All credit to the Labour Party for providing a touch of drama at the announcement of Ed Miliband’s victory in their leadership contest. After four rounds of recalculating, Miliband beat his brother David by 1.3% of Labour’s slightly quirky electoral college.
Miliband the Younger now faces the challenge of any Leader of the Opposition in the wake of a recent defeat: ensuring his party doesn’t descend into navel-gazing and grand theoretical gestures. Ed Miliband’s campaign has been presented as ‘of the left’ but he is surely too canny to allow his party to vacate the middle ground. As one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, would happily tell him – that way lies long-term opposition.
Miliband’s challenge is to draw his party away from much of the, perfectly natural, hurling of toys from prams which has gone on since defeat in May. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of the merits or otherwise of the Coalition, any administration needs strong, focussed opposition and I genuinely hope that the Labour Party will quickly find themselves in a position to hold the government to account.
Much will be made about the fact that Miliband only crept over the line as a result of union support – his brother carried a final round majority of MPs and ordinary members – but the truth is that all of that will be forgotten if he proves to have been the right choice for Labour.
What Ed Miliband will need to do quickly is decide where Labour now stand on the deficit and to build a constructive narrative around that. In the short-term he will also have to decide his party’s position on next year’s AV referendum, particularly in the light of the manifesto Labour ran on in May and the fact that he himself was elected by that process.
I wish him well, as a healthy opposition is a vital part of a healthy democracy. There are likely to be interesting times ahead.