When Michael Crick mused that it was very difficult to tell who had won the Newsnight leadership debate, I couldn't help wondering if what he really meant was that Diane Abbott had been the most impressive, but it felt odd to say that out loud when we know (or we think we know) that she can't win the ultimate prize. I certainly agree with Crick, though, that the one definite conclusion we can draw is that Andy Burnham lost tonight. His delivery was wooden, and the content of some of his answers was distinctly peculiar, especially on Iraq. How precisely has the invasion of Iraq made it easier to deal with Iran now? Surely the polar opposite of that statement is true. And in the unlikely event that Tony Blair was watching, his jaw would have dropped to the floor to hear Burnham advance the eccentric argument that Hans Blix's weapons inspectors couldn't be allowed more time because it might have triggered a domestic uprising against Saddam Hussein. That drives a coach and horses through Blair's perennial excuse for why it had still been justifiable to invade in the absence of WMDs - namely that Saddam would otherwise have been certain to remain in power to this day.
It also became painfully obvious tonight just what a cynical campaign Ed Balls is running, and that there's almost nothing he won't now say in an attempt to neutralise his biggest perceived weakness - ie. his closeness to Gordon Brown. Dredging up the Gillian Duffy incident just to take a swipe at his old political mentor is a tactic that thoroughly deserves to backfire, and I suspect it will. Declaring Tony Blair his favourite Labour leader was a fairly obvious affectation as well. He also coined a phrase that may one day be cited as a textbook example of how not to wriggle out of responsibility for something - "In retrospect, as I said at the time..."
The other Ed was the slightly stronger of the two Milibands, and there were plenty of signs that he is indeed consciously tacking a little to the left - by denouncing the invasion of Iraq, by pledging to tackle the gap between rich and poor, by calling 90 days detention and ID cards a mistake, and by suggesting the 50p tax band should be made permanent. As always in leadership elections, the $64,000 question is - just a tactic, or does he (to use Blair's irritating phrase) "actually believe this stuff"? If the latter, there may be just a glimmer of hope for the progressive strain of opinion in the Labour party, for the first time virtually since the day John Smith died in 1994.