During the leadership elections in the UK Labour Party in 2010, the press tended to brand the younger Miliband brother "Red Ed". At a time when many Labour Party members and trade union members were keen to see a clear break from the New Labour era, the younger Miliband brother clearly saw electoral advantage in employing some centre-left rhetoric, especially on economic questions and in taking a strongly anti-war stance in relation to Iraq. However, it must be said that Miliband never presented a hard left policy agenda and found supporters from across the range of UK Labour political opinion, including "Blairites"
; the "Red Ed" tag was always rather questionable.
Miliband made quite a big deal of rejecting the "Red Ed" label in his maiden conference speech.
This was partly because of a concern that he would be too strongly associated with the trade unions after the unions and affiliated organisations section of the electoral college was the only one he won. It was also due to an assessment, shared by many past leaders of the Labour Party, that to become Labour leader you need to talk to the left, but to become Prime Minister you have to appeal to the right. In that respect, Ed Miliband followed in the footsteps of one of his most famous supporters, Neil Kinnock, although he will not want his leadership to mirror Kinnock's too closely.
But as reported on Digital Journal
earlier, UK Labour supporters appear unconvinced by Miliband's first fifteen months on the job (see today's Labourlist poll
). Perhaps of greater concern, in the long term, the public have yet to warm to Miliband.
While his party led in most opinion polls in 2011 (there was something of a bounce for the Prime Minister over the Euro crisis) his personal approval ratings are very low and well below those of David Cameron.
One of Miliband's problems appears to be one of identity. What would a Milibandite believe? He told a grateful Party Conference in September that he was "not Tony Blair" and "not Gordon Brown either", but it certainly appears that both party and public are a little in the dark about who he actually is. Because it is not clear who he is, he has no natural power base in the party.
One option (and one I'm sure he won't take) is to be Red Ed. Although Miliband has received criticism from all quarters, open hostility has tended to arise from his right. Blairite Bloggers like Dan Hodges
and Robert Marchant
have launched broadsides against their embattled leader, often using the language and arguments of the coalition government. These are people that Ed Miliband is never going to convince. To his left, both inside the Labour Party and outside it, there is a potentially much more receptive audience.
Of course, on days like today, when Shadow Cabinet member Liam Byrne has thrown down the gauntlet
to the party on this issue of welfare reform, it seems highly unlikely that the UK Labour Party or its leader might take a decisive step to the left. But sometimes there are moments in politics that leaders need to sense and respond to positively. Towards the end of last year, Miliband made some positive noises
about the Occupy London campaign outside St. Paul's. At the Labour Party Conference in 2011 he discussed some interesting ideas
about "producers" and "predators" that might have led to a broader discussion about the nature of modern capitalism. On the economy, he appears torn between presenting an alternative economic strategy
and appeasing his Blairite tormentors
Undoubtedly, were Miliband to take a decisive step and be a clear, uncomplicated voice against the coalition cuts policies, to nail his colours to the mast of strikers, protesters, students and the like, he would be greeted by a media storm that would dwarf anything he has seen so far. But such a move would win friends as well as lose some. If Miliband could somehow use his position to mobilise a popular movement, to create his own "change we can believe in" message, and get people to really believe it, he could reinvigorate his leadership and put the coalition government under immense pressure. To do this he would have to bring back Red Ed...