The Labour national executive has opted for the long game: the next leader will be anointed on September 25. This is probably bad news for party’s right wing: the longer the campaign, the more pressure there will be to woo the grassroots with promises to protect spending.
It was apparently a “friendly and comradely” meeting. But the stakes were high. Those lobbying for an extended campaign wanted to stop a “coronation” and give all the outsiders (Burnham, Balls etc) time to grab the spotlight.
But I expect the bigger problem for David Miliband will be the kind of commitments that will have to be made in the leadership race.
This campaign is not only going to straddle the emergency Budget. It will end just weeks before the most austere spending review in living memory. There’s a good chance of a “cuts vs investment” auction.
This could leave the next Labour leader saddled with a clutch of spending commitments they’d have never made as an opposition leader: protecting child benefit, public sector wages and pensions, big capital projects, you name it.
As Danny Finkelstein and Phil Collins note in this fascinating exchange, the issue of spending has hardly arisen to date. But it will probably be the most important political judgement the candidates make. The temptation to promise the world will be hard to resist.
The candidates may buck expectations and don a hair-shirt. But the Con-Lib coalition will be delighted that they’ve given themselves even more time to tack to the left and build a big-spending Labour citadel in the electoral wilderness.