After thirteen years of ups and downs, of joy and sadness, of peace and war, Labour are no longer the party of government. It has certainly been a love-hate relationship between the public and the administrations formed under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. That relationship was brought to an end on Tuesday 11th May 2010. On a frantic day in London, now former Prime Minister Brown bid farewell to the country and a life in politics as his successor David Cameron readied himself to undertake the economic challenges that the new coalition government faces. That concern is, and will remain for some time, the top priority for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. As a Labour supporter, my own thoughts turned to what the future holds for the party that has dominated British governance for over a decade.
To a novice, it would seem that Labour’s immediate task is to find a new leader. Those who appreciate the magnitude of the impact made on British political life by Brown and Blair must also appreciate that the ‘New Labour’ project has created a problem for the party in how we navigate the Labour ship from here on in. Already we have the Blairite candidate David Miliband throwing his hat in the ring, backed by fellow Blairites like Caroline Flint and Alan Johnson. Soon to be joining the race will be Jon Cruddas who will represent the traditional left of the party, with Ed Balls most likely representing Brown’s wing of the party. Unlike the leadership debates which farcically turned into a beauty contest, this contest will allow the various wings of the party to lay their cards out on the table and let the party’s members debate its future in an open and frank discussion.
As a long time admirer of Gordon Brown, I am inclined to cast my vote for Balls, providing he stands. He would command the respect of the unions, which was sadly lacking during Blair’s premiership and someone I find to engage well with people. However I am acutely aware that Labour must re-engage with the grass roots of the party, where there remains a strong backing for the candidate further to the left; Jon Cruddas. Indeed, I would be more inclined to support Cruddas than David Miliband. In today’s Guardian podcast it was suggested that he would struggle to form a prime ministerial image. In fairness though, none of the above appear to of a statesman-like ilk – and I include Miliband in that. The benefit of Cruddas is that he would not be ‘New Labour’. New Labour’s achievements are extensive and have perhaps unfairly understated. As Alan Johnson said quite a while ago, New Labour have succeeded in making former left wing issues, such as the minimum wage, mainstream issues. Although I have always considered Gordon Brown’s desire to be part of ‘New Labour’ less enthusiastic than his desire to be part of ‘Labour’, there has been an erosion of the traditional identity of the party of which Gordon has been a major player. Labour’s membership has dropped as a result of it and Labour voters have stayed at home. Cruddas’ election as leader would seek to reassure the core voters that Labour are still Labour. Miliband’s election would most likely alienate the core support even further.
The media and the bookies have stacked the odds in favour of the former Foreign Secretary. I do not think that The Labour Party and the Trade Unions’ decision will not be so emphatic.
Labour’s leadership battle is no ordinary battle to see who faces off against the Conservative Prime Minister. It is the battle for the future, or perhaps the soul, of a party.