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October 15, 2014



All of your arguments point to exactly the opposite conclusion.

Yes, all of those constraints are there, and make any Labour leader's job difficult. What can be done?

The correct answer is not, as you claim, that leadership doesn't matter, but rather that it matters more. Given these constraints, it was vital that someone with the skill set to appeal to as wide a group as possible, and to lead with dynamism was selected. Instead we got Miliband.

It probably wont matter for the 2015 electoral result, the fundamentals so strongly favour Labour that they can't lose. It matters for the period in government.

The party conference was not so low key because Labour expect to lose. Quite the opposite.

Luis Enrique

I think I agree with Hugo. Organizational inertia simultaneously makes it harder for leaders to make a difference, and more important that such a leader is found.

btw. I think the political economy lit tends to find lots of leadership effects, and you are likely familiar with the famous Jones and Olken Do Leaders Matter which finds an effect on growth - striking because in these parts growth is usually regarded as beyond the reach of policy

Icarus Green

I guess this goes back to the B-school theories about whether people are born leaders or whether leadership is contextual. Like a lead violin player being able to meld himself into the underlying harmonies of the rest of the orchestra. Therefore one could posit that it is the orchestra that is ultimately more important than any individual.

The history of Obama's presidency is a cautious note in this regard. The rise of extremist conservatism, inequality and secular stagnation are the defining structural factors of his presidency. The practical matters of his presidency was that 80% of his time was (and is) spent firefighting.

The unravelling of various regulations in the financial, energy, and even small arms areas have meant that he's spent a lot of his domestic time in cleanup mode - whether giving speeches after a mass shooting or literally cleaning up after an oil spill. The financial mess is an obvious time sink.

And on the foreign front, the failed neoconservative foreign policies in the 2 decades leading up to his presidency meant he often spent most of his time dealing with the fallout in the Middle East of past presidents CIA coups, militia arming (Hello Osama!) and of course, endless wars where the enemy can literally never be beaten on a battlefield bar genocide.

It just seems for whatever reason, that the only leaders capable of shifting the frame/Overton Window are leaders from the right. But again, even that contradicts the value of leadership as most of their success can be attributed to institutional factors - the shift of media to the right, a lavishly funded astroturf conservative movement, sowing the court system with stooges, deeper financial resources, the devolution of economics as a field and other factors that elite conservatives are wont to sit around a smoke filled room, trying to figure out how to maintain and expand their power.

I fear PM Milliband is eventually going to get browbeaten into the familiar frame. Publications like the economist are basically wont to ask 'why doesn't this left wing leader propose right wing policies?!'


Like most political issues you can argue it either way as a good PPE undergrad would. Atlee must be the most successful leader of the Labour Party in terms of concrete results. Yet he was universally talked about as stopgap from day one as leader of the Party. Too right wing and posho for some; too far left for others. He was soon to be replaced by a man of greater weight, it was just that none of the candidates could ever agree who should take over. E Bevin refused to allow "little clem" to be shown the door. All his replacements knew they could do a better job but would not support any one else. And vice versa. Hence,

"There were few who thought him a starter,
Many who thought themselves smarter.
But he ended PM,
CH and OM,
an Earl and a Knight of the Garter." Wikipedia

P.S. Is cohen merely annoyed that Ed supports recognising Palestine? Backing away from unthinking support of Israel is breaking the overton window so should we not approve the even handedness? Bevin would approve.


I too disagree, the two Ed's constraints are self-imposed. I have offered popular and effective policies, only to see them weakened to the point of futility.

Policy proposal vs Labour Policy.

Renationalise the railways, at end of franchises: Public sector bids.

Renationalise energy, water etc: Energy Price Freeze.

Job Guarantee: Workfare at the Minimum wage.

Raise Minimum wage (to living wage): Offer a minimum wage without reference to inflation proofing, so value eroded to be equivalent to expected inflation.

Leaders and members of the party are selected because they support neoliberalism.

I have other policies including a non-neoliberal world view/vision and economic policy.

The two Ed's are happy in their comfort zone. Yvette Cooper is the favourite to replace Ed, so no change of economic policy.

If Labour is left of centre it is barely so.

Everything is presented in a neoliberal frame, a alternative frame makes different solutions possible!

This worries Jeremy Warner!


@ aragon - I agree that Miliband might well be exaggerating the constraints he faces:
@ Spinning Hugo, Luis - I take your point. Maybe exceptional leaders can sometimes make a difference. But there's a difference between seeing such a leader after the fact and identifying him in advance; as Keith says, our opinion of Attlee is higher now than it was before he became PM. Does such an exceptional person exist now? If s/he does, is the Labour party capable of electing him/her? I doubt it.


The idea that Miliband will, like Attlee, turn out to be a success once in power even though thought a bit useless at the time is far-fetched.

By 1945 Attlee had been deputy PM for five years during WW2, had been a success in local government before entering Parliament, and had served with distinction as an officer at Gallipoli in WW1. This was not a pygmy surrounded by giants.

Miliband has been a SpAd and a nondescript SofS for Energy.

Labour is a party of romantics. It will never conduct a coup against its leader save in extremis (eg they are responsible for the worst foreign policy disaster in the modern era). So, speculation about replacement is a bit of a waste of time.

The issue is how it can govern with this person in place.

Igor Belanov

For those putting all the stress on the importance of leadership, I think you therefore have some responsibility to tell us which leader should replace Ed Miliband? There are not a lot of obvious candidates.

Luis Enrique

Chris, yep, and for all we know Ed is as likely to prove a transformational leader as somebody with blazing eyes and a square jaw


"Labour, like companies, has vintage organizational capital."

Indeed and, for this reason, Labour is suffering an identity crisis. It positioned itself 20 years ago as an establishment party that would attract votes in middle-class marginal constituencies (in the process assuming that the people who would be alienated by that would have nowhere else to go). It now finds itself at risk of losing votes in various directions and unable to create a new identity to deal with that. A leader cannot be inspirational unless the identity is clear and the answer isn't another Blair because the identity that Blair managed to market is no longer trusted.

Those who want a new leader wanted David Miliband to be leader, someone who is even less inspirational than Ed and even less capable of recognising the identity crisis that Labour faces. The spin that held together the New Labour project no longer works but few in the party know what else to do.

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