Peter Hoskin

Why David Miliband is the most dangerous candidate for the coalition

Why David Miliband is the most dangerous candidate for the coalition
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Now how's this for an opinion? Writing for Labour Uncut, Dan Hodges announces that David Miliband has won the Labour leadership contest. His piece starts:

"This Saturday David Miliband will become leader of the Labour party. He will have won a majority of his Parliamentary colleagues and the wider membership, along with sufficient support from unions and other affiliates to secure not just victory but  an overwhelming mandate. The New Labour era will be over."

No, bear with me, CoffeeHousers: this isn't an endorsement of the elder Miliband brother. At the beginning of the Labour leadership race, I was generally disinclined towards him – and I still am. He remains, to my eyes, a uninspiring speaker and a ministerial under-performer. But there's little doubting that he has run a bolder campaign than his rivals, and one that is better attuned to the political climate.

Oddly enough, this struck me when MiliD made one of his clearest sallies to the left – and recruited the support of Jon Cruddas. Here was the most ostensibly right-leaning candidate going out of his way to build a consensus across the party – yet, as far as I can tell, it didn't involve much compromise of his opinions. He still defends Alistair Darling's deficit reduction plan. He still emphasises that Labour needs to hunt for what are currently Lib Dem and Conservative votes. And, in the clearest sign that he is unwilling to pander to the left, Miliband resisted calls for him to join a union rally against the government's spending cuts. Perhaps alone, he realised that wannabe prime ministers don't demean themselves with cheap stunts in place of levelheaded debate.

By contrast, Ed Miliband looked ideally positioned to be the consensus candidate at the start of the race. He was the acceptable face of the left: popular with the party, more "human" than his brother, and less tainted by what Andrew Rawnsley calls the TB-GBs. But, a few months on, he has failed to round out his rougher edges. The support of Unite and Unison should have inspired a crazy dash to appeal to the party's right, a renewed effort to construct a broad platform of support. Yet, instead, MiliE has shifted even further leftwards – and allowed himself to be caricatured as the unions' candidate, "Red Ed". His supporters may deny that this is the case – and they do – but the fact that the caricature exists speaks volumes.

This isn't just a matter of presentation. It could determine the future of our politics. The further that Labour lurch to the left, the more cavernous the gap between themselves and the Liberal Democrats. This sets them up as a party of opposition to, rather than cooperation with, the centre ground and its deep supply of voters. It is no accident, I believe, that Ed Miliband has been particularly vicious in his attacks on the Lib Dems, and particularly stringent in his demands for a coalition. David Miliband does not have an unblemished copybook on this front, but at least he's trying.

Matthew d'Ancona put this succinctly in the Evening Standard yesterday. His argument was that:

"If the name in the golden envelope is David Miliband's, the Deputy Prime Minister will have his work cut out. The Labour Party will be led by a former Foreign Secretary who has (mostly) resisted the siren call of the Left during the leadership contest: a man of authority who has no patience either with opposition or with the dreamy self-indulgence of Old Labour. Led by David Miliband, Labour would remain a party of the centre. It would be well-positioned to attack the Lib-Dems at the next election as the centre-Left party that sold out to the Tories. With the elder Miliband at the helm, Labour would have a good chance of looking like a party of government.

If, on the other hand, the new leader is Ed Miliband, a huge strategic opportunity will present itself to Clegg. The younger Miliband's pitch has been all about the renunciation of New Labour and tickling his party's long-neglected tummy. His leadership would plunge Labour back into the pre-Blair era of kneejerk opposition, unrestrained tribalism, and ideology before reality. Ed might, as is constantly claimed, be an appealing personality, and perhaps even (though I see no evidence) a visionary. But he will never look like a Prime Minister: not in a month of makeover Sundays."