In the first few days of the new coalition there seemed to be what I
consider a rather lazy assumption often articulated by Labour
activists that the government can't last and will fall apart in a year
or 18 months. I have mentioned before how I think this as a risky
assumption but in the context of the Labour leadership election it
becomes even more so.
This is because of how the way the coalition government is perceived
could significantly affect the leader they choose.
I am not a great fan of David Miliband. I think he is too wonkish and
does not connect with ordinary people very well. However I do concede
that he is very experienced at the highest levels in government having
been one of Tony Blair's closest advisers in Downing Street and
subsequently a Cabinet Minister reaching the giddy heights of Foreign
Secretary. I also concede that because of this that of the 3 currently
declared candidates (him, his brother and Ed Balls) he appears the
most plausible Prime Ministerial candidate.
The problem is that is true right now. And if we were to have another
election in 2011 then it is possible that D Miliband would be best as
Labour's leader. Just. But if we assume the election will be in 4 or 5
years time then that no longer holds true. In that sort of timeframe
another contender such as E Miliband or even someone less well known
would have a long time to grow into the job. It would also mean it
would be much easier to break with the past. D Miliband is far too
implicated in the Blair and Brown governments to be credibly able to
appear as the change that is needed.
Labour would do well to look at what happened with the Conservatives
in 2005. Who had heard of David Cameron before he threw his hat into
the ring? He seemed to come almost from nowhere (as far as much of the
public were concerned) and was much more plausible as a change
candidate as a result. Would David Davis, member of the old guard (and
just like David Miliband the strong early favourite) have been as
effective in the role. I would suggest that it would have been very
difficult for him.
So the Labour electoral college should think carefully as to whether
they want to install their own member of the old guard or instead to
truly embrace change.
To make the best decision on that, they first have to accept the
likelihood that the coalition will run close to its full term.