Gordon MacMillan,  Labour Party,  UK Politics

Kinnock and Iraq give Ed Miliband’s leadership bid major boost

Ed Miliband’s bid to lead the Labour Party has received a significant boost with the news that former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock is to back him. The endorsement makes it look increasingly like the battle for the leadership and future of the party will be a straight two way fight between David and Ed Miliband, which will also be a referendum on New Labour and the Blair years.

That point was driven home yesterday when Ed Miliband came out in The Guardian and attacked when he called “Labour’s catastrophic loss of trust over Iraq”.

“I was pretty clear at the time that I thought there needs to be more due process here. As we all know, the basis for going to war was on the basis of Saddam’s threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time.

“The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it.”

What are we to make of that? Ed Miliband was not an MP an the time. He was living in the US and was not elected until 2005. It is a comfortable position to be able to make such a statement that contrasts directly with his elder brother’s support for the war. In the same interview he goes onto say that he considered resigning (but didn’t) from the government over the decision to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow.

All this as Ed Miliband sets his stall out for party members, fellow MPs and trade union leaders as they make up their mind as to who they will vote for in the leadership race.

Iraq is going to be important in this election no doubt. It is still a very sore issue for many in the Labour Party and voters alike and it will cost David Miliband support. The difficult question is how much? I don’t think half as much as some think. Labour is looking to the future and maybe an election five years down the road – we can not still be arguing about Iraq then. What would be left to say?

What’s less difficult to summize is that while some on the left will initially back Ed Balls they must also know that he can not win. While he is widely expected to get the 33 MPs he needs and win union support it will not be enough. He is not the man for the job. Some of that support he might have once got could drift towards Ed Miliband giving broad cross party support and make him the acceptable candidate to many in the party as possibly the only one who really represents renewal in the broadest sense.

There is a definite groundswell behind Ed Miliband and Kinnock’s public support is an important part of that. In The Observer today Kinnock said that among the reasons he was supporting Ed Miliband were his abilities to inspire and reach out to all group’s of people.

“Ed [Miliband], I think, is very bright, including politically bright. He is hugely energetic. He is fluent. He has got the capacity to inspire people, which we need. And that marks him out as a special kind of young potential leader.

“I am certain that he is a modern democratic socialist because he has got strong values and he is very practical. His attitude is that it is no good wandering around with convictions unless you want to put them into practice, and that really is his motivation. And vitally, absolutely vitally, he is comfortable among people of every kind, young and old, men and women, inside and outside the movement. We really do need a leader who can reach out for the rebuilding of the Labour party, but particularly to give coherence to our thinking.”

In the same interview Kinnock is unequivocal in saying that he sees nothing of Tony Blair in Ed Miliband and uses the interview to drive home the persuasive idea that the younger brother is the one who represents a clean break with the Blair years and the way to take Labour forward.

“No [there’s nothing of Blair about him], because Tony was a great actor… a method actor and there is no thespian in Ed Miliband, so it’s that much more natural, much less affected, as it were, and I say that in an affectionate way for Tony, because the thespian arts have got their place as well, but Ed is not an actor, so it is not the Blair thing, it is just Ed, you know.”

I still think David Miliband would be a great leader of the Labour Party, someone who will make the hard choices, has the experience, commitment and vision to lead the party, but their is not denying the appeal of Ed Miliband to some.