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.