Labour’s love affair with their lost leader

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 25 September 2011 in Diary
David Miliband might have lost the leadership contest, but his appearance at Labour conference was more rock star than defeated candidate

A year on from his defeat in the Labour leadership contest, and David Miliband is more of a celebrity than a politician.

Crowds gathered to push their way into his Movement for Change event this evening. More journalists than I’ve ever seen attend a fringe event deigned to show up. Every time his name was mentioned, the audience whooped and cheered. At the end, he was mobbed by admirers, eager just to shake his hand and have their photo taken with the great man.

Joined by Stella Creasy and Chuka Ummuna on the panel, they did make a ridiculously good-looking trio. ‘Labour porn’ is how one audience member was heard describing it. Looking at them, it’s difficult not to declare enthusiastically that you’re looking at the bright, shiny future of the Labour Party right there.

The elder Miliband is still an excellent communicator. He still knows how to turn a phrase, how to inject the right amount of passion and earnestness into his delivery to draw his already-captivated audience in.

There were times when he could have been interpreted at having a dig at his younger brother. “We spend too much time debating policy and not enough time talking about politics, real politics,” he said. An insight into how he would have been approaching his first conference as leader, and a bit of a dig at Ed, who has drawn criticism first for not having any concrete policy, and then for announcing overly-detailed ideas like the suggested tuition fees reduction the Observer splashed on this morning.

He’s still good with the soundbites. “The Tories are about do-it-yourself Britain. We’re about do-it-together Britain.” Labour members in the audience were reminded anew what they lost when this potential leader wasn’t crowned a year ago. He hinted at what could have been a coherent rebuttal to the big society narrative.

But he lost. This is the fact that David seems to have (at least outwardly) come to terms with, and the fact that his supporters, who crowded out the room tonight, seem not quite to have accepted yet.

“We’re here because we want to put Ed in Downing Street and Labour in government,” he said in his closing remarks. Unspoken, but implied was the fact that ‘what I think isn’t quite so important any more – I’m not the one in charge.’

He still got a standing ovation, though.

Tags: David Miliband, Labour Conference 2011, Movement for Change

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