Labour’s new leader

ED MILIBAND’S election as Labour leader and Ken Livingstone’s sweeping victory in the NEC poll and the London mayoral nomination race mark a clear defeat for what’s left of the Blairites in the party but it’s by no means the end of what they proudly called “New Labour”.

Though Diane Abbott got a credible vote as a left social-democratic challenger, the Labour leadership contest was essentially a beauty contest between four right-wingers who had all been protégés of Blair and Brown. In fact very little divides the two Miliband brothers or the other two also-rans apart from personal ambition.

All through the summer the bourgeois media had been eagerly puffing up his elder brother, David, claiming that he was feared by the Tories as the man most likely to lead Labour to victory at the next election. If that was so one would have expected the Tories to have welcomed his defeat. But far from rejoicing when the results were declared they’ve branded the victor, “Red Ed”, and they’re now wailing that the new Labour leader is nothing more than a pawn of the unions.

Well he isn’t and he’s not likely to become one. As Livingstone said when asked whether Ed Miliband’s election represented a lurch to the left: “If only it would. Sadly it won’t.”

Ed Miliband and his supporters backed the social-Keynesian response of the last Labour government in dealing with the economic crisis and without significant pressure from the grass-roots they are not likely to stray far beyond Gordon Brown’s modest “soft-landing” approach, which still puts most of the burden of slump on the backs of working people.

Now the new Labour leader has many tasks ahead of him. The first will be putting together a Shadow Cabinet that can provide an effective opposition to the Cameron government while mobilising the movement behind the unions’ resistance to the Coalition government’s austerity plans.

What’s needed now is a clear-cut alternative to the draconian measures being taken by the Cameron administration. Union demands for a return to free collective bargaining along with the broader demand for the restoration of the “welfare state” and the public sector must be part of Labour’s new programme to defeat the Coalition. The real alternative to the Tory/Liberal Democrat plan to slash health and education and means-test benefits is to restore income tax rates to the levels that existed in 1979, pull our troops out of Afghanistan and scrap the useless Trident nuclear missile system.

The Labour leadership election has shown that organised labour can influence the discussion and take it to a broader audience. While Ed Miliband’s victory is hardly going to herald a new dawn for social-democracy it will help the left’s fight within the Labour Party for a manifesto based on the demands of the unions that can rally millions of working class voters at the next general election.