Reflections on Ed Miliband’s Leadership

Disabled Members’ Officer, Rosie Sourbut, assesses Ed Miliband’s strengths and weaknesses as Labour leader, and what he should have done differently. 

I joined the Labour Party in 2012, politically awakened by the damaging impact of austerity and inspired by the fairer and more compassionate policies Ed Miliband was promoting. Ed was my first party leader and the first politician I believed in. Consequently, 2015 was the first General Election in which I felt despair and with Ed’s resignation, a feeling of total powerlessness in the face of five years that vote’s consequences. Since then, we’ve had the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, experienced a surge in membership, and gained thirty more seats in the 2017 General Election, which Theresa May had called to eradicate Labour. I feel excited and hopeful that Britain could have a socialist Labour government soon. But I will always remember the Miliband years as a crucial time in my own political development, and our party’s development. Owen Jones writes that “Labour’s 2010-2015 era may well be judged by history as a necessary period of transition.” Ed moved the party on from New Labour, and paved the way for the subsequent rise of Corbyn and the embrace of a more left-wing platform.

If Ed had been elected Prime Minister in 2015, the country would look very different from how it does now. In the Miliverse, there would be rent controls, maintenance grants, enfranchised 16-year-olds, and more badgers. There would be no zero-hours contracts, no universal credit debacle, and no waiting to hear just how much worse off we’ll be after Brexit negotiations. We would have a healthier National Health Service, and weakened bank and energy company monopolies. The crises of rising poverty and homelessness, plus falling living standards would be properly addressed.

Where Ed failed was in tempering his message. During his leadership and after the election defeat, he was often accused of being too left-wing, but in reality he succumbed to the narrative that elections can only be won from the so-called “centre-ground”, a place of timidity and one where controversy is avoided. On some issues, he tried to play down his more socialist policies, but on others – crucially austerity and immigration – he fatefully allowed the Conservatives to shape the narrative. Rather than tackling the lie that Labour’s over-spending caused the financial crash, Ed’s Labour let the Tories cast themselves against all evidence as economically responsible and, instead of advocating for investment, he shamefully stuck to austerity-lite policies. Ed’s Labour let politics remain focused on traditional issues and largely ignored the modern and ongoing catastrophes requiring radical thought: planetary destruction, global inequality, animal suffering, happiness and wellbeing, the risks of automation and artificial intelligence. Labour is now beginning to engage with some of these issues, but greater long-term and international thinking is still needed.

Since Ed has stepped backed from the forefront of politics, he’s continued to be an advocate for social justice, the environment and equality, and has used his position outside of the limelight and in particular his new podcast with Geoff Lloyd to explore interesting and radical policies like Universal Basic Income, drug decriminalisation, and a land value tax. Ed’s ideas since his resignation as party leader leave me wondering what might have happened were he allowed to craft a more daring manifesto in 2015, whether the General Election campaign would have been more successful if he had been more radical, and how much better off this country would be now if we had elected a bold Miliband-led Labour in 2015.

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