Dear Ed Miliband,
I feel that your letter to me last week deserves a reply. After all, it was very civil of you to write.
Let me first introduce myself. I voted Lib Dem on May 6th, and am profoundly unsure whether I will do so in the future, for various reasons that you can probably guess. Three-and-a-half years ago, for my sins, I joined Labour. Some people go to university, get drunk and have one-night stands. I got drunk at university and joined the Labour Party.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship Labour ever since. For all its faults, which were considerable, it seemed the place to be if you were on “the left”. Eventually, after about two years I felt that I could not defend Labour’s record in government. There was no specific incident that led me not to renew my Labour membership. Like any breakup, there were a myriad of factors. These included: calling off a corruption inquiry into selling arms to Saudi Arabia, ID cards, Hazel Blears, the Private Finance Initiative, Tony McNulty, 42 days without trial…and I haven’t even mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan yet. As you say in your letter, “Leaving your party is the most honourable course when your party leadership leaves you.” I did, and haven’t been given a good reason to return yet.
You’ve probably realised now that I am a member of the lefty middle class “intelligensia”, and the type of person you are trying to woo with your leadership campaign. You have said some sensible things about Labour’s civil liberties record, criticised the decision to invade Iraq, and been attacked by Peter Mandelson. All of these things are in your favour. In her excellent posts on the Labour leadership contest, fellow Paperback Rioter Hannah has hinted that you would be her preferred candidate.
I also have more sympathy with your strategy of wooing left-wing Lib Dem voters, than with your brother’s tactic, which is to appeal to Tory voters by forming a movement of the centre. As has been pointed out – and no doubt you are aware already – Labour has lost 5 million votes since 1997, only 1 million of them left to vote Tory.
Despite all this, I have not found you sufficiently inspiring in order to pay £1, rejoin Labour and vote for you as leader.
The first reason for this is that I have not been encouraged by Labour’s actions since the election. After some truly half-hearted attempts to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, they have attacked the government from the right on prison and immigration reform, and are now engaged – you probably have noticed this – in a leadership election. This contest has been soporific and overly long. A real debate on the party’s record in government and what it should do now was needed, so in principle a long leadership contest was necessary. In practice, this sort of debate has not really happened, because all serious contenders of the leadership (this includes yourself) agree too much with each other for there to be a real debate.
However, my main problem with your campaign is that you have repudiated too much of Labour’s time in government. This may sound paradoxical, because I have said above that I left Labour because I think its role in government was, on the whole, unsatisfactory. However, your voting record looks especially egregious on certain issues:
To vote for the vast majority of Labour’s appalling civil liberties measures then to remain a cabinet minister, and disown them in opposition to win the leadership now, smacks of opportunism to me. Your remarks on Iraq also seem opportunistic now, seeing as you did not speak publicly against the war at the time. You may reply that you were agitating against these policies in private whilst supporting them in public, as befits collective responsibility among cabinet ministers. For instance, in the Five Live leadership hustings you were asked by Victoria Derbyshire why you did not make more noise about some issue or other – I think it was social housing – and you replied, “I remember a conversation with Gordon Brown in 2006 on this issue…”
I can remember very few conversations I had in 2006. Granted, I’d be more likely to remember a conversation I had with Gordon Brown four years ago, but I’m guessing a talk with him is a more common occurrence for you. So I’m not quite sure that one conversation four years ago, when Brown wasn’t even Prime Minister, really counts as doing something you’re meant to be passionate about. Instead, there is a sort of honesty and integrity in the position of David Miliband and Andy Burnham defending Labour’s record in government that I can applaud, however much I disagree with what they’re defending.
Perhaps you think that I am being unkind, and trying to have it both ways. If you defended New Labour’s record in government, I would not vote for you because you are defending something I think is flawed; if you disown it than I accuse you of being an opportunist. You are certainly entitled to think that, but for future reference: such a thing as a “principled resignation” exists (like Robin Cook, for instance) and perhaps Cabinet Ministers should think about using it more often.
I think it was Tony Blair who said that Labour needed to be “radical and credible”. Broadly speaking, I find your brother credible but not radical. You, on the other hand, are radical but not credible. It is for this reason that I will have to respectfully decline your offer of rejoining Labour and voting for you as leader. I hope you appreciate the reasons why, and wish you all the best in the contest.