Slightly rephrasing Mark Antony, we came not to praise New Labour, but to bury it. And bury it he did. Ed Miliband ran as the change candidate, and three days into his leadership he delivered on it. This was a tour de force – laying about him without fear or favour, straight-talking, establishing himself immediately as his own man. Out went defence of the Iraq war, complacency over boom and bust (surely one of the most arrogant hostages to fortune ever dreamt up), support for Israel over settlement-building and the Gaza blockade, disregard for inequality, connivance with pressure to raise tuition fees, authoritarian dismissal of civil liberties, collusion with market fundamentalism, enthusiasm for the City and deregulated finance, indifference to concerns about immigration. Phew!
It was the most ground-breaking rebuttal of previous Labour conventional wisdom in living memory. The Blair-Brown interregnum was finally and completely over. And it’s not only policy. At a meeting he called for members of his Parliamentary party the day after his accession (itself a very welcome innovation – his two predecessors would never have done that) he declared, and repeated, that “there is going to be a change in the culture of leadership”. I believe he will steadily deliver exactly that.
It’s a good start. But it’s only a start. The speech stressed all the right Labour values (itself again a much needed break from the recent past) and strongly promoted the importance of vision. Unsurprisingly, three days in, he did not offer detailed substance to that vision, but that must now be a top priority over the next few months. And how exactly he sets about it – the consultation process and how democratic and inclusive it is – will be almost as important as the final content if the whole party is to take ownership of it.