THERE is undisguised mirth in Tory circles at the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader. On Saturday night, shortly after the result was announced, staff at Conservative HQ were popping open the champagne. Advisers to David Cameron think the next election is more winnable than ever.
Much of this relief is understandable. Ed Miliband’s victory has sounded the death knell for New Labour, that election-winning machine which the party has come to hate. The Tories have always said Tony Blair was unbeatable and feared that David Miliband, his last disciple, would also prove a tough opponent. They will be glad his only shot at leading the opposition has passed.
Ed Miliband sees no shame in closing the door on the Blairite past, and everything it stood for. “The era of New Labour has passed, a new generation has taken over,” he said yesterday, in his first major interview since winning the crown.
There is nothing “new” about the team that now leads Labour, however. Ken Livingstone is not only the party’s mayoral candidate, but also topped the poll in the race to sit on its National Executive Committee (NEC). Lord Kinnock, flag bearer for the left wing, was one of Ed Miliband’s most vocal supporters. Despite Blair’s attempts to consign them to history, the union barons are once again an important voice in the political debate.
It’s not just the same old faces. Gone is the emphasis on social mobility, on reward for hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. It will be replaced by “equality”, essentially old-fashioned redistribution of wealth. Labour no longer wants to grow the pie – it just wants to cut it up more evenly.
The banks will be bashed; the rich will be soaked; the private sector will be banished from public services. This is the manifesto on which Labour will fight the next election. And they could well win – despite what the Tories think.
For Ed Miliband is not the joke that his opponents are trying to portray him as. No, he is not as good as Blair, few politicians are. But he is still one of the most credible Labour leaders in recent times.
He is much better than Neil Kinnock, the “Welsh windbag” that voters simply wouldn’t vote for in 1992 – no matter how much they hated John Major and his completely divided government. As Gordon Brown’s favourite number cruncher, he is clearly economically literate, unlike Harriet Harman, and will be able to twist facts and figures to attack the government as only a Brownite can. He is no pro at TV, but his smile is nowhere near as scary as Brown’s.
If he can convince the big trade unions to keep industrial unrest in check, his populist brand of socialism could tap into the banker-bashing zeitgeist. As could his claim that the deficit can be reduced without much pain. Voters might say they back tough cuts right now, but it’s easy to say that before their impact starts to bite.
Worst of all for Cameron, Ed Miliband is an unknown – both in politics and public. A fresh face gives him an enormous advantage.