Talking about a new generation

Ed Miliband has given fresh energy to UK Labour in opposition. Should NZ Labour be looking for something similar?

For the last day and a half I've been struggling to persuade "New Power Generation" - not one of Prince's best songs - to get the hell out of my head. It's all Ed Miliband's fault. He planted the earworm with the message he trumpeted in his first big speech as leader, to gathered party conference delegates in Manchester this week. His podium was emblazoned with the legend Labour's new generation. So was the bright pink cyclorama behind him. And he did use the words "New Generation" in his hour long address. Fifteen times.

If the new generation stuff was unsubtle, it was probably necessary. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and the New Labour project they created, had turned noxious, and the party urgently needed a good airing-out. Ed Miliband prevailed over his brother, the early favourite David, in an exhausting four-month-long Labour leadership race, in large part thanks to winning union members' votes (the election is tripartite: Labour MPs, union members, party members all count for a third) by shuffling to the left and humming a bit of an elegy for New Labour.

You've probably heard already much of the soap operatic backstory to Ed's accession. The crown was meant to belong to David, Ed's older brother by five years. Sons of the much-admired socialist scholar Ralph Miliband, the brothers have strikingly similar CVs. Ed followed David in almost everything he did: same schools, same college at Oxford. David went to work for the Labour party. A few years on, so did Ed. David became an MP in 2000; in 2005, so did Ed. David became environment secretary. Ed ... well, you get the picture. So this was one almighty pipping at the post. Ed won by just over one per cent. As I write, David M has just announced he's not standing for the shadow cabinet, in order, he says, that Ed might lead "as free as possible from distraction".

David had been known to covet the job since before Gordon Brown deposed Tony Blair in 1997, and there was constant speculation when he was foreign secretary that he might, urged by Blairite MPs, challenge Brown. There was never such air of ambition about Ed. In person he always seemed far too, well, genuine, too straightforward, to have the mettle for the leadership. Funnily enough that's precisely why I think he's just the person to spur a disenchanted Labour party back into contention.

It's no sure thing that Ed will lead the required rejuvenation - god knows he's hardly enjoyed a glowing press so far - but there is, give or take a raging Blairite or two, a real sense of renewed energy in the party, a sense that there is something now to build on.

An imperfect analogue though it is, New Zealand Labour supporters would do well to study the British example. Not even Don Draper could sell you Phil Goff as flag waver of the new generation. The Helen Clark era does not of course carry the anguish of the Blair years and its unpopular wars. It doesn't demand the decontamination that the UK Conservatives needed after defeat in 1997, which saw a train of leaders try and fail before David Cameron popped up promising something different. Who knows, maybe Goff can claw back and defeat John Key next year. But I'd wager that the sixth Labour government will be led by someone who voters don't recognise from cabinets past.

I guess that Shane Jones bloke is looking unlikely. David Cunliffe seems to be the likeliest successor - but even he might feel a bit overfamiliar. Maybe one of the dozen or so Labour newbies from the last election has what it takes - I don't know, I'm too far away to have noticed anything remarkable. But I was intrigued to read the other day that Andrew Little, Labour party president and union guy, has been selected to contest New Plymouth for Labour next year. He's always struck me as clever, and presumably comes just about camera-ready. Is he an outside prospect for 2014? He may not share Ed Miliband's DNA, but he is, as Phil Goff put it on Little's election as party president last year, a shining example of "a new generation of Labour movement leaders".