on arrival he went around the room, shook everyone's hand and asked them their name. He then said that he was there to listen, not talk. After leading a Q&A with us parliamentary assistants - who, to be frank, are as important to Labour's electoral strategy as good script writers are to Emmerdale - he answered each of our questions. Afterwards, he went around the room and, using our names, thanked us all for attending.

I was so impressed by his charisma, genuine nature and his ability and willingness to engage, that on returning to my office I proclaimed to the MP I worked for: "Ed Miliband will be the next leader of the Labour Party!" My boss liked Ed, greatly, but he laughed, as would have most MPs at such a suggestion, in 2009. It didn't matter, though - I had met more than enough politicians to recognise that one with Ed Miliband's qualities would go far. Indeed, that is why I voted for him in the Labour leadership contest and why I lobbied the MP who I worked for to do likewise.

The necessary problem with our political system is that one isn't able to prove oneself until in office. In addition, in British political culture, the public hardly gives the leader of the opposition the time of day. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher didn't truly cement her reputation as the 'Iron Lady' until the start of her second term as prime minister (despite it being first used to describe her in1976), when she took on the unions in that now infamous battle of wills.

Despite this precedent, Ed Miliband has already shown himself to have more than enough vision, conviction and courage to match that of Margaret Thatcher. He was the man who took on the press and forced Leveson to be established; he was the party leader who took the fight to the banks; it was he who called for a more "responsible capitalism" and it is he who has stolen the political narrative by calling for a return to One Nation politics.

But some people still criticise Ed Miliband for having few policies. This is unfair. He's pledged to reinstate the 50p rate of income tax, introduce an independent regulator of the press which actually has teeth, overturn the reforms to the NHS and introduce a mansion tax on properties worth in excess of £2m, in order to reintroduce a 10p rate of income tax. If this was all he achieved in his first term of government, it would be a successful first term, from a historical perspective.

David Cameron might have once boasted about being the "heir to Blair" but it is Ed Miliband who is the heir to Margaret Thatcher. Ed will revolutionise society, with the courage and conviction of Margaret Thatcher, but this time it will be a One Nation revolution.


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