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11 October 2016

What Ed Miliband did next

After a string of reverses for the left, Ed Miliband's old gang is getting back together. 

By Stephen Bush

For Ed Miliband, this isn’t quite how the last two years were supposed to pan out. There’s an irony that a disastrous year for the British left has, largely, validated the Miliband analysis: both the tactical decision to rule out an In-Out referendum, against the objections of his shadow chancellor among others, and his broader analysis of the problems of unreformed capitalism.

As one Conservative remarked, the Leave vote triumphed where people had “no skin in the game”; either people trapped renting in poor conditions, or pensioners who owned their houses outright. If the proportion of the British population with mortgages had been at the same level in 2016 as it was in 1997, then Remain would have triumphed.

Miliband’s fears of what would transpire while inequalities of wealth and power were realised – and his caution in holding a referendum on the European issue was validated.

Which is all very well, but not much comfort to the question of where the left goes next. Stepping into that void is the New Economics Foundation, which unveiled a new look under its new CEO, Marc Stears, Miliband’s former speechwriter, with a new slogan: building “an economy where people really take control”.

The adaption of Vote Leave’s winning message is deliberate – the hunger for change showed by the Brexit vote is one that, the Milibandites believe, cannot be achieved on the right.

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The NEF will provide something that was missing throughout Miliband’s time at the top – a think tank in step with the Milibandite thesis. Adding to the feeling of a band getting back together was a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which served as Miliband’s official pollster during his leadership, and the presence of Tom Baldwin, Miliband’s former spin chief, assisting with media management.

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Milband himself put in an appearance, arguing that Brexit was a “huge opportunity”, for the left.

But in words that will anger his critics in the Labour party, Milband explicitly rejected both those argued he had run on a platform too far to the left and those who argued it was too far to the right. He reiterated his belief that since the crash, the country “clearly has moved to the left on some issues”, but added “clearly, the country has moved to the right on some issues, too”.

That movement, he argued, was what Theresa May detected in her conference speech, which Miliband described as being “a more left-of-centre speech” than any given by David Cameron.

The Miliband connection will both provide star power to the NEF but also risks being a drag anchor. The NEF aims to use its new phase to focus on building a new agenda beyond the drama around the Labour leadership, focussing on what Labour is doing well in local government and learning from leftwing parties on the continent, both among its traditional cousins and the emergent left. 

But, ironically, just as one struggle for Milbandism was overcoming the unpopularity of its leader, the NEF’s agenda may be overshadowed by the continuing argument over just what went wrong in 2015.