THE Labour leadership battle is finally drawing to a close. Ballot papers will be sent to party members tomorrow before the victor is announced on 25 September. The contest should have been fascinating, what with the fraternal war between Ed and David Miliband. But it has been a damp squib that has failed to generate any interest outside Labour circles.
Despite this, the winner has a good chance of becoming the next Prime Minister. Even without a leader, Labour is snapping at the heels of the Tories; the most recent YouGov poll puts them on 39 per cent compared to 41 per cent for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems, who are languishing on 12 per cent, hardly get a look in. In fact, the numbers are so good for Labour, one wonders why they’re bothering to elect a leader at all.
As the candidates limp to the finish, it is clear this is a two-horse race. David Miliband will win the most first-preference votes, as well as the support of the majority of Labour MPs. Brother Ed has mopped up more union support and could pip his elder sibling to the post if enough second preference votes fall his way. The Tories are hoping Labour goes for Ed, who plans a “core vote” strategy to win back former supporters in the party’s working class heartlands. That would leave the centre ground, which was dominated by New Labour until the election, empty for the Conservatives.
Although Ed uses the word “new” in each of his six key leadership pledges, his manifesto is a re-run of the policies favoured by Neil (now Lord) Kinnock, who led the party to two successive defeats. Among other things, Ed promises a High Pay Commission that would hit wealth creation, a rejection of private involvement in public services, a pacifist foreign policy that would see Britain abandon its allies, and more cash spent on the causes (read perpetrators) of crime.
Such a programme for government would guarantee a long spell in opposition. Although Labour likes to think it lost the election because it lost the support of traditional voters, the opposite is true.?Its vote held up remarkably well in Scotland, working class towns in the North, and poorer parts of London. But it lost millions of votes in aspirational, middle class constituencies in the South East, East Anglia and the South West.
Although David Miliband is considerably to the left of New Labour stalwarts like Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, he alone understands that Labour must win back these voters. If the party has any sense, it will ignore its heart and vote with its head.
•David Miliband is interviewed in tomorrow’s edition of City A.M.