The man chosen by key trade union leaders and many union members is now the leader of the Labour Party. And the one chosen by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair isn’t.
That’s positive, and is an important message from the victory of Ed Miliband as Labour leader.
He won by just over 1 percent over his brother, former foreign secretary David, after second, third and fourth preference votes came into play. Ed Balls came third, Andy Burnham fourth and Diane Abbott last in the ballot of MPs, members and trade unionists. The Labour Party has not suddenly lurched leftwards. Just seven MPs voted for Diane Abbott. Abbott’s campaign unfortunately failed to ignite the left of the party.
Ed Miliband is not “Red Ed” as some of the press has tried to paint him. His policies are mainstream Labour, and therefore not at all radical. But he is Labour leader because of the approval from the trade union leaders and because many workers don’t want any more of the toxic policies of New Labour. The election of a new Labour leader on this basis can boost confidence to fight against the cuts. Ed Miliband’s chances rose through the long leadership campaign as the reality of the hurricane coming from the Tories hit home.
Labour members chose David Miliband. The MPs chose David Miliband. But the union vote on the final round was 40 percent for David and 60 percent for Ed. This is what made the difference. No doubt much of the media will now denounce the way the union leaders “interfere” in politics. But it was the votes of hundreds of thousands of trade unionists who decided where the union vote went. There’s nothing wrong with unions recommending their members vote a particular way, and there’s nothing wrong with them having a role in politics. The rich, the bankers and the bosses have massive political influence through their money and their ability to blackmail governments with the threat of financial chaos.
Why shouldn’t workers have a say?
Ed Miliband’s success has made some of the left euphoric. Michael Meacher MP told the left wing Grassroots Umbrella Network, “Ken Livingstone as Labour candidate for London mayor yesterday, Ed Miliband today, the party tomorrow, government next year. I feel better about the Labour Party today than at any time in the last 20 years.”
Katy Clark MP was more accurate when she told the same meeting, “It’s good to see someone who the Blairites didn’t want elected as leader of the Labour Party. I’ve met Ed Miliband quite a few times and I can honestly say I haven’t got a clue what he will be like as leader.
“But I do know that it was people like you and me – ordinary trade unionists and people who want a Labour Party that is about the values all of us believe in – that elected him to this position.
“Many people voted for him because of what he said about high pay and, more importantly, low pay, about a decent living wage, about reducing the gap between rich and poor. Let’s make sure the new leadership hears what we’ve got to say.”
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union, told the BBC, “Ed Miliband’s victory, coming from nowhere a few months ago, is a clear sign that the party wants change, to move on from New Labour and reconnect with working people.
“Ed has won by hitting the issues people care about – stopping the assassination of public services, fighting for a living wage, standing up for manufacturing, for a better future for young people.”
Kelvin Hopkins MP said, “Today for me was the end of a long dark night. I really do believe that New Labour died today.”
A real break from New Labour needs more than a change of style or saying that you understand “the mood about Iraq”. It means dumping support for privatisation, bullying bosses, the dominance of the market and the war in Afghanistan.
There’s still a way to go to get that.
But Ed Miliband’s victory is another echo – a very faint one – of a growing mood that people don’t want more of the politics of Blair that proved so disastrous. They want a fight against the cuts, for the bankers to pay for the crisis and for a more equal society.
It’s also worth saying that if the union leaders can unite to determine the Labour leader, why don’t they do the same to shape Labour’s policy? Or to fight the cuts?
Let’s see them demand that Miliband takes up the policies agreed at the TUC in Manchester – no cuts in workers’ pay, pensions and services, opposition to anti-union laws, a fight for a million climate jobs, solidarity with Palestine and much more.
Let’s see them coordinate industrial action.
A win for David Miliband would have opened no space for the left. Ed Miliband’s victory can open a gap. His win can be used to involve more layers of the Labour Party in the anti-cuts movement, and is another avenue to bring pressure to bear on Labour to fight.
We believe Labour in office paved the way for David Cameron’s assault on working people. We don’t think the party has been, or can be, transformed into a socialist force.
But we also believe in the urgent need for united activity against the Tories.
During his election campaign, Ed Miliband talked of the need to win a higher minimum wage and said that Labour’s leadership campaign could be about more than electing one person and instead be about “building a movement”.
To win this requires action against the government, involving mass campaigning, protests and strikes. We should push Ed Miliband to support such activities.
We welcome all those Labour Party members who now feel more hopeful to join us in Birmingham next Sunday, 3 October, to protest at the Tory party conference.
For demo details go to www.righttowork.org.uk