Where it all started
I wrote this piece last weekend, before Tuesday’s party conference speech, explaining why Ed Miliband both really needs to make party reform work and why it could actually help his leadership ratings to deliver on it. I’ll post what I thought of the speech later.
The next few days will be pretty decisive for the Labour leadership. While this is the kind of refrain you often hear from breathless journalists around conference time, on this occasion it has really a ring of truth about it. He has a project he firmly needs to make work.
Ed Miliband is no longer the new boy: indeed, he is now Labour’s second longest-serving leader of the last two decades. He is consolidated as leader of his party, with no serious challengers for the leadership; and currently presides over – just – a lead for that party in the opinion polls which has held for most of his tenure.
But, over the three years of his leadership, he has been criticised for a number of things: slowness to define party policy; a failure to reform his party; and poor personal leadership ratings.
Our new Labour Uncut book, titled Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why, looks principally to give answers to the first of these three, through concrete policy proposals backed up by painstaking polling on what will and will not appeal to the public.
But we also anticipated that Miliband might also, by addressing the second, address the third; that is, a well-executed party reform programme could help revitalise his leadership. We will come to why that is in a moment.
There was a party reform programme, known as Refounding Labour, which came and went in 2011; but it tinkered around the edges. Many of us had given up hope that any reform would come.
However, as fate would have it, during the writing of the book, the Falkirk selection debacle happened, and it was realised that the party could be left untended no longer. Labour announced a radical programme to reform the union link, parliamentary selections and other areas.
The first plank, therefore, of our proposals is simple: Miliband must deliver on these reforms. There can be no rowing back. It is probably obvious by now that his leadership has been staked on their success, but that is no bad thing. Bold initiatives need to mean something; in politics, little worth having is ever easily achieved.
But, while this narrow window is open, we believe he should go further with his reforms, with a second and a third plank.
The second is a tricky, yet vital issue; the elephant in the room which no-one really wants to address. Labour has dabbled in a type of politics in Britain’s inner cities over recent decades: it has developed an unhealthy relationship with some local ethnic communities, which involves sewing up voting blocks.
As Demos’ David Goodhart observed, you could see the results in the Bradford West by-election, where local residents were so fed up with Labour taking their votes for granted, they protested and ended up with the, well, “colourful” George Galloway as their MP.
But Labour were the principal, yet unwitting architects of Galloway’s win. We argue that Miliband should comprehensively reject identity politics and determine how such local parties can be rebuilt.
The third area is practical: Labour must reach out to all sections of modern British society, where its membership is currently slanted towards public, voluntary and unionised private sector employees. The slogan of “One Nation Labour” should mean just that: all welcome here.
Now, back to that vital question: why should people care about such a dull subject as the internal workings of a political party? Well, we don’t expect the public to jump up and down in excitement. They don’t need to. But Labour under Miliband needs a concrete achievement under its belt. So much of opposition is necessarily hot air, for the simple reason that you are not empowered to actuallydo anything.
Opposition: clue’s in the name. As the book says:
“…changing your party shows your ability to do what you say you’re going to: it is about running something. It is not just your temporary springboard to get you into government. It is the little company of which you are, effectively, the CEO.”
So, Ed, we invite you to ignore the media, the policy wonks, the vested interests on both right and left which tell you not to reform your party.
This could be the success which helps propel you to No. 10, as it did Tony Blair with Clause Four. Alternatively, in the worst case scenario, it is an act of great practical value, not to mention some nobility, to bequeath your successor a party in a much better state than that in which you found it.
Our polling backs you up all the way, and also has some fascinating insights on everything from what our supporters think about All Women Shortlists to what union members think about their role in the party.
The message: just do it. And, while you’re at it, do a bit more, please.
This post first published at Labour Uncut. “Labour manifesto: uncut” was published last Monday and Chapter 2, “Leadership and party” details the ideas summarised here. You can download the full book in PDF format here.
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