Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The birth of Nouveau Labour: Ed Miliband's Labour Party

Today, newly elected Labour Party leader Ed Miliband argued that he led a new generation with new ideas. His first speech as leader covered a wide number of important issues (with further details from the BBC here). For example, he argued that British foreign policy should be based upon values, not merely alliances. One part of his election campaign had been to argue repeatedly that he did not support the Iraq War and would not have if he had been a MP at the time of the vote. (Some may say it was convenient for him to make this case; others may say it may have been enough to cost his brother, David Miliband, the leadership.)

Some commentators have feared some kind of "lurch to the left" as it has been called. Look out, "Red" Ed is in charge of Labour. Of course, this is a striking accusation to make from critics who also charge Ed Miliband with being weak on detail, suggesting an effort to tarnish his budding leadership as unelectable.

I think it is a mistake to think this will be a revert back to "Old" Labour. Why? This would betray his message of moving the party forward as the party of optimisim (not Winters of Discontent), a new generation with fresh ideas on new policies.

It is nevertheless clear that Ed Miliband is keen to be seen to break from New Labour. Indeed, his brother had been the New Labour establishment candidate with endorsements from Tony Blair, Lord Prescott, Peter Mandelson, and Jack Straw.

The question then becomes this: if he's not reverting to Old Labour and he's breaking from New Labour, then what vision of Labour is he trying to offer? New New Labour (or perhaps New2 Labour)? However, New2 Labour is unlikely to inspire new voters. Likewise, calling Miliband's Labour Party New Labour Beta (a reformulated New Labour -- which seems clear from what he has said thus far). Yet, even those of us more comfortable around computing systems (not me!) would find it difficult to rally around a tag like that.

This leaves us with a few final alternatives. One is New Generation Labour. The phrase "new generation" was repeated several times in Miliband's speech and seems to be a major part of his attempt to revitalise Labour. This is an excellent strategy. Miliband can then take credit for where Labour has gone right (as he seeks to redefine Labour and its policies for the future) while distancing himself from where Labour has been unpopular (as he did in his speech). It will surely be more difficult for his opponents to attack him as he can avoid blame over Iraq, ID cards, top up fees, and other policies that went over badly with rank-and-file Labour Party membership. But, "New Generation Labour" is perhaps a bit too long -- and NG Labour perhaps too confusing.

I recommend Nouveau Labour. (Yes, you can quote me.) New Labour recast. I suspect there will be much continuity with New Labour's earlier positions, such as on education, crime, and the NHS. However, there will be more antagonism between Nouveau Labour and City bankers, and interesting developments in environmental policy (Miliband's partner works in environmental law and he was previously Minister for the Environment) and foreign affairs. Ok, so this is the general outline of where Nouveau Labour may be headed, but why "nouveau"? Well, because there is something more sheek, more cosmopolitan in outlook and ideas.

Nouveau Labour is also faring well in its early days. YouGov has Labour on the magical percentage of 40% (enough to win power if a general election were held today), Labour's best result in three years.

So don't call Ed Miliband the leader of Old Labour. He certainly is not part of New Labour. Welcome to the birth of Nouveau Labour.

I will be interested to see how well this view catches on . . .

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