Bloodied Brothers: The Milibands and the Battle for New Labour’s Legacy


In the aftermath of election defeat, David Miliband emerged as the clear front-runner.

Bookmakers priced DM at 4/7, Alastair Darling 8/1, Alan Johnson 10/1, Ed Miliband 11/1, Ed Balls 12/1. Andy Burnham 14/1, 16/1 Jon Cruddas, 25/1 James Purnell, 33/1 Liam Byrne, 40/1 John Denham, 50/1 Yvette Cooper

Reflecting on thirteen years In office, Peter Mandelson declared ‘New Labour is dead. Long live new Labour’ but ‘why the term new Labour may ceased to be used by a new generation’ what it represents ‘should not be cast aside so easily’

‘It is about Labour not being a party of class or sectional interest but about being a broad-based party of conscience and reform. Open, not tribal. Pluralist, not statist’

Speculation immediately turned to whether Ed would do a deal with David. An insider claimed:

‘We need to learn the lessons from frustrated ambitions in the past…David and Ed won’t be making any backroom deals. They think they should sort this out in the open’

In the aftermath, there was much debate about the road ahead. Jon Cruddas warned:

‘We must take a hard look at our record in office in the cold light of day. We must not put ourselves down but we cannot hide either’.

Initially, the debate focussed on the downfall of the Brown administration

Roy Hattersley argued

‘Few politicians have fallen so far so fast…yet despite all that I remain of the unshakeable belief that the real Gordon Brown possessed qualities that make a great Prime Minister’

‘He was the most impressive young MP I ever met – erudite, eloquent, intellectual, unassuming, industrious and certain about the better society he hoped to see’

‘He was in every political way but one the superior member of the Brown-Blair partnership. The exception was charm’

On the left, there was much criticism of the party’s record in office.

Jeremy Corbyn asked ‘where did it all go wrong?’ in the Morning Star

‘Wars, civil liberties, privatisation and unfulfilled expectations all contributed’

Corbyn warned the party:

‘the leadership cannot be a coronation or a choice restricted to those who supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and New Labour’s attacks on civil liberties’

John McDonnell blamed the attitude towards unions to losing the working class vote:

‘We deserted our core support. We lost the trust of working-class people who founded our party…we systematically alienated these people’

‘Trade unions mobilise for the party and then they don’t go and repeal the anti-trade union laws’.

Ken Livingstone argued:

‘Brown and Blair’s clique did not deliver for ordinary people’

But few expected the left to mount much of a challenge. In the Times, David Aaronovitch observed that:

‘Labour, just been bundled out of power will not repeat its own terrible errors. The spasm of left oppositionism that nearly destroyed the party between 1979 and 1983 has absolutely no equivalent now…the danger to Labour is not of madness but of irrelevance’

The Times also predicted that

‘the party is likely to respond more coolly to defeat than it has in the past’ but warned that ‘its audit of the election is set, however, to be too generous to its own record’

There was however criticism that the contest was going to be fought between ‘four white men’ who ‘worked as special advisors’ before entering the Cabinet.

The red-hot favourite David Miliband was the first to set out his pitch:

‘This party is not walking into the history books. It’s determined to be a 21st-century party’

He warned Labour not to underestimate the Tories

‘there’s no inevitability about the pendulum swinging. And we are going to have to be very canny about how we position ourselves. The electorate aren’t going to be studying us carefully in this period but they’re going to notice how we behave. And if we go back to yah-boo politics we’ll make a big error’

David Miliband also sought to break from Blair/Brown era:

‘New Labour was a reaction to the 1980s but it was trapped by the 1980s. Anyone who thinks that the future is about re-creating New Labour is wrong. I think we’ve got to use this period to decisively break with that. What I’m interested in is Next Labour’

Miliband defined the problems facing the nation as threefold:

‘the politics of power; the politics of protection; and the politics of belonging. Win the battle in these areas and we will earn the right to lead the country again’.

Ed Miliband’s pitch was much to the left of New Labour:

‘the problem of the last election wasn’t simply the style of new Labour, it was also the substance’

‘We need an ideological overhaul…we need a strategy for ensuring that work pays…that challenge is exacerbated if immigration leads to downward pressure on wages’

Ed defined the Blair/Brown divide:

‘I wouldn’t say the government was dysfunctional but it was dragged down at moments. It was handicapped by the factionalism and tribalism’

‘We should have been clearer about saying we want to narrow the gap between rich and poor. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about raising the top rate of tax. We were gripped by the caution of the past’.

On the left, both Diane Abbott and John McDonnell sought to run. Abbott worried that:

‘we cannot be offering a slate of candidates who all look the same. The Labour Party’s much more diverse than that’

John McDonnell asked Harriet Harman to reduce the threshold of nominations so he could make it on to the ballot. He called on the PLP to ‘work together to ensure that every declared candidate gets on the ballot paper’

After failing to gain enough support from the PLP, McDonnell said:

‘it’s difficult to see how people like me can get on the platform … I don’t understand what problem New Labour have got with democracy’

McDonnell also dismissed the candidates as continuity New Labour:

‘they all supported policies like the Iraq war, privatisation, that eventually lost us the election. It’s almost like it’s a fight between the sons of Blair and the sons of Brown if it’s just those on the ballot paper.’

In the end, Diane Abbott secured her place on the ballot after David Miliband supporters lent her votes. She would offer the biggest criticism of the last Labour Gov as ‘disreputable populism’

‘It was a kind of phoney and slightly disreputable populism that led us into that and also we were led by the polls. We didn’t talk to our members, to our councillors. We didn’t offer leadership, we just looked to the polls……’they said, ‘Yes, bang-up Muslim boys with rucksacks for 90 days without trial’ and we said, ‘Yes, we will do that’

Abbott argued that ‘Labour needs to be the party that listens to voters again. We need the change that people want to see, not another unfulfilled promise’. She claimed Labour ‘needs to be credible again’

Abbott would attack David Miliband for being funded by ‘old Blairite money and asked how Miliband has a 90-strong staff to support his campaign to the ‘two-and-half volunteers’

And was highly critical of the generic appearance of her fellow candidates

‘I think all of them are very nice. Nice suits, nice red ties, nice haircuts. All very nice.’

She urged a shift to the left

‘If we took a pragmatic view on policy, rather than running like scared rabbits from anything that might be tagged “left-wing”, we might be surprised what Middle England might support’

Ed Balls, seen as the third strongest candidate, also warned:

‘The Labour Party must not fall into the trap of thinking it needs to choose between heart and head…otherwise we will play into the Tories hands – and languish in opposition’

Yet it was Ed Miliband who would occupy the left of the contest. In a speech entitled ‘A Mandate for Change’, Ed offered the most radical critique of the New Labour decline:

‘The question for us in this contest is: can we have the courage to recognise the scale of the change needed after one defeat, not after four as we had to do after 1992’

‘I believe that we must choose change. Ideologically. Electorally. Organisationally.

Ideologically, because I believe we lost our way and got trapped in old ways of thinking…Electorally, because the electoral map has changed…Organisationally, because we thought the way to win was despite our movement not because of it’

‘New Labour fell into the same trap as Old Labour, clinging to old truths that had served their time: we got stuck with old certainties, bad policies and became out of touch’

For David Miliband, his key speech came at the Keir Hardie lecture in July.

‘We were never a revolutionary or violent party. We have always pursued the common good and were prepared to compromise. But in order to compromise you have to be organised and know your interests. To act together sure in the belief that human beings and nature are not commodities to be bought and sold at the best price’

‘We have to say that by the time of the last election ideological uncertainty, administrative methods and a recession that threatened real depression did for us. But it was deeper. We lost the trust of the people and in a democracy that’s a very big problem. In the thirteen years of our government we lost more than four million votes and 180 seats. This is an issue we must address and honestly assess.’

David secured a key endorsement of Jon Cruddas:

‘What was interesting to me about this was when he started talking about belonging and neighbourliness and community, more communitarian politics, which is where I think Labour has to go.’

Ed Balls also gave a key ‘Bloomberg’ speech in August 2010:

‘to sit back and wait for the pain (of austerity) to be felt is a huge trap for Labour…because in the meantime, the clear strategy of the Coalition Government is to persuade the public both that there is no alternative and all their decisions are the fault of the previous government’

Balls received the surprise support of Ken Livingstone who had ‘impressed me as someone who could really get things done in government.’

Miliband urged the party to win the Lib Dem vote:

‘Help build the society of equality, liberty and democracy that we all believe in, and stop the unfairness of this coalition. Leaving your party is the most honourable course when your party leadership leaves you.’

By June, the Economist warned that David was in danger of being ‘usurped by his younger brother’ who ‘is warmer, just as clever and perhaps the most left-wing of the candidates’. They predicted that ‘he is adored by the grassroots so four months of hustings will suit him’.

Ed began to face an attack on his electability and leadership credentials:

Alastair Campbell agued:

‘Ed Miliband is a really nice guy, but I think you’ve got to differentiate between making the party feel OK about losing, and making the party face up to what it needs to do to get into shape again’

Peter Mandelson joined the criticism of Ed’s left-turn:

‘I think if he or anyone else wants to create a pre-new-Labour future for the party then they will quickly find that that is an electoral cul-de-sac’

Mandelson added:

‘We’re not looking for a preacher as our leader, were looking for someone who has good values and strong electoral instincts. We are a political party not a church…If we stop recognising that, then we’re going to be taken back into those long years in opposition’

Both Milibands united in their distancing from Mandelson, who was proving to be a hindrance to David’s campaign.

David said ‘party members, including me, are sick and tired of the old battles of the past being re-run. It’s time to move on’

Diane Abbott argued ‘Mandelson represents the things that the public found most distasteful about new Labour. The media manipulation, the spin, the political triangulation and above all the internecine warfare’

Neil Kinnock also turned on his former strategist

‘Mandelson is indulging in the sort of personalised factionalism that has inflicted such damage on our party in ancient and modern history. He should stop it now’

But David Miliband warned his brother:

‘Simple opposition takes us back to our comfort zone as a party of protest, big in heart but behind the times. This is the role our opponents want us to play.’

However, Ed Miliband defined the New Labour architects as the ones in the ‘comfort zone’:

‘Our danger is to defend traditionalist New Labour solutions on every issue because this will consign us to defeat. It is my rejection of this New Labour nostalgia that makes me the modernising candidate at this election’

‘It is the New Labour comfort zone that we must escape: the rigidity of old formulae that have served their time, the belittling of any attempt to move on from past verities and the belief that more of the same is the way to win’.

As the contest kicked on, Ed used Iraq as the key dividing line between him and the leading candidates:

‘Unless you are willing to say we made mistakes and you are willing to move on from them we will have the same result at the next election.’

David replied ‘the idea that anyone on this panel does not think that war is the last resort does not do justice to the substance of the issue’.

‘I do not believe we lost the 2010 election because of Iraq and we fool ourselves if we think we lost places like Stevenage – that we won in 2005 – over Iraq’

With Unite, Unison and GMB coming out for Ed, the bookies cut his odds from 7/4 to 6/4.

Alan Johnson – a key David supporter warned of another wilderness if Ed was to win:

‘We need to vote for a leader who is talking to the country…looking outwards not inwards – looking to the future not the past’

‘Whole generations have been let down as Tory governments ascend to power while Labour descends into fractious opposition…if we make the wrong choice we’ll leave Labour stuck in opposition for many years’

Johnson argued that David Miliband

‘says the things that aren’t popular in a room full of Labour activists – that he doesn’t support a graduate tax or that it was bad that we didn’t have a single business support us in 2010’

‘David is non-pandering. The others are tempted into the comfort zone. We mustn’t lurch to the left’

He also defined the difference between the two brothers

‘There is a huge difference in terms of eloquence, vision and experience…in telling people what they don’t want to hear and in being obviously prime ministerial’

Johnson also attack the left critique of the New Labour Gov:

‘This stuff that’s trotted out by the Guardianistas and now Ed Miliband that we destroyed civil liberties is fundamentally wrong. We introduced the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act…

‘It’s one thing for other people to try to rewrite our history but for ourselves not to recognise what we’ve done is also a mistake’

In a surprise move, Dennis Skinner switched his support from Diane Abbott to David Miliband. Skinner claimed:

‘All of the candidates are centre-left. They are all Labour. The big question is who are the Tories afraid of? For me the best choice is David Miliband’

However, Ed believed that the country had shifted:

‘You don’t have to be a leftie to think that bankers paying themselves millions when it’s not justified is just wrong’.

David Miliband urged against pure left-wing protest:

‘I would march the length and breadth of the country if I thought it would get the Tories out. But the truth is the best way to fight the cuts is to win power again’.

Ed argued he would:

‘fight to protect the hard-working majority in this country and makes the cuts less painful for the majority by taxing the banks a fair share. After all, they caused the mess we’re in’

As the conference reached the end of August an opinion poll put Ed in the lead by 51 to 49%

In response, David Miliband launched his strongest attack on the other candidates:

‘Strong opposition, while necessary, is not sufficient. Simple opposition takes us back to our comfort zone as a party of protest, big in heart but essentially naïve, well-meaning but behind the times. This is the role opponents want us to play’

To add fuel to the fire, Tony Blair’s memoir was released in the final month, which was highly critical of the Gordon Brown leadership

‘Just as the 2005 election was one we were never going to lose, 2010 was one we were never going to win – once the fateful decision was taken to abandon the New Labour position’

As the Conference met in Manchester it was Ed who was the bookmakers favourite. In the end, Ed secured the leadership by less than 1% of the vote in the tightest contest since Healey and Benn in 1981.

David Miliband won 8 more MPs and MEPs and almost 11,000 more members.

But Ed secured an extra 40,000 votes from affiliates.

Paul Kenny of the GMB – speaking for many on the left – declared:

‘New Labour is gone. It is a product of history. It can go in Madame Tussauds’

Whilst Ed promised a new generation:

‘I stand here today ready to lead: a new generation now leading Labour. Be in no doubt. The new generation of Labour is different. Different attitudes, different ideas, different ways of doing politics’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: