David Miliband’s departure shows Ed is set to be the next Prime Minister

David MilibandEd Miliband says that British politics will be a “poorer place” now that his brother David is stepping down as an MP to run the International Rescue Committee.

This is likely to be a contentious point for many on the Labour left who will be keen to see the party cleansed of Blairite clones like David Miliband.

But Ed himself also has reason to celebrate in private. His brother’s departure is the surest sign yet that he is on course to become the next Prime Minister.

When David refused a place in Ed’s cabinet, many saw him as the leader in waiting, silently biding his time until his brother inevitably slipped up and he could slip into his shoes before the next election.

And Miliband certainly made slips in his early days. A disastrous interview in which he repeated the same sentence in several almost identical ways that made The Thick of It’s blinky Ben Swaine look like a natural born leader for one. Initially hiring a Shadow Chancellor who needed to read a textbook on economics was not a good sign that his leadership would be providing a sound alternative to Tory austerity either.

But David’s departure shows just how much has changed. He surely recognises that Ed will be leading Labour into the next election and he is quietly confident, as many in the party now must be, that Ed will be the next Prime Minister.

Ed’s widely praised One Nation Labour speech was certainly a turning point. Sure, he was never going to be the next Martin Luther King, but he displayed his ability to lead his party and communicate an alternative.

Though he was met with boos when he told the anti-cuts rally on October 20th that a Labour government would still have to make cuts, he showed his willingness to engage with a vital movement instead of ignoring its existence.

And his call to reinstate the 10p tax rate funded by a mansion tax was a brilliant piece of political manoeuvring. In one fell swoop it apologised for a New Labour mistake, played to Labour’s redistributive roots, undermined the Conservatives by pipping them to the 10p tax post and stole a key policy the Liberal Democrats would never be able to get on the Coalition agenda.

Ed’s success, of course, has much to do with declining Conservative fortunes as the government’s failure to return the economy to growth leaves voters unwilling to stomach punishing cuts for the greater good. But with the largest poll lead in a decade, the election is Labour’s to lose. David would never say that he is leaving politics because his brother is on course to be the next Prime Minister. But his departure underscores this message.

Nevertheless, Ed must not be complacent. There will be plenty of arguments and divisions ahead.

His decision to have Labour MPs abstain on the workfare bill has infuriated the left. There will be many who will say this proves Labour has learned little from the Blair years. As the 5,000 people who have signed up to Ken Loach’s appeal for a new party of the left show, a significant number of traditional Labour voters believe that Labour is not the right vehicle to defend the welfare state which was its greatest achievement.

“The shadow cabinet should re-read [Labour’s 1945] manifesto to capture a whiff of the sheer nerve and daring of 1945,” writes Polly Toynbee in the Guardian. “Instead, they behave as Roy Jenkins said of Tony Blair before 1997, as if they were carrying a Ming vase across a polished floor, afraid of dropping it before election day. But they have no Ming vase, the election is not won and their caution holds them back, as too many disaffected voters reject the old parties.”

Ed Miliband must listen to these voices. The departure of his Blairite brother should mark the dawning of a new era for a Labour party that has learned from its mistakes. His party is popular because the Conservatives are unpopular. Looking back to its left-wing roots is not a suicide note. The time to be bold is now.

This article was originally written for Liberal Conspiracy

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