Alun Michael MP: “Ed Miliband has made a very assured and confident start as Leader of the Labour Party.”

Alun Michael with Ed Miliband

Writing exclusively for Cardiff East Alun Michael MP reflects on a momentous week for the Labour Party.

Ed Miliband has made a very assured and confident start as Leader of the Labour Party.

  • His first task was to reach out beyond those who supported him in the leadership election, and to unite the party and he’s done that.
  • His second task was to mark out the nature of his leadership and bring a freshness to the role of Leader, and he’s made a good start on that.
  • His third task was to reach out to the electorate beyond the party and to persuade the public that this is a fresh start.  Again, he’s made a good start, stressing that we know where we went wrong, and that his leadership will be different – but also making it clear that his leadership will be based on Labour’s true values and that he’s determined to build on our successes.

Alun Michael & Ed Miliband in Manchester Cathedral

All of that is important.

Frankly, we know why things went wrong during Gordon Brown’s period – but we also know that Gordon’s leadership, nationally and internationally, is what stopped the world collapse in financial systems being even worse.  We are rightly proud of the way he massively increased our contribution to tackling world poverty.  But the leadership became isolated and there was a failure to listen to us on such issues as the 10p tax rate.  That’s why it is so important that on Day One Ed made it clear that he will listen to the whole team of Labour MPs – and regard us all as “his team”.

He’s also promised to take up the community engagement initiative that his brother David launched earlier this year and that means that the Party will become much more inclusive and outward-looking – welcoming in activists and people from every aspect of community life.

At the Labour Party Conference, there was a sense of a Party that is chastened by what went wrong, but is buzzing with ideas and initiatives and good ideas for the future – and determined to win support for a constructive approach to the future.  We’ve been honest about being defeated – but we are neither defeatist nor divided, so that the Party is clearly ready to accept responsibility and to take up leadership once more.

Personally, I feel angry that David Cameron’s first action was to slash support for unemployed young people.  I entered national politics after working with unemployed young people and seeing the misery and hopelessness that ruined the lives of a generation of young people as a direct result of Margaret Thatcher’s policies.

Alun Michael & Ed Miliband

What makes it worse is that David Cameron seems to have learned nothing from that era.  The economic writing on the wall is clear and stark …

  • A few weeks ago, we were told that the figures for the first few months of this year were better than expected, largely because the construction industry was recovering.  Why ? Because the Labour Government pulled investment forward to give that industry an injection of work and cash to stop companies going bust due to the standstill in private sector activity.
  • Then we were told that many companies are cutting recruitment because they can see the unavoidable impact for them of the massive Tory-Lib-Dem cuts in public investment. So the Government has engineered a slowdown at just the moment when they need to be giving a boost to confidence in the private sector.
  • And because the new government is going further and faster than Margaret Thatcher’s government dared to do the spectre of double-dip recession and economic failure is staring us in the face.

The damage will be enormous, and the task of reconstruction may well be as great as that which faced us in 1997.  But we have shown we can do it – and this time we can avoid some of the disengagement that happened as time went on.  In other words, we can be just as competent on the economy, create the conditions for further investment in the things that matter, and at the same time be a more friendly, human and humane administration.  And Ed Miliband gets it – he understands the need to do just that. He’s made a good start in settling the Labour Party down and preparing for action.

Am I disappointed that David Miliband has decided not to join the Shadow Cabinet ?  Yes.  I voted for him as Leader because believe he has enormous talent, intellect and integrity.  His inclusion in the short term would make Ed’s team even stronger.  But he may be wise to take some time out, taking time to think and reflect and experiment with new ideas. I found my year on the back benches in 2000 – 2001 gave me some space to do just that, as has the period since I stopped being a Minister in 2006.  I’m convinced that David will then come back stronger than ever – and that he will be a towering force in British politics for many years to come.  Being the Leader is only one role and there’s a need for strong personalities around the Leader.  Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and many others are there with the capacity to provide Ed Miliband with the fine team that he needs and that we need ………. But there will be a big role for David to play when he’s ready to do so.

Alun Michael

Labour MP – Cardiff South and Penarth


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