Andrew Wilson: Ed Miliband just a symptom

The polls still have Ed Miliband as the most likely winner of the general election. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The polls still have Ed Miliband as the most likely winner of the general election. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THERE are 25 weeks to go to the General Election. Ahead in the polls pretty much continuously since he was elected as leader, you’d think Ed Miliband was entitled to lead unencumbered by criticism from a party aching to get back into power. But Labour’s capacity for self-destruction continues.

All parties should want power otherwise they can’t reform and improve the lives of the people, which, incidentally, is us all. Without it what would politics be but a personal entertainment for the strangely driven and a spleen venter for the frustrated?

If I was ever enamoured by the cult of leadership I most certainly am not now. It is out of time. We don’t look up to the great to tell us what to think, do or feel anymore. Leaders need to lead differently now. They must define and drive consent, set out vision and purpose and then motivate the power of the crowd behind delivering it. We’ve had our fill of Pied Pipers.

Whisper it, maybe Labour’s problems aren’t really about Ed. What if the problem is not the man but that his party has never moved on from Tony Blair? Let’s not detain ourselves on Blair’s merits or otherwise. The point is that he won big then left in comparative ignominy. It happens to prime ministers.

Gordon Brown took over on the grounds he wasn’t Tony Blair and cleared the pitch. This was a step away from its past purpose as a party not towards its new one. It is always a mistake, running away rather than to. We are left easily stranded on islands we never chose. This is true of our relationships, true of our jobs and, it should be clear, of political parties.

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After Gordon came Ed who – to be both fair and critical – has similarly failed to define what his party is for any more. Lots of tactical initiatives some of which worked well, a project plan backed by fireworks. But the resonating truth of underlying direction and purpose? I can’t see it.

He got closest in his 2012 conference speech where he spoke with authenticity about why he was in public service, his values and how he was driven. As close as he ever got to a unifying “one nation” vision. It was received well and instead of driving on, he basked briefly in media adulation before retreating to form.

Ironically the polls still have him as the most likely winner though they suggest an overall majority is unlikely. Strategists sense, however, that his lead is too slender to overcome incumbency and a Tory party slowly getting it’s own electoral act together. What seems almost certain to me (although who knows in a world where all sorts of strange things seem to be happening?) is that a coup is very unlikely. Which of the potential successors would wish a matter of days to try and fix a party mangling itself in full public view?

More likely is that he limps on and, like the Labour party when he assumed leadership, the UK public is left selecting an underwhelming choice. This only underlines the growing sense that old party leaders leading in old ways won’t have the answers we need any more.

Describing the problem is really easy. Describing it wrongly is easier still. I don’t care if Ed is posh, has a funny voice, photographs badly and looks a touch odd. I want cosmetic identikit leaders even less.

I do care if someone is asking for the keys to No 10 without knowing what they truly want to do if they get there. So the real question I would be asking myself if I was part of the warring Labour family is what produced their problems, rather than railing at the biggest symptom of them.

Part of the problem must be an antiquated system of election, now reformed in UK Labour, but embraced for the December election of the next Scottish leader next month. Curious.

But the bigger part is the vacuum where a long-term vision should reside. We know what Labour is against – other people who want power rather than policies, mostly.

What we don’t know is what it is for. Vacuums, abhorred by nature, abhorred more by political parties.

Any party that looks inwardly to convince its base rather than outwardly to win support is probably going to lose sooner rather than later. The art of politics is doing enough to achieve the reforms you seek while carrying the majority of people with you to retain the power you need in the first place. This takes compromise, discipline and organisation. But more than anything it needs a crystal clear vision and sense of direction. This in turn wins the right to buy patience from the people in hard times and helps you drive on faster in the good ones.

For the sake of too many souls this General Election needs to produce an outcome that drives proper reform across the UK. The idea of handing power to a government led by the least popular leader seems plainly odd. At least in Scotland we have an increasingly clear alternative strategy to ensure our interests and protected and promoted. For our cousins across the rest of our islands I can only shed a quiet tear. All deserve better. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW

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