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25 October 2010

Has Ed Miliband really given up on New Labour?

Miliband promises to carry forward “New Labour insights” in speech to CBI.

By George Eaton

Perhaps the most notable thing about Ed Miliband’s speech to the CBI this morning was his immediate praise for New Labour’s approach to business. After just 119 words, he said:

New Labour’s insight in the 1990s was to recognise that we needed to be a party that understood wealth creation as well as its distribution, that we needed to be for economic prosperity as well as social justice, and that solving our society’s problems could not be done without a partnership between government and business.

With Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor, John Denham as the shadow business secretary and Douglas Alexander as the shadow work and pensions secretary, we intend to carry forward all of these New Labour insights.

The decision to reference New Labour so warmly marks a contrast with Miliband’s first days as leader. In his first TV interview with Andrew Marr he was asked: “Does New Labour still apply?” and memorably replied: “The era of New Labour has passed.”

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It was the sort of comment designed to produce headlines such as “Miliband declares New Labour dead” and so it did. It’s no surprise that Miliband is keen to emphasise his New Labour credentials in front of a business audience, but even that is a trick borrowed from the Blair playbook.

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It is, of course, possible to break with New Labour while still appreciating some of its most important insights. But few would deny that this represents an unresolved tension in the Miliband project.