It’s now over four months since Gordon Brown resigned as Labour’s leader. Now the lengthy and complex contest to replace him is close to its conclusion, as the party will announce its new leader on Saturday.
Voting has closed, leaving the five candidates to wait anxiously until the results are declared at Labour’s conference. For Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and Diane Abbot it will all be about a strong showing rather than a victory.
But for the Miliband brothers it will be very different. Both David and Ed know that one of them will take home the prize and the opportunity to lead the party against the coalition government.
The contest is being run under the Alternative Vote system and party insiders say that the final result is too close to call. There are three separate parts to Labour’s electoral college, with individual party members, trade unionists and MPs & MEPs all having a voice.
It is expected that David Miliband will be ahead after the first preferences of voters are counted. But he is extremely unlikely to achieve the 50% + 1 required for an outright victory. That means the second preferences of the three outsiders come into play, and it is here that Ed Miliband hopes to catch up with his older brother.
The younger Miliband is expected to poll strongly in the union section where he has the endorsement of the big unions. There is talk in Conservative circles of a move to label him as Red Ed, a man in hock to the union barons.
Ed may be slightly to the left of David, but to call him a left winger stretches credibility. He is hardly Red Ken, is he?
The new leader will take over a party that is in surprisingly good shape after its election defeat. This contest has not featured the type of internal warfare that Labour used to do so well, although that might be because the political differences between the two leading candidates are so slight, as well as the obvious family ties.
The opinion polls consistently show Labour just behind the Tories with the Lib Dems trailing badly. A new leader should gain an immediate poll boost and when the full extent of the government’s public spending cuts are announced next month, the opposition can expect to gain further support
Harriet Harman has led the party well over the past few months, exceeding my expectations, as she put in consistently strong performances against messrs Cameron and Clegg. She can expect a senior post in the new Shadow Cabinet as a reward for her efforts, regardless of who the new leader might be.
Whichever Miliband does secure the leader’s position will have the authority to make the changes necessary to ensure Labour is electable once more. Opposing the government will be the easy part, given the economic position and the unpopular nature of some of its policies.
But he will also have to make the party appeal to its core support once more. New Labour’s spin and middle class values were rejected by voters in May. The incoming leader must set out policies that will tackle the problems that the country faces in a way that reconnects with traditional Labour voters.
The immediate role of Saturday’s victor will be Leader of the Opposition. But whichever of the brothers comes out on top will be looking into the future and the possibility of a different title: Prime Minister.