Britain: Ed Miliband wins Labour leadership contest

Against the odds, and against the wishes of the British Establishment, Ed Miliband has emerged as Labour Party leader, simply by standing a little to the left of his brother. This clinched the trade union vote, which shows in which direction workers want the party to go, clearly to the left. But which way will Ed Miliband go?

Ed Miliband - Photo by Christian GuthierThe four-month long contest for leader of the Labour Party has finally come to an end. Ed Miliband came from behind to win the leadership over his brother David Miliband by the narrow margin of 50.65% to 49.35%.

The shock result came like a bolt from the blue. David Miliband and his supporters were shell-shocked, as was the British Establishment which was confident of a victory for "their man". After all, David Miliband, the openly Blairite candidate, was supposed to have won decisively. He was backed whole-heartedly by the capitalist media as the “favourite” and natural successor to Gordon Brown. It was regarded as his birthright. He had the acknowledged support from Lord Mandelson, Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson and – from the wings – Tony Blair. He was in front amongst the votes of the MPs and MEPs. He was ahead in the ballot of Labour Party members. In the trade unions, however, David Miliband trailed behind his younger brother. In the final result David Miliband was ahead right up until the third round. But in the fourth round, when Ed Balls’ votes were added in to the final score, Ed Miliband came out on top. You could hear the jaws of the shadow cabinet hit the ground.

For them and the big business Establishment, this was not supposed to happen. They wanted a repeat of 1994, when their candidate, Tony Blair, won the leadership with not much difficulty. Blair was a man the ruling class could trust. The Labour Party was safe in his hands, safe for capitalism. This was “New Labour”, the brain-child of the Tory carpet-baggers who had infiltrated the Labour Party. David Miliband was their chosen successor, and certainly not “Red Ed”.

David Miliband was a Blair clone, a man the Establishment could do business with. His campaign did not stray off message for one second. He was the “statesman”, a reliable servant of capitalism. He even sounded like Blair. He was determined to maintain his “leader-in-waiting” stance throughout. Not surprisingly his campaign was bank-rolled by wealthy donors. His failure to get the Labour leadership was therefore a huge blow. For the ruling class, his brother, Ed, was far less reliable or trustworthy.

Ed Miliband had thrown his hat into the ring only in May. He was hardly in the running. His only chance was to clearly distance himself from New Labour and Blairism. This very much appealed to the trade union base of the party, where three of the biggest unions (Unite, Unison and GMB) came out in his support. Their support won the election for him. Out of the third of the votes in the electoral college held by the trade unions, 19.6% voted Ed, as against 13.4% for his brother.

In contrast, David Miliband was treated with deep suspicion, especially after being asked at the TUC hustings if he was willing to support a TUC march against the cuts. Whereas all the other candidates said yes, he paused, before replying: “Let’s see where we get to.” This, of course, went down badly in an audience faced with the biggest cuts in generations. How could they ever trust or vote for such a man?

But for the Establishment, they couldn’t trust his brother. They saw Ed Miliband appealing unashamedly to the trade unions. They believe that the unions will now put pressure on him to push their agenda. This has resulted in massive hysteria in the capitalist press against Ed Miliband and his union backers. “Unions to demand payback for Victory”, wrote the headline in the Sunday Times, the Murdoch mouthpiece.

“His politics are subtly but significantly different from David’s”, explained the Sunday Times. “He uses the left-speak of equality, enjoys union affiliation more openly and has said he would not accept private sector input into schools even if it produced better results.”

“In the campaign he nakedly pressed Labour’s love-buttons, eschewing the Blairite acceptance of the ultra-rich and attraction to the free market.

“He shrewdly used his Brownite network to appeal to trade unionists, refusing to distance himself from the Unite strike afflicting British Airways and saying that ‘countries with higher trade union membership are happier.’”

It concluded, “Pre-Blair Labour is his hunting ground, as is the more left-wing green tendency.” (26/9/10) For the ruling class, these are not good signs.

The advice of the editorial in the Financial Times was “Miliband must kill the ‘red Ed’ tag”. It said his views were “disappointing” as he defended “unaffordable universal benefit.” It went on that he should learn from Tony Blair and embrace Margret Thatcher’s reforms. No surprise there then.

The union leaders have great hopes in this victory. “His victory, coming from nowhere a few months ago, is a clear sign that the party wants change, to move on from New Labour and reconnect with working people”, stated Tony Woodley, the joint leader of Unite. “Ed has won by hitting the issues people care about – stopping the assassination of public services, fighting for a living wage, standing up for manufacturing, a better future for young people.”

He said that he was “really pleased” when Ed declared that the days of New Labour were over. “As far as I am concerned, it’s been a dark period for our party and for our country.” He went on: “He’s got to reconnect as he’s promised to do with our people, with ordinary men and women.”

He insisted though, correctly, that politically Ed Miliband was “barely pink”, in contrast to the “Red Ed” tag the tabloid press has attached to him. As one shadow cabinet member sighed, “He faces both ways at once.”

After the result, Ed was under pressure by his right-wing supporters to reassure Middle England. In the Sunday Telegraph, he said he would demonstrate his party “is on the side of the squeezed middle in our country”, and pledged his support for those who “work hard and play by the rules.” However, in an article in the Sunday Mirror, he emphasised Labour’s identity as the party of the working class. “At its best, Labour is the party of the working people of Britain”, he wrote.

Interestingly, Ed, despite his attacks on New Labour, did not win a majority in the ballot of party members. On the basis of one-member, one-vote, David Miliband would have won. It was the trade union votes that blocked the openly Blairite candidate. It shows how out of touch the ranks of the Labour Party have become. In the 1970s, it was the rank and file who were to the left of the trade unions. At the time, the “trendy” left wanted to undermine the union block vote and water down the influence of the trade unions in the party. It was the Marxists who fought against this short-sighted policy, and who understood that the key to the Labour Party would be the trade unions. Today, the union membership is far closer to the workers than Labour’s ranks, which have been depleted over the years. The unions remain the key to developments in the party.

It was also reported that more than 36,000 ballots were spoiled by members of affiliated organisations, including the trade unions – 15% of the total. This indicates dissatisfaction with all the candidates and policies on offer. Clearly, if a real left-winger had been allowed to stand on socialist policies, they would have had a considerable impact. That is why John McDonnell was deliberately kept off the ballot.

While there was little fundamental difference between the five candidates, the fact that Ed Miliband felt the need to appeal to the union membership shows how he could bend under the pressure of events. That is why big business was opposed to him and favoured his “reliable” brother instead. While Socialist Appeal, given his record, has no illusions in Ed Miliband, it will be interesting to see how he will react under pressure. Massive events impend. This will cause splits and divisions throughout the labour movement. The fault-lines are already present. The working class will push open any cracks to force their views on to the agenda. The trade unions will be in the front-line of this struggle. Ed Miliband’s victory means that New Labour is dead and buried. In the present context, it can open up a new chapter in the transformation of the party.

Those bourgeois commentators who argue that Labour under Ed Miliband has now become unelectable are oblivious to the real situation working people in this country are facing. Under conditions of savage attacks by the coalition, the attacks on the bankers by Miliband will strike a chord and serve to draw back Labour supporters and prepare another Labour victory at the next election.

Ed Miliband won because he stood marginally to the left of his brother. He expressed some of the things workers are yearning for. The question is what will he do if a few years down the line he actually becomes Prime Minister? He has no real alternative programme to that of the last Labour government. What is required is a real “lurch to the left” with the adoption of genuine socialist policies.

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