Why did the Labour Party choose Ed?

It’s puzzling, perhaps, because as a Brownite and author of the party’s 2010 manifesto, Ed was associated with Labour’s poor election performance. The selection of David Miliband would have signalled a move back to previously safe electoral ground New Labour occupied. The genesis of Ed’s success can be found in Andrew Rawnsley’s report that the Blair Camp “regarded him as the most reasonable member of Brown’s court” and called Ed “the emissary from Planet Fuck”. Combine this with Ed’s youth and low public profile and you have a Brownite who has the potential for a fresh start, and therefore had a broad enough appeal to other factions of the party.

How on earth did he beat his brother David?

In the election David received more first preferences than Ed. In the two-way runoff Ed still lost to David amongst two of three groups – party members and MPs and MEPs (Ed also lost amongst those now vying for shadow cabinet positions). The deciding factor was that Ed secured the backing of the major unions who then campaigned for their member’s votes. Ed won handily at every stage in this third category of voters, amongst whom turnout was only 9%. There have been questions raised about the tactics used in support of Ed after some unions sent out endorsements for him on the cover of their ballot papers. Finally, remember also that Ed had the nous of Magdalen Politics Tutor Stuart Wood behind his campaign.

How red is Ed?

He lives in Primrose Hill in an expensive house, but that is not necessarily a barrier to being a comrade – see Engels. Ed’s father Ralph was of course an unabashed Marxist. When asked whether his father’s socialism could be achieved by the parliamentary path (instead of revolution) Ed replied “Yes, but it is not his form of socialism. It is my form of socialism which is a more just, more equal society”. He did use the word socialism (something that Blair and Brown shied away from), but he is well within the mainstream of ‘what works is what’s best’ politics. He believes in social democracy, a mixed but essentially capitalist economy, and a welfare state with building blocks similar to the ones bequeathed by Blair and Brown. If you were looking for redder hues than Blair, then Ed leans more towards equalising resources rather than just opportunity, and he has been mildly critical of New Labour’s heavy emphasis on meritocracy alone. He has written that “There is an important progressive instinct that in rich society, nobody should fall below a certain level of income, defined in relative terms”. In practice he has said that he doesn’t want the situation to prevail in which a banker can earn more in a day that a care worker can in a year.

How is he going to change the Labour Party?

In his first speech to conference as leader he distanced himself from the party’s record in government on Iraq, civil liberties, the banks (not the bailout), and the position taken on the alternative vote. It will require some imagination to answer the question of where the party is going next, because the obvious routes, and the ones down which there is no doubt the unions would like to push the party, are lined with pitfalls. It is going to be hard to carve out a distinctive, but at the same time popular brand for the party. The choice of direction is made nightmarishly complicated by the immediacy of the fiscal (tax and spending) options Ed is faced with. The temptation to oppose cuts is substantial, but in the absence of a double dip recession it is hard to see that simple or even just selective opposition will bring his party back to popularity by the time of the next election.