In March this year, I wrote a report on what I termed then “Next Labour”, which included a description of a meeting held at Ed Miliband’s house to discuss the manifesto:
It was, in many ways, a classic New Labour gathering: a minimalist north London drawing room, freshly squeezed orange juice and mineral water being served, fruit and HobNobs being eaten, and top of the agenda for a five-hour Sunday strategy meeting were the key manifesto messages for the election. Ideas were distributed, and those attending were expected to turn up with notes, not just on party policy but, inevitably, on the Conservatives as well.
There was one important difference between this and any equivalent meeting in election campaigns gone by: it was attended, indeed run, by a new generation of Labour power brokers. This is a generation looking to forge a new agenda for the new decade, not one wishing to frame the coming election as a bid for a “fourth term”.
Hosting the meeting on Sunday 7 March was Ed Miliband, Labour’s manifesto co-ordinator, whom many see as a future leader. Sitting beside him was his close friend Douglas Alexander, election campaign co-ordinator. In addition, there were advisers from their offices and the No 10 Policy Unit.
For today’s magazine, I have written a piece on the Miliband brothers’ race for the leadership, during which it appears that David is defending the manifesto more than Ed, its author:
David Miliband was keen to back the 2010 Labour manifesto in its entirety, while Ed Miliband — the author of that manifesto — distanced himself from it. “I’m not the kind of person who’s going to stand on a manifesto in May and then in June tell you: ‘By the way, I’m going to tippex out bits of it,’ ” David Miliband said. “How can you possibly say you’re going to stand on every aspect of our manifesto?” asked Ed in reply. “We lost the election.”
This was confusing to some at the time. But now, discussing this with a source who knows Ed, an interesting mini-revelation comes to light. The source says that Ed had much bigger plans for the manifesto, “and a very clear and thought-through idea of what it should be”, back at the time of what could be called the HobNob meeting.
But, the source — who is not anti-Gordon Brown — says that the former climate change secretary was “blocked” by the then prime minister and what he called a “culture” against ideas and debate within the cabinet.
“Ed’s radical ideas were partly blocked by a timid Gordon, and partly by secretaries of state. The manifesto would have been very different — and more along the lines of Ed’s campaign now [including on the 50p tax], if Ed had had free rein.”
Disclaimer: this assertion has come not from anyone inside the Ed Miliband leadership camp, but a neutral observer.