Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ed Miliband to Come Up the Middle?

Labour may ditch Blair/Brown baggage with compromise candidate

With the slate of candidates for the Labour leadership contest filling up, David Miliband remains the odds-on favourite to win. Ed Balls seems to be viewed as the number two man in the race.

But as Andrew Grice suggests, the dynamics that are so often at play in political leadership contests may give the winning edge to a third candidate: Ed Miliband.

As Grice notes, David Miliband was a staunch supporter of Tony Blair. In turn, Blair helped champion his careeer. Ed Balls is a close contemporary of Gordon Brown who, in Paul Martin-esque fashion, applied relentless pressure to help spur Blair's departure from office.

Balls will be saddled with memories of that relentless push.

Like any political party in need of unity, Labour members would very much like to put the Blair/Brown divide behind them.

For Ed Miliband, matters are rather different. He isn't seen as particularly close to Blair or Brown, despite having served in Brown's cabinet.

The differences between the two Milibands also seem be paramount in the minds of Ed Miliband's supporters.

"Ed Miliband's supporters do not like comparing him to his brother and there is a noticeable absence of war (and major policy differences)," Grice writes. "When pressed, they say David offers brains without charisma while Ed offers both and can therefore reconnect with Labour's lost supporters while uniting the party."

"Ed Miliband's critics claim he lacks the experience or instant judgement to handle unexpected events and would offer compromises rather than strong leadership – more Neil Kinnock (one of his main sponsors) than Mr Blair," Grice continues. "Mr Brown is said to have described Ed Miliband as 'a cross between an academic and a preacher'. Quite a lot of Labour members may like the sermon."

Last but not least, the preferential ballotting system used in Labour Party leadership votes may facilitate the younger Miliband in emerging as a compromise between his older brother and Ed Balls.

While Labour could stand to break from the bitter divisiveness of the Blair/Brown struggles, it would adopt a risk in electing Ed Miliband as a figure of compromise.

Compromise candidates are often perceived by the public as not having been fully imparted with their authority by the party membership.

For a party coming off of a catastrophic election loss, that could prove to be even more devastating than the loss itself. The Labour Party will need to weigh its options very carefully before making that kind of decision. Unfortunately, the preferential ballot may actually deprive them of the opportunity to do that.

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