1945 seems to have been one of the most prominent themes throughout the Labour Party conference this year. We get it; Ed Miliband wants to be Clement Attlee without the killer moustache. Sure. Nice one Ed.
When the prospect is considered however, there are many more parallels between 1945 and 2015 than is first realised, and the road to electoral success in two years’ time may in fact have been drawn in the history books for Miliband to follow.
For example, despite the leader of the Labour Party’s assertive call for a leadership contest with David Cameron during his conference speech yesterday, he knows he cannot win an orthodox battle.
Indeed, during the self-deprecating opening to his speech, which has been so lauded by political pundits, he highlighted why. Red Ed does not epitomise charisma, statesmanship and self-assurance. He is slightly nerdy and has a striking resemblance to a character from Wallace and Gromit; certainly not the mature, imposing features of a world leader.
But he also knows that he does not need to win a leadership battle.
In 1945 Clement Attlee’s Labour Party fought the general election against their main opposition; Winston Churchill’s Conservatives. Attlee was up against a leader who had just defeated Nazi Germany; he was not going to win a leadership contest. Despite this, Attlee was to emerge victorious; steering the nation towards what is widely regarded as one of the golden periods of Labour Party history.
It is easy now to see where similarities can be drawn, and why 1945 gives our modern generation of Labour politicians hope. Churchill’s war was World War II; Cameron’s war was the Great Recession. Cameron will feel he is winning his war, and that his perceived superior leadership abilities merely serve to reinforce his electoral advantage. This is the sort of complacency that Miliband is looking to thrive upon, just as Attlee did in 1945.
Furthermore, winning the war is important, but an effective plan for the future is more so.
Attlee won the election of 1945 because the electorate felt his party was most capable of rebuilding the nation after the war; a war where the common man sacrificed himself for the good of the nation and now wanted a stake in its recovery.
Now that our economic war is nearly won, Miliband is also constructing a Labour vision where those who sacrificed the most during the crash: the poor and vulnerable, the small business owners etc. are now given a stake in the nation’s prosperity. It is a philosophy that draws much from the struggles of 1945. Ed Miliband presented this vision during his speech yesterday, stating that he would oversee an economic recovery where ‘a rising tide would lift all boats, not just yachts.’
To ensure that Attlee’s successes are matched in 2015 however, Ed Miliband must still do more. Firstly, as called for by Alex Sargeson, Miliband must make his Labour Party an organisation engrained in local communities. A large part of Labour’s success in 1945 was due to their organisation of the home front, which had compelled the party to integrate into British society at a local level, placing them in constant and direct contact with the electorate in order to react to their needs. Ed Miliband must take it upon himself to promote a similar structure within the current Labour Party; local working class communities are crying out for support, and Labour Party figures must be seen to be working on the ground for the interests of these communities.
Secondly, one of Attlee’s most renowned feats as a leader was to assemble a star-studied cabinet rarely matched in British political history. Now, although I don’t suggest that Labour could assemble a cabinet comparable to one which boasted the figures of Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Hugh Gaitskell and Herbert Morrison, Miliband should at least attempt to maximise the potential at his disposal. This would mean a return to cabinet positions for Alan Johnson and Andrew Adonis, whilst also promoting some of the up and coming talents of 2010, such as Stella Creasy.
Just as Attlee won over the nation with a collectivist vision in 1945, Ed Miliband must do the same seventy years on. He knows that the election will be won with policies, not hair product, and is fully prepared to lose a leadership contest if it means winning the electoral war. All he need do now is grow the moustache.