Steve Richards writes in The Independent:
Yesterday morning, Miliband proved he has a ruthless streak, one that can change the political landscape. The article in which he focused on the future of Labour without mentioning Gordon Brown ensured that the noise around the leadership question got a lot louder. More significantly, he would have known that this would be the consequence of his intervention. For the first time, the tumultuous speculation about Labour's future had acquired deadly definition.
He's right, of course. There is little purpose in Gordon Brown's lieutenants complaining of disloyalty to the leader. Nor is there much credibility in it, when you consider Brown's conduct towards Tony Blair from 1994 to 2007. David Miliband's bid for the leadership is a rational course, from his own point of view and that of the party.
It might have been prudent for Miliband to appear less jaunty in his response to press questions yesterday, but he is responding to a risk of unprecedented electoral defeat. Labour has suffered electoral meltdown before - in 1931 and 1983 - but has recovered to win landslide victories (coincidentally, 14 years later in each case). Labour faces heavy defeat again, and on a scale that might precipitate a decline like that of the French Communists - once the dominant force on the French Left, now a rump. In previous landslide defeats, Labour has at least been able to hold on to its regional redoubts. Even in 1983, the party still retained more than 200 seats. The party is now in uncharted territory. There is literally not a seat in the country that it could confidently expect to retain in a by-election. Scotland and Wales are no longer Labour strongholds. The party has lost the mayoralty of London to a Tory candidate who was widely (and clearly mistakenly) regarded as a joke when he launched his campaign.
(Incidentally, and on a point of autobiographical interest to me though no interest to anyone else, the reason I never supported the SDP in the 1980s - unlike many of my friends of similar political outlook - was a straight assessment that there could be no successful left-of-centre party independent of Labour. I don't claim this was a principled way of reasoning, and I don't think in retrospect that it was legitimate for an Atlanticist to vote Labour in the 1983 election, as I did, even knowing that the party had no chance of victory. But it was how I thought at the time about Labour's purported programme for government - alternately incredible and disgraceful. I do not think the same calculation would necessarily hold now.)
On Miliband's political draw, I recommend a column by my colleague Camilla Cavendish in The Times today. She writes:
The hole that Labour is in goes deeper than the economy. So it is important to understand what “platform for change” Mr Miliband is proposing. His pitch is that a refreshed Labour Party must combine “government action and personal freedom”. But he is shy about saying where the balance should be struck. To be fair, he has been saying for two years that people want more control over their lives, and that Labour must devolve more power to people. He said it again yesterday - but without a whit of detail. The only policies that he mentioned sounded strangely like a manifesto for more government - windfall taxes on utilities, family-friendly employment laws, state-funded childcare, and “more protection from a downturn made in Wall Street”. (By which he emphatically did not mean letting taxpayers keep more of their own money - one of his aides laughed when I made that suggestion.)
This is an acute observation. I do not perceive in David Miliband the Blairite impulse. In my view, Tony Blair was so keen to reconcile Labour to a market economy that he even went too far in consulting with corporate interests (which is not at all the same thing, business being merely one lobby among many). But it was a mistake in an understandable direction. I assume that, as Miliband does not mean an easing of the tax burden, he must mean some sort of regulatory change that would make the economy less vulnerable to ructions in the financial sector.
Heaven knows, I'm aghast at what's happened in the financial system. Unserviceable mortgages in the US were sold on to investors in various forms of asset-backed securities. The world's credit and monetary system has now seized up, with costs felt by ordinary consumers. But I wonder how far Miliband has thought through his proposed remedies, if indeed he has any. I don't mean that disparagingly. It's just that regulation in response to a financial crisis has a habit of not working as it's intended, while imposing unnecessary costs. On this and much else, Miliband's political instincts are not clear from the leadership pitch he's making. Labour's position is far too weak for such studied ambiguity.