Simply Red? Natasha Smith questions the changing identity of the Labour Party

The Labour Party’s recent leadership contest was a tale of two Milibands, in which divisions of interest among Labour supporters were cruelly exposed. Such a close election result, with Ed winning by an incredibly narrow margin – 50.65% to David’s 49.35% – indicates a lack of clear identity within the Labour party. Should we be scared?
To put it crudely, David’s ties are supposedly to the Blair “camp”, whilst Ed’s loyalty has, in the past, lay with Gordon. Early signs suggest these old affinities are still very influential in present-day Labour politics: Brown’s constituency party, Kirkcaldy, gave full support to Ed, whilst Blair’s Sedgefield seat swung strongly behind David.

The frustrating prominence of Blair and Brown in Labour politics, therefore, apparently continues, as does – worryingly – the conflict between 35-year-old and ten-year-old Labour ideals. In the run-up to the leadership contest, Ed Miliband quickly became synonymous with “traditional” Labour socialist ideals – a protégée of Brown, perhaps – quickly adopting the nickname “Red Ed”. The vast extent to which union votes were responsible for his victory only served to reinforce this view. David, meanwhile, despite clamouring for the role of party leader from the moment Gordon left the building, was viewed with caution: he voted in favour of the Iraq war and is recognised to be an adamant ‘Blairite’, a position some Labour MPs feared the nation would not be in favour of. Yet David won the MPs vote, 53-47, putting Ed’s union-backed victory under strain and heavy scrutiny.

So, does the political stalemate of Blair versus Brown appear set to haunt Ed Miliband’s Labour party? Perhaps not: Ed confronted the issue of his Blair-Brown heritage head on in his first interview as party leader, pledging to “turn the page” in Labour’s history, carrying out the work of a “new generation” of Labour supporters. Though it is impossible to know if this is nothing more than political rhetoric at this stage, I for one, standing as a member of this “new generation”, truly hope Labour can finally shed the shadow of internal personality politics that helped serve to bring it down. Why should a “new generation” of party leaders be forced to face ghosts of elections past?

True, the era of broken promises and rumbling grudges between these ghouls has endured for 13 years of my lifetime. Also true, much of the political work of Blair and Brown has shaped my life so far, in terms of my education, my health, and my parents’ financial situation. However, Blair lost the faith of the nation in his Iraq endeavours, whilst Brown wore us down after refusing, for three long years, to put his leadership to the public vote. If the Labour party continues to dwell upon the mixed legacies and enduring factions of Brown and Blair, it will undoubtedly lose the support of this “new generation”. Only fresh faces can give young blood a reason to shake off political apathy.

As Ed has said: “I’m nobody’s man. I am my own man”. He also tells us that the “era of New Labour has passed – a new generation has taken over and it’s not about the old labels anymore”. I want to believe in Ed, and I want to be able to identify myself, with pride and confidence, as a Labour party supporter. In order to do so, I need to know exactly what I’m supporting. Ed must stand the test of time and give us something new to believe in. He must prove to us all that Labour understands the youth of today, or will at least – as Ed is so fond of saying – try its best to “get it”.

Natasha Smith


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