Yesterday Ed Miliband made the first of two rather important speeches (the other due in two weeks at party conference) about the reform of his party’s relationship with its affiliated unions, an initiative on whose success his leadership now clearly depends.
There are three – in my view – incorrect points of view which have surfaced about it in the last twenty-four hours.
The first is the far-left view, as exemplified by this piece by the Guardian’s Seumas Milne (you may remember his starring role in Unite’s news management operation following the Falkirk debacle, as blogged here). Some time ago, as the Centre Left pointed out here and here, McCluskey decided he was going to park his tanks on Miliband’s lawn. This argument would leave them there, and probably invite the drivers in for a cup of tea.
We can dismiss this simply because it clear that its proponents are against change per se and see any such as some kind of Blairite “kidnapping” of Miliband, to which the Milne piece alludes.
To which the party’s few remaining Blairites would collectively almost certainly answer, if only.
The second, an example of which is expressed by my friend and sparring partner Mark Ferguson at LabourList, is what you might call the mainstream party view, which is “I’m a bit nervous about all this fighting, especially since we might end up broke, and isn’t this a self-inflicted wound?”.
To which the answer is, however we got here the status quo is unsustainable, and if you think that the seriously conflict-averse Ed Miliband went looking for a scrap with the unions, you surely don’t know him at all.
The third view – more from the political right – was laid out by the Times, implying that “Miliband blinked”, and is already rowing back on the reforms. I put this down to a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of much of the media (particularly news hacks, rather than commentators) of political issues which are to do with party, and specifically unions. They are more used to reporting on some new policy initiative of the government or a key vote in Parliament. But this dull party-side stuff leaves them cold and they resort to clichés.
For example, the Sun’s Tom Newton-Dunn tweeted breathlessly – before Miliband had uttered a word – “Ed Mili is addressing TUC conference hall as “friends”; no longer comrades.” Honestly, Tony Blair was doing that twenty years ago: keep up, Tom!
Or the number commenting on the significance of Bob Crow’s grumpy face, while failing to notice, let alone mention, that he leads a union which is not even affiliated to the Labour Party and is therefore unaffected by any decision of Miliband’s.
On the contrary, I have it from a reputable source that he was “robust” with leaders in the meeting after the speech, and fully intends to continue. In any event, he cannot simultaneously be rowing back and upsetting union leaders for being uncompromising.
I offer you a fourth analysis, which I believe to be the correct one, and it comes from the good John Rentoul, disagreeing by another example of the third one from the hand of my good comrade Dan Hodges:
Even I, Blairite ultra, don’t see point of “words of condemnation” for sake of them. EdM stood his ground. Job done http://t.co/DlXdsuDvJZ
— John Rentoul (@JohnRentoul) September 10, 2013
In other words, it wasn’t actually too bad at all.
Miliband did not need to get into a huge public scrap with the unions. He merely needed to restate that he was going ahead, which is what he did (Rentoul’s earlier analysis from Sunday, also quite correct, is here).
That was the right analysis. To see why this is also the right path, you have only think about this for a minute to realise that the Tories’ worst nightmare is for Miliband to be successful (as Alex Massie points out). Because he would undergo some short-term financial pain, yes.
But he would simultaneously be hugely strengthened as leader from seeing off a clear external challenge to his leadership; at last have a real, concrete achievement under his belt; and put a spotlight on their own less-than-pretty funding situation.
Which would not be at all bad for six months’ work. Good luck to him, I say.