Back in 2010, says John Rentoul in The Independent, Labour chose Ed Miliband as their new leader rather than his more competent, pragmatic brother David. The party, newly turfed out of power, was “confused and exhausted” by the compromises it had had to make in government; it wanted to get back to comforting left-wing orthodoxy. But that decision still haunts it. As recently as this year I heard a former Labour voter in a focus group say the party had chosen the “wrong brother”.
The Tories might be about to have their own “David Miliband moment”. Though Rishi Sunak is all-but-guaranteed to make the final two, recent polls of Tory party members – who pick the winner – see him beaten by Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss. Sunak, like David Miliband, is “the well-qualified leader tainted by his association with the old regime”. Sunak, like David Miliband, “tells his party what it doesn’t want to hear”: that unfunded tax cuts cannot deliver the high quality public services voters demand. But Mordaunt, currently second to Sunak in the MPs’ vote, appeals to Tory members troubled by the illiberal lockdowns and “vast public spending” of Covid. They yearn for “the old stuff” of conservativism that Mordaunt referred to in her campaign launch. She’s like Ed: “the new face appealing to a party that yearns to be liberated from the constraints of reality”.