Monday, 15 July 2013

Ed Miliband: a turning point around which History failed to turn?

Just a few days ago Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, looked to be sliding down political pecking order. His personal polling numbers are pretty grim - and to be honest, they're getting worse. Labour's electoral progress has never been as strong and as rapid as would an advance that really heralded a return to power in 2015 - a fact this blog has always highlighted, particularly after the party's anaemic local election performances of 2011 and 2013.

On top of all that, a political scandal broke out in the Falkirk constituency, where activists from the Unite union were accused of enrolling members willy-nilly, simply to secure the nomination of an ideologically congenial candidate. Initially Mr Miliband dithered. He said it was an isolated case. He huffed and puffed. His Conservative opponents laughed in his face.

But for all that, Labour's youthful and relatively untested leader has turned the whole situation around. On its head. Inside out. Or however else you want to put it. How? By symbolitically biting the union hand that has always fed him, thus defying the widespread public suspicion that all politicians are merely the creatures of powerful vested interests. By tying the question of candidate selection - and the unions' power within the Labour Party - to political funding and to the role of big money in politics, the Conservatives' main weak spot. By proposing a very low cap on political donations, at the same time as encouraging union members to 'opt in' to supporting Labour rather than having to 'opt out', Mr Miliband might at one and the same time create the biggest political party in this country and push all the onus for reform onto a Conservative Party that relies on huge donations from the super-rich.

It's a strange paradox. Most voters believe that 'Ed' will be the next Prime Minister at the same time as consistently scorning his abilities. And there is a gathering consensus inside our politically chatting classes that just perhaps, yes, Mr Miliband might 'do a Heath' and win without great personal charisma or popularity - as did Edward Heath in 1970. He has ideas. He's ambitious, and ruthless. He seems cool under pressure. He makes the right calls, albeit quite tardily: witness his relatively early condemnation of News International and Rebekah Brooks' alleged behaviour.

That crisis in Falkirk? It might just be the moment at which Mr Miliband's critics expected him to stumble - only to eat their words when he didn't. Then we'll have just experienced one more of those moments that A.J.P. Taylor once so memorably divined: a turning point around which history (and History) failed to turn.

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