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30 August 2010

The Blairites turn their guns on Ed

Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell go on the offensive against the younger Miliband. But who will

By George Eaton

The Blairite establishment is out in force this morning, warning variously that Ed Miliband would lead Labour into an “electoral cul-de-sac”, would vacate the “centre ground” and would consign the party to years in opposition.

In an interview with the Times (£), Peter Mandelson takes a calculated swipe at the younger Miliband, declaring:

We’re not looking for a preacher as our leader, we’re looking for someone who has good values, strong electoral instincts and the ability to put in place a winning strategy. We’re a political party, not a church.

Miliband’s warning that the party must move out of the “New Labour comfort zone” also seems to have touched a nerve:

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I think David started pulling away from the field of other candidates in a recent speech in which he set out what he thinks and what he believes. I think that his brother Ed . . . is wrong when he describes new Labour as a comfort zone. On the contrary, it was about some difficult choices and some tough decisions on policy. There was nothing comfortable about many of the issues we had to face up to.

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He doesn’t personally endorse David but it’s clear that he views the elder Miliband as the outstanding candidate. Elsewhere, Alastair Campbell, who previously claimed that Ed would make the party “feel OK about losing”, writes on his blog that the younger Miliband “would take Labour significantly leftwards and leave even more of the centre ground open to the Tories”.

Still to come is the launch of Tony Blair’s memoir on Wednesday, an occasion that may see Blair publicly disclose his private view that Miliband would be a “disaster” for the party.

With just days to go until ballots are sent out to party members, David is likely to be in two minds about this latest development. The elder Miliband has worked hard to shed the crude “Blairite” label that still attaches itself to him, but many in the party, faced with Mandelson, will deem Miliband guilty by association. Conversely, Blair himself remains significantly more popular among Labour members than he is with the public at large. His intervention could yet prove decisive.

As for Ed, whom the New Statesman endorsed as Labour leader last week, he can feel justly frustrated that senior figures in the party have failed to engage with his sophisticated and well-meant critique of New Labour. The psephological reality is that Labour has lost five million votes since 1997, only a million of which went to the Tories. It will not win them back by playing the same old Blairite tunes.

The best of New Labour — its reforming spirit, its sensitivity to public opinion, its political prescience — is today reflected in Ed Miliband’s campaign.