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James Hanson
Upper Sixth
Moberly's House

Labour must learn lessons from the past and stick to the centre

Labour must learn lessons from the past and stick to the centre

Forget about allegations of name calling, fraternal squabbles and appearing like a geek. Labour must now tackle head on the age-old choice of parties who have just experienced a crushing defeat — whether to try to reclaim the centre ground that proved so fruitful for 13 successive years of government, or whether to return to the party’s ideological home and drive a more left-wing agenda. Now, it is worth stating at this point that the divide between the Miliband brothers (the two likely victors) is not as accentuated as some would make out. If you were to believe everything written in the press, Ed Miliband is a woolly jumper wearing, banker bashing Trot who is philosophically closer to Tony Benn than Tony Blair, whilst his older brother, David, is a staunch centrist, third-way disciple and slave to the gospel of New Labour. Frankly, this is simply not true; the differences between the pair are far more nuanced. The candidate, for example, who is proposing to scrap the charitable status of private schools and introduce a mansion tax on properties over £2m is actually David Miliband, in spite of his image as the man who wants to win back Middle England, shelving the core vote in the process, and steal Cameron’s mantle.

However, there is a clear choice to be made, in attitude if nothing else. On the one hand, David Miliband would be the leader most likely to reclaim the centre ground, the position from which Labour spent the longest period of government in the party’s history. However, how Miliband Senior would set about such a task beggars belief, more than any past administration the coalition centre ground like never before, largely due to the fact that its two component parties are of different political wings, therefore allowing them to effectively straddle the mainstream. Such a dilemma would explain why many Labourites are favouring Ed Miliband for the leadership. He talks of a living wage paid for out of bankers’ bonuses and a more regulated, higher tax economy. Whilst such proposals may curry favour with Labour activists, the country at large looks on unimpressed. As hard as it may be to steal the centre-ground of an incumbent government, David Cameron’s achievement of doing just that during his five years of opposition prove that it can be done. The next Labour leader will have the same time-frame in which to reposition the party, and given the unpopularity which is bound to descend onto the coalition amidst spending cuts, it as by no means out of reach.

Yet in order for such a transformation to succeed, Labour’s next leader, whichever Miliband he may be, must keep his nerve and resist calls for the party to surge to the left. If Labour’s crushing 1983 landslide defeat to a Thatcher led Conservative government that had been unpopular for the majority of its four year term is not proof enough that left-wing dogma doesn’t win elections, then the public’s general approval of the coalition despite the cuts agenda must surely prove that nowadays a more moderate politics is desired. In brief, when Labour’s new leader is paraded in front of his own party in Manchester this week, he must not give in to the temptation of appealing purely to the starry eyed socialists looking back at him. Labour must learn lessons from the past and stick to the centre.

22 September 2010

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