Should a leadership contender “trim” to win?

David Miliband’s dilemma has echoes of Ken Clarke’s own leadership bids.

Yesterday, this blog touched on the question of whether David Miliband, in order to win the Labour leadership, could do more himself to shed the unfair "Blairite" tag hung round his neck by the media and his internal opponents.

Looking at the trailed sections of his big campaign speech this evening, I see no sign of him doing so: there is no indication, for example, of a fresh move to get out from under the shadow of Iraq. But we have yet to see the full text.

In some very real ways, this is admirable: there was something heroic -- even for those of us who firmly opposed the invasion in 2003 -- about the elder Miliband's refusal to trash it during the New Statesman hustings in June.

But, again, it must be said that he appears to be faced with a dilemma about whether to disown elements of his perceived past political heritage for the sake of further popularity in his own party, or stick by certain principles.

The man himself is said to be telling aides that he refuses to "pander" in this contest. "That would be the wrong thing to do," he has been heard saying. And he may be right.

Yet this reminds me of the dilemma -- at first sight similar -- faced by Kenneth Clarke during his three attempts to become leader of the Conservatives. Clarke's supporters, particularly in 2001, pleaded with him in private to "trim" his positive position on Europe, the one area that many of his fans still believe held him back from fulfilling his dream of becoming leader.

There is a crucial difference here, however: David Miliband is not actually the ideological "Blairite" that he is perceived to be, as any closer reading of his politics shows.

Yet all the more reason to make it clear -- including tonight -- how his own set of politics is unique.

He may be right not to pander. But he may have to trim to win.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.