If, like me, you have a tendency to skip through headlines and then read the interesting articles, David Miliband’s latest remarks might have seemed a bit defeatist. The idea that Labour may spend “years out of power” (although to be fair, it’s was hardly ever going to be just “months”) seems an incredibly pessimistic prediction for a leadership hustings, but as ever, the quote itself is slightly different.
We could be out of power for a long time, history tells us we will. I want to buck that trend.
Dizzy’s angle on this is an interesting one. He argues that Labour haven’t yet learned the lessons of the Conservative time in opposition – nobody is the “natural party of government”.
The leadership contest has been a civil one, and much more civil than was expected. Most people, myself included, predicted a bloodbath between Brown and Blair factions – in particular the Balls and Miliband (David) camps, but nothing like this has emerged so far.
As much as this protects Labour from negative press and prevents a political implosion, it doesn’t provide a debate. I can’t seem to find much real discussion in media coverage of the contest as to why Labour are now in opposition. The Newsnight hustings did give some insight, with Diane Abbott commenting that the idea that immigration somehow lost Labour the election “takes us nowhere”.
This is almost certainly true – the problem with the famous "bigotgate” incident wasn’t what was said or the issue – it was the attitude that had been taken to a member of the public.
Amongst Diane Abbott’s remarks in the Newsnight hustings one in particular stands out:
[It is] quite tragic that we have conceded the civil liberties agenda to the Tories
Labour need to focus on why they conceded that agenda. Personally, I believe it was a habit of control – Labour genuinely believed that the popular opinion was wrong on issues such as ID cards, and the arguments in favour of controlling measures regularly (if not almost always) outweighed the value of preserving freedoms in the face of terrorism.
Both Miliband brothers, now considered the leading candidates, have said they believe the state became too centralised, so perhaps they are on the verge of thinking that control and the approach to the public were part of the reasons behind Labour’s defeat. I suspect however, it will take the party much longer to recognise this, especially so soon after the end of a period in government.
Rejecting the past attitudes of a party is not an easy thing to do from within – if it is rushed, then there will be those who argue their voice hasn’t been heard, and if there is any lesson from the last government, it is of the damage those voices can do.