It is not usual for me to kick off with words of praise for Nick Robinson and Tom Bradby, but both require a little for their commentary around the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader yesterday.
As the breathless anchors were pressing for the definitive soundbite assessment of Ed’s narrow win, both the BBC and ITV political editors did well to hold a line that basically said ‘too early to tell.’
Put more positively from Ed’s perspective, I would say that he, more than anyone else, more than political colleagues, opponents or pundits, can now shape how he is seen by the public. That is quite an exhilerating position to be in, especially for the candidate who came from behind and is therefore less well known among the general public.
The scale of coverage and debate yesterday and today shows that this is an important moment. It shows too that plenty of people, for their own reasons, will be trying to portray Ed in a certain way. ‘Red Ed’ will be the favoured right-wing press shorthand. ‘In hock to the unions’ will be the Tories’. They will really want to make that one stick. Ed can foil them, and will be helped if they keep fielding Baroness Warsi as their voice on Labour.
Indeed none of the labels others are applying need worry him, provided he has his own clear sense of a medium and long term strategy, and he sees it through, whatever the noise going on around him. The first label Tony Blair’s opponents tried to make stick was ‘Bambi.’ Fat lot of good that did them.
Tuesday’s leader’s speech is important. So will be Ed’s first PMQs, the appointment of his first shadow cabinet, his first major overseas trip, his first big City event, his first union conference, his first internal crisis, and so on and on and on, a diary full of opportunities for HIM to paint the picture he wants to paint of himself, and not the one that others want painted.
In getting this far he has already shown some of the qualities required for leadership – boldness (in going for it in the first place), a touch of steel, and an ability to persuade.
In my view of leadership, rule one is the ability always to be clear about objective, strategy and tactics, and to know the difference. On that too, given he has secured his objective of winning the leadership election, he would appear to have some of what it takes.
But now a far bigger challenge faces him and he will have to show he has another quality required – adaptability to changed circumstances.
I wanted David to win, but I wish Ed well now that the Party has spoken. I wish David well too. Yesterday cannot have been easy, on any level, and the implications are life-changing for both of them. Whatever he decides to do in the future, nothing takes away from the fact that he is a very clever, talented and nice person. It just wasn’t his day, was it? As he was being told the result, his team, Arsenal, were going down at home to West Brom while Ed’s team, Leeds, were winning by a late goal against Sheffield United. That is another quality required from time to time – luck. I wish plenty of it to Ed.
He was right to stress the importance of a new generation taking over. One of the reasons I avoided Manchester yesterday, and avoided the airwaves, was that the last thing he needs is a cacophany of voices from the TB-GB era all telling him how to escape the TB-GB era and be his own man. Being his own man without all the noise might be easier.
And I wonder if he has sent a little note of thanks to Peter Mandelson. Who knows whether Peter’s book-promoting intervention for David didn’t help provide the final little swing Ed needed? In this one, perhaps he really was the third man!