By Robert Thompson
Of all the words used to describe Ed Miliband since he became the leader of the Labour Party in September 2010, the phrase ‘the next Prime Minister’ has not often been employed.
The Right have taken delight in identifying the apparent weaknesses in his voice or mannerisms. They argue that he lacks charisma or statesmanship. Some elements in the Labour Party on the other hand, in a state of suspicion and worry about the fluctuating allegiance of floating voters, might overly concern themselves with Miliband’s association with the moderate left of the party.
With a personal poll boost of twelve points in comparison to Cameron’s slump of seven points this week and in the wake of a small yet significant cabinet reshuffle, such fears could prove irrelevant in 2015.
Speaking in Southampton before the local elections, Ed Miliband used the word ‘solidarity’, something that he acknowledged seemed old fashioned, perhaps not a word for the 21st century. But he argued; the word ‘solidarity’ can mean a great deal in a society where a government of millionaires can make life better for a tiny few, but worse for the many. Solidarity is about a community coming together, to create a better world for everyone, especially in the face of the adversity inherent in the current economic moment, for out of solidarity can come equality and co-operation, other words that seem to have been sidelined in recent years.
This focus on one word in particular though tells us much about Miliband himself, the son of a Marxist intellectual. But it was not his father’s politics that was speaking through him that day, rather it was the philosophic and academic nature of a son who clearly thinks deeply about what he says, and means it.
Jon Cruddas’ appointment last week as the Labour Party’s policy review co-ordinator or ‘official philosopher’ we might say, indicates something even deeper about the nature of Miliband’s leadership. It tells us that the Labour Party is finally beginning to look deeply at itself, to establish once and for all its philosophic grounding and ideological roots. For elections cannot be won by a party without it initially having established why it is in politics in the first place, and what its vision actually is. Labour cannot look the electorate in the eye, without having determined where it stands intellectually. Miliband has begun this process.
Such an intellectual reinvigoration will lead to the structural, campaigning reorganization of the Labour Party and the Labour movement as a whole. The Labour movement was once the strongest political force in Britain; that could be its future too.
All this will of course not be enough if Ed cannot connect with voters. But what I think is clear, is that most ordinary people, angry at the broken promises of the most unrepresentative government in half a century are searching for a politician on their side. The Labour leader can be that person. By 2015, he may indeed be Prime Minister Ed.