James Forsyth

David Miliband sets out the fraternal dividing lines

David Miliband sets out the fraternal dividing lines
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David Miliband is one of those politicians who speeches improve when you read them on paper, his delivery still distracts more than it adds. If the Labour party is going to pick the Miliband who is the more natural platform speaker then David hasn’t got much of a chance. But if they want the Miliband who is more prepared to think about why Labour really lost then David might well be their man.

On Saturday, Ed Miliband talked about how Iraq, a ‘casualness’ about civil liberties and a failure to regulate the banks properly had cost Labour the election. This might be Ed Miliband’s genuine analysis but it is also what Labour members want to hear: Labour lost because it wasn’t Labour enough. To be fair, he did mention immigration but only in a specifically left-wing way—‘immigration is a class issue’, he said because it depresses wages.   

By contrast, David Miliband today talked about how Labour had ‘lost focus on education and anti-social behaviour’ and was ‘playing catch-up on political reform, immigration and housing’. This strikes me as a more balanced assessment of why Labour lost. The mention of education is also a slap at Ed Balls, who is expected to enter the leadership race soon. He put the brakes on the education reform agenda as soon as he arrived at the department.

Miliband senior talked about a politics of power, protection and belonging. It is not the snappiest of soundbites but one can see something in there that could help Labour connect to both the white working class voters and aspirational middle class voters it lost at the last election. But if Labour is serious about being a force in the South again, it needs to deal with the sense that people were over-taxed compared to the services they were receiving.

So far one doesn’t see anyone in the Labour leadership contest who will give Cameron and Clegg sleepless nights. But as Cameron showed in 2005, candidates can grow in stature during a leadership race. For that reason, a long contest is in Labour’s interest.