In recent weeks the Labour leadership race has slowly but surely began to gather some pace. Unsurprisingly, the Miliband brothers have begun to emerge as front runners.
The current contest, however, was never going to be just about who would be the next leader. Rather, the loss of the election combined with a power vacuum at the top of the party has precipitated an identity crisis, with both Miliband brothers attempting to drag the party in opposite directions.
Ed Miliband, formerly a close ally of Gordon Brown, is seeking to return the party to its left-wing roots, a move which has garnered a lot of support from the Unions. In contrast David Miliband suggests retaining the ‘New Labour’ mantras; the party should try and capture the centre ground.
Remaining in the centre keeps the Labour party close to the coalition politically and will capture the votes of those disappointed with the coalition. However is this radical enough and is it likely to be successful? Tony Blair moved the Labour party toward the centre before the 1997 election and the Labour party performed extremely well, winning 418 seats.
David Miliband is clearly hoping to pull off the same again, but the political landscape has radically changed since 1997. The Conservative party had been in power for 18 years, and in the run up to the 1997 election had been rocked by a series of scandals. It is entirely possible that the coalition could endure a similar fortune, but highly unlikely that the public will be suffering the same kind of battle fatigue in 2015 that it was in 1997.
Ed Miliband is hoping that moving the party back towards the left, and distancing himself from ‘New Labour’ will prove successful in the leadership election and in future general elections. Writing in Sunday’s Observer he stated what he believed what the party needed to do, “It requires retaining what New Labour got right but moving on from what it got wrong. We must have the courage to change.”
The argument between the two brothers delves deep in the heart of the Labour party and brings to the surface bitter divisions that had been kept at bay by electoral success. Both carry significant support from different sections of the party and it is likely that the next shadow cabinet will have to include both of them.
A bitter fight between the two will make party unity impossible and keep Labour on the opposition benches for much longer than five years.