Tag Archive: Ed Miliband
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This is a moment Ed needs to grasp. Cameron’s ratings are slipping and Labour’s lead in the polls is stabilising, but we need something big to really start to build positive Labour support.
Ed has so far been clear that he doesn’t want to over-promise and under-deliver, and I agree that Labour cannot and should not promise the earth. But we do need one issue with which we can demonstrate the scope of our ambitions for a future Labour government and a Labour Britain. One in which we can demonstrate how a promise made by the UK government can be delivered by devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, and by local authorities. One which can and will provide a rallying cry for Labour activists.
We need a clean break with the biggest mistakes that Labour made and an offer that clearly defines us against the small and mean-minded instincts of the coalition.
We need an issue that speaks to the squeezed middle and the battered base. That speaks to the aspirations that people have for themselves and for their families while also speaking to Labour’s intrinsic values and theme of fairness.
We need something that helps us fight the Tories, but one that also shows those who are disillusioned with Labour in urban communities – where we may face a threat from local insurgencies – that we are listening to their biggest concerns. An issue which clearly demonstrates how a national Labour government will support local Labour and community ambitions.
Ed Miliband needs a bold, clause IV moment, but one that talks not of the Labour party but of the aspirations of a future Labour country.
Labour have an ambition to fulfil the British promise – that each generation is more successful than the last. To achieve this, Ed Miliband should promise that a Labour government will solve the housing crisis within a decade.
When Labour made its historic pledge to end child poverty, it was a remit that worked across every department and reached into every aspect of proactive government. Labour made huge strides towards achieving this target. But as I am sure we were warned at the time, this simply wouldn’t be achievable without tackling housing.
We live in the seventh richest nation in the world, yet some people live on the streets. We talk endlessly of property prices, yet so rarely of the cost of poor housing.
Good housing affects every other area of our lives. Evidence suggests that poor housing is detrimental to our physical and mental health and to our educational attainment. Housing needs to be rethought, redeveloped and redesigned. It must help us grow properly as children and to live into our later years with dignity and independence.
Housing contributes to a quarter of our carbon emissions, but solutions to this problem have themselves the ability to contribute to a new wave of development in manufacturing and technological development. New housing development will need to be planned to ensure not just good quality houses, but bonded, well-functioning communities developed around successful jobs and transport hubs and links.
Sadly instead it took Labour far too long to wake up to what was urgently required on housing. We had so many ministers responsible for housing, few lasting longer than a year, that it was never championed or properly understood in government. It was only at the end, when Labour realised the desperate need for the kind of economic stimulus that a building boom can provide, that we started to get our policy right.
Housing policy under the coalition has been dominated by the most ideological housing minister the country has seen since the 1940s. But Grant Shapps’s vision is not for a housing policy where all live in and are proudly stable in the kind of tenure that suits them well. His vision is of the cleansing of the inner cities of those with the cheek to be poor enough to live in social housing. His vision is of the diminishing of the stock available at a social rent until it become truly housing of last resort, and the ghettoisation of those who live in a socially rented property.
Shapps cut the affordable housing grant by 63% then devolved the blame for the Orwellian-named ‘affordable’ rent to councils and housing associations who have to balance the desperate need for new homes with their inability to build at anything lower than 80% of market rents.
It was Labour’s lack of any narrative about housing that has allowed this to happen. Too dependent on the feel good factor of the housing bubble and too scarred by our failure to understand the political success of Thatcher’s original ‘right to buy’ policy until it was too late, housing was an area we left deliberately ideologically free. We thought we were being clever, but instead we were creating a vacuum ready for Shapps to walk right into and drag the whole housing debate miles to the right, with no established counter-balanced argument from the centre-left.
And what of those people who benefitted from the housing boom. Those who we worried would see us as too old Labour if we intervened in the market? Well, when the market crashed, many had their own homes saved by just such a market intervention. Now they watch their own children completely unable to do what they took for granted and get a foot on the housing ladder. The narrative of the housing crisis is just as much about their children’s futures as much as it is about those in chronic need. Housing for all is a slogan that many will respond to just as well in the affluent south as in the Labour heartlands.
Ed doesn’t need to make lots of unachievable promises. He needs to make this one big promise an achievable focused and vital goal central to the Labour offer. That makes the promise of a Labour future something we can all fight for.
This post originally appeared on Shifting Ground.
Where does the power lie? That seems to be the question on the lips of too many people at the centre of the Labour Party at the moment. Is it in the new Executive Board? With the General Secretary? With the Leader?
The appointment of the six – no actually seven – Executive Directors could not have been handled worse if it were deliberately designed to torpedo our electoral hopes and the ability of the machinery to deliver them.
There’s been leaking, complaints about leaking and leaking of the complaints. We have a team at the top made up of people who – while am sure are all talented individuals – are hardly the new, fresh start the Party so desperately needs to break out of its divisive rut of the Blair/Brown battles and into delivering the kind of 21st century Party so tantalisingly promised in the Refounding Labour process.
Instead we have had a glut of internal appointments; a seventh appointment announced without advertising, job role, or any transparency of process; a team as unrepresentative of the makeup of our membership and our country as it is possible to be; a demoralised staff, a diminished General Secretary and a Leader who is either deliberately allowing this to happen or is unable to stop it.
These aren’t the moves of a Party that is striding confidently towards electoral victory, but the obvious machinations of two inept machines fighting each other for their own ends. This dispute is threatening to paralyse a Party that was just starting to move beyond the crippling internal battles of our past.
The process has exposed rich seams of division between the Leaders office and the Party Headquarters, but instead of a decisive understanding, there’s been a mess of a fudge of a compromise. As I speak to activists around the country, no one is happy that a single person involved in this tawdry process understands that they should not be competing for personal power, but accepting collective responsibility for empowering a newly fired up membership.
Like aged, tired and starved coyotes the characters involved circle the picked-clean remains of their last good meal as they miss the point completely. The cadaver they are fighting over may look alive, but the monster of centralised command and control has died. This is merely a fight to the death over its zombie corpse.
Politics has changed. It didn’t change because of the coalition; it didn’t change because Blair and Brown left the stage handing the baton reluctantly to a new generation; Politics has changed because the world has changed. The ways we behave have changed and with that they ways we can influence behaviour, and the ways we can and can’t be influenced, have changed.
The politics game and the way it is played is changing because ordinary members find themselves with more voice than ever before. We have new ways of communicating with each other and of communicating with the world. If our Party aren’t talking to us, that no longer stops us publically and loudly talking about them. Apparently it doesn’t stop them publically and loudly talking about each other either.
On Saturday I was delighted to go and talk to an active Fabian Society group in Leeds. When talking about what had brought me into blogging, I told them of my despair at how poorly our last election campaign was run.
I knew that I had better a better understanding of campaigning, of strategy and of political communications than what I saw and heard of coming from the Party. I also had long and bitter experience of trying to help behind the scenes: Writing letters and emails; offering advice where I thought I could help; simply trying to find our basics of where campaigning events were taking place and how to get involved. I’d found more coordination between a bunch of enthused volunteers with mobile phones than I had from Party HQ.
But unlike my parents generation who bear the battle scars of years of trying to make people who never canvass understand what members need, I had the answer at my fingertips. I didn’t need the Party to tell me how to be a member. I didn’t need a Party structure to offer my advice on strategy, comms and campaigning. So I set up my blog, got fired up and the expertise I offer the Party today as then poured out of me.
And that’s the real future of Labour.
Not me. Not any individual member. But a thousand flowers blooming in communities around the country: online and offline. Some of them will burn brighter than others, none will ever agree wholehearted on every issue and never should they, but each of them will feel their own way towards contributing the expertise they have. The prize for the Party is working out how to grab this with both hands.
In this world, can you imagine the kind of tight control the Party wielded over its members and MPs in the 90s (widely understood as tyranny by pager) working ever again?
A few weeks ago I published on these pages an exchange with Mark Thompson, a Lib Dem blogger about the relative merits of our internal Party democracies. Events this week have proved me devastatingly right about the weakness of their prized internal democracy which had so long been untested by power and failed spectacularly under pressure over the NHS.
During that exchange I ended with the phrase:
“Labour isn’t perfect on this score. We have a long way to go. But of the two parties, I’m confident that we’re the one moving in the right direction.”
I’ve been proved right about the direction Mark’s Party are going in. But they’re going in that direction because of their weakness, not their strength. Their new found delight in poorly staged Party management and ignoring the will of their members publically and humiliatingly is hardly a model we should mourn with envy or wish to recreate from the ashes of our own failures.
The measures in Refounding Labour are a good start. But if we stumble at the very beginning of our road to a stronger, better Party we’ll all suffer because of it. Not least those we should be serving – our voters.
The processes of Refounding Labour may have finished the consultation stage, but the passion for engagement they have brought up will not be recontained. We demand that our membership means something and we demand that those who manage the party accept and understand that. That they work with this tide of democracy, messy and haphazard as it can sometimes be. We know that frightens them, but the electoral oblivion of a party without an engaged membership should frighten them all the more. If they thought 2010 was bad, try doing that without your foot soldiers.
Power will be devolved to Labour Party members because we will demand nothing less. We know what we want, we are no longer shy of demanding it and we have more ways of doing so loudly and forcefully every single day.
Embracing this change is the only one way to win in this new paradigm. Those who will win the responsibility for securing the future of the Labour Party will be those who understand and embrace this devolution. The problem is, currently all concerned are locked into an undignified scramble to be the biggest loser; the Kings and Queens of a crumbling sandcastle.
This post first appeared on Labour List.
Gosh Ed’s getting a lot of advice at the moment. Well, I say a lot, most of it seems to boil down to the same two key elements: Ed needs to define himself better and Ed needs to be bold. Sometime Ed is told to boldly define himself, sometimes to define himself boldly. But those are definitely the key themes, boldness and definition.
I agree that Ed has not yet properly defined his leadership with the public. The Westminster Press themselves are stumbling from Red Ed to Odd Ed via Dead Ed and Fratricidal Ed along the way. Ed needs a bold moment of definition, he needs a game changer.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think most of the voices calling for Ed to be “bold” actually mean bold. I think they mean macho. They want Ed to adopt some of Blair’s swagger, or Brown’s clunking fist. Even Ed’s admirers talk of his “core of steel” – a pointless hangover from too many comic book, 2D interpretations of what a hero is and can be.
But Ed is not macho. Nor does one have to be macho to lead. In fact the worst thing Ed could do now would be to attempt to adopt a macho pose he could in no way sustain, simply to appease those voices who would then turn around and decry him for being no good at it. It wouldn’t be bold. It would be a facsimile of what a political class has become used to being told is bold. It wouldn’t work.
For Ed to change the game, he needs to change the rules. I agreed with those who said that the post-hacking cries of “let Miliband be Miliband” were largely hubristic and overly indebted to what was, at the end of the day, a work of fiction that took a great deal of faith-leaping for granted. But actually, to be bold now, Ed must play to his strengths, and these include his thoughtfulness and reasonableness.
So how does one change the game by being thoughtful and reasonable? I would suggest, by doing so in an unexpected high-profile and unexpected arena. Where better than PMQs?
Ed Is regularly lambasted after PMQs for not being macho enough, and for letting Cameron win the battle of the jibes. Ed will never regularly win over the Bullingdon Bully if he continues to play by his rules. But PMQs is one area where the opposition can set the tone. The PM may have the last word, but he must respond to (but not – as we’ve see – necessarily answer) the questions put to him by Ed.
So Ed. I offer you this question for the opening of PMQs next Wednesday:
Would the Prime Minister agree with me that these are serious times, deserving of a serious debate? That, in his words, this isn’t the time for Punch and Judy politics? Will the Prime Minister join me in putting an end to the bluster, bad jokes and boorishness – from both sides – and agree to join me in an adult, dignified and informative debate on the issues the public care about?
At the same time, his team should release a statement saying:
In this time of unprecedented uncertainty in so many areas of our public life, the public deserve an opposition more interested in holding the Government to account than scoring points. I know I haven’t always done that.
David Cameron has some good jokes – some of them not even about my Brother! – and I’m happy to accept that this is an area he excels in. But this isn’t Britain’s Got Talent, it’s the one opportunity a week for the Prime Minister to be asked and to answer questions about the big issues his Government is dealing with.
I like a laugh as much as the next person. I love it when my backbenchers laugh at my jokes. I am human after all. But right now I think it’s more important that we get the answers the public deserve to the questions they want answered.
So here is my promise to the Prime Minister. I promise to treat the office of Prime Minister with the respect it deserve, and to work with the Prime Minister – if he’ll agree – to restore the dignity to these proceedings that he and the office he holds warrant. No more one-liners, no more point-scoring, just real questions that deserve real answers.
And to you the public I promise this: I will raise your concerns with the Prime Minister. Every week, anyone who wants to can email PMQs@labour.org.uk with questions they feel the PM should answer. I can’t promise I’ll ask everything you send me, but I can promise I won’t let a week go by without raising your concerns alongside my own.
These are serious times, deserving of a serious debate. I hope we can work together to change the way we talk to each other in politics and public life, for the benefit of all those we serve who have been asking us to do so for so long.
So far, so bold. And here’s the thing – were Ed to take up this idea, I absolutely expect him to be crucified for it. At first. And that’s where the nerves of steel are going to have to kick in. I firmly believe this could be the game-changer Ed needs, but like many of his successes in challenging the orthodoxy it won’t be accepted overnight.
I’ve said before, that what Ed can most learn from Tony Blair is not his style, but his confidence in his own style. If Ed sticks to his guns, refuses to return to the jibes and point scoring, but merely illuminating the impact of the Government’s programme, does the kind of politics that suit him (and incidentally, do not suit the less serious David Cameron) this could be a Clause IV moment of his own, in his own style.
This post first appeared on Labour List
I wrote some instant reaction to Miliband’s for Labour List. Overall, my assessment was positive and I retain that. But having seen it on television as well as in the hall (well overflow room) I think Ed’s delivery and style still need some work. But then you see the Q and A he did just the next day and you see him at his relaxed best. So something is constraining Ed. Something is stopping him being the very best he can be. Most of that is up to Ed, of course. But the way the speech and the conference played out is down to more than just Ed. So while conference has mostly left me upbeat and encouraged, this is a bit of
a diatribe, open letter to Team Ed. I promise an upbeat post straight afterwards, but here are some things that just need saying.
The root of the problem is a combination of a lack of discipline and breakdowns of courage. All the other problems stem from there. The team seems ragged and undisciplined. There isn’t a coherent leadership – from the leader or anyone else – and so we get endless trailing of half-formed messages which are either rowed back from immediately or left to dangle with no support. There seems to be a great deal of bravery in a speech on Tuesday, only for it to be weakened in the spin on Wednesday.
For God’s sake learn how to play the expectations game. Apparently before the speech, different team members were giving different messages – from speech of a generation to Ed needs to stop doing a conference speech. Where there needed to be a coherent playing down, it felt like the only (unnamed) staffer doing so had gone rogue. You need a line and it needs to be stuck to.
Even more importantly than expectation management before the speech, there needs to be far greater discipline after the speech. If – as Mark Ferguson has reported – Ed’s team are a little too addicted to the West Wing, they are overdosing on the episode ‘Game On’ in which it is decided that post-debate spin is unnecessary, so brilliantly has their candidate done. Word had it that there was no one in Ed’s team with the lobby hacks immediately after the speech. That was the 10 minutes in which cynical hacks – with no feed in from Ed’s people – set the agenda. Not to be there was insanity, or at the very least West Wing style idealism not grounded in the reality of modern political debate outside of the NBC studios.
Equally the writing of the speech seems to have been a chaotic process, from what we can see of the outcome. My instant response was to the messaging, most of which I liked a lot. The stuff that’s driving the Labour right wing nuts on business was clunkily expressed, but – as Gareth Siddorn points out – fleshed out could be a really strong place for us to be; if we hold our nerve. But we need to do a better sales job on it. We need to write both soaring rhetoric and have a coherent argument to back it up. We don’t need to sound like we backed away from using the words “new deal” at the last minute and ran the whole speech through a find and replace search. Equally, the stuff that the Labour left is pissed off about I’m OK with too. Not least because I have been writing about the importance of ambition and the value of work for a while. But it was too buried. There were too many key themes. The speech should be shorter. It should be delivered off the cuff. It should have one consistent voice.
These themes of a lack of discipline and coherence and a need to either achieve lofty expectations or manage them better is also reflected in the Refounding Labour process. Ambitions for this project were high and writ large. The name alone suggests a fundamental change in the way Labour is run. But in the initial document and throughout the process, there has been little or no talk of one issue that has got most in the way of empowering members – Changes to Victoria Street. I added it to my response, and I know others’ I have spoken to did the same. But despite a promise from Ed, the submissions were never published, so we may never know how many submissions called for the same thing. Equally we know a draft of the final document was written and eventually leaked before the closing date. That doesn’t empower members – or give them a feeling they are due to be empowered. Again this is a discipline issue. The leadership need a head office that support and implement their ambitions. Especially when their ambition is to re-empower the membership.
Ed’s office need to change up a gear. Dammit I seem to have greater ambitions for Ed than they are currently displaying. They need to bring in people who can enforce discipline and they need to bring in people who can find a common path between his optimists who leave it to the rhetoric and the nihilists who can’t even support the vision for 48 hours. Get it together people – you owe all of us that.
The Telegraph has an interview with Ed Balls today in which he says he would not run again for leader but would support Yvette, were she to run in the future. Now it is quite, quite clear there is not going to be a leadership contest any time soon. The Party here in Liverpool is pretty united apart from a tiny handful of the usual suspects.
The interview and this declaration is absolutely couched in support for Ed M and his leadership. Balls was asked a direct question – it wasn’t raised by him – but even so, it could easily be read as a challenge or a warning to Ed M. I’m sure to a certain extent, that is there, I’m sure Ed Balls, having given up his own ambitions for leadership, has not given up his wife’s, but I think it is subtler and more clever than that.
I don’t think either Cooper or Balls would challenge Ed M for the leadership. One key reason Balls – despite a bravura performance – couldn’t break the top two in the leadership contest was that he was too closely associated with the plotting and tussling that happened during the transition from Blair to Brown. He was viewed as someone who put loyalty to clique above loyalty to the Party. He and Yvette will be more than aware of this negative in their image, and know that if they are to ever lead, they will need to display loyalty now.
But were the right to start agitating for a leadership contest again, that’s when Balls becomes a key player. By announcing that he wouldn’t run, he not only bolsters Yvette’s chances, but has the absolute opportunity to scupper David M’s chances too. A well timed speech by Balls along the lines of “I’ve run once and I lost by the rules of our contest fair and square” would frankly kill David’s chances of looking like anything other than a sore loser. The right would have to rally round an alternative candidate, who – in all likelihood – would be Scottish a tough place for the wing of the Party most focussed on increasing our appeal with Southern England (essential for winning again, but not the be-all-and-end-all it is sometimes made out to be).
Meanwhile the soft left will coalesce around Cooper, the unions will back her, as will many members who are put out by having another internal contest. Yvette – frankly – would walk it.
Cooper and Balls know that essential to their own success is to be completely loyal. But I’m not convinced the Labour right yet understand what their alternatives really are. Perhaps this interview will help to open their eyes.
What has felt at times like a mammoth parliamentary session is now over. The assumptions of mere weeks ago have been challenged, and in some cases changed. As we take a breather, it’s time to take stock and consider how the last few weeks will affect the next few months and shape the narratives to come.
Ed Miliband had a bad strike, but a good war. He was in a difficult position over the strike (though less difficult than some that are coming. These unions were not affiliated to Labour) but while his message was probably the right one tactically, even a staunch loyalist like me won’t say he delivered it well. Sunny Hundal is right in his contention that that kind of interview is hardly new, but media practices are changing, and that interview left Ed looking flat-footed, tongue-tied and struggling to achieve an understanding of that new reality.
What a difference a crisis makes.
Ed’s handling of the NI affair has been superb. He’s been able to use his strongest weapon against Cameron – his grasp of detail – to devastating effect. Labour (led by Ed, but it would be supremely churlish not to use this space to praise Tom Watson and Chris Bryant) have made all the running, and have won every concession they sought from the Government.
In the long term, this matters for two reasons, the narrative about Labour and the narrative about the Tories.
Ed has rightly started to use the crisis as a jumping off point for a conversation about the responsibility agenda he has been shaping. Pulling together a narrative that encompasses the bankers who threaten our economy with their unreformed practices, journalists who threaten our privacy for the profit of oligarchs and politicians -of all parties – who threatened our democracy to line their pockets. I also have no truck with the glass-half-empty malcontents who read that speech and focus only on what is being asked of those at the bottom (which boils down to enforcing rules to protect the integrity of the welfare state) without understanding or acknowledging the tectonic shift that a senior politician talking this way about the responsibilty owed from those at the top of the pile to the rest of us.
Ed has in the last two weeks earned the right to be listened to and cemented his leadership. He has also opened up the ears of the public by being on thier side at a time when he has some useful and important things to say. There will – of course - be a few last drinkers in the Bitter Bar, whining and anonymously briefing their pet gossip-mongers, but Ed has won the leadership and has now earned himself the space to lead.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s stock is seriously – though not fatally – damaged. He got this wrong from the start and worse failed to notice quickly enough how wrong he had got it. He has had two problems over the last week, both of which do him considerable damage.
Firstly, he’s let Ed Miliband make all the running. He gambled that being on the side of NI was the safest place to be and failed – until it was far too late – to see that the world there had changed. So he not only ended up doing all the things that will annoy the constituency he was trying to court so assiduously, but he also clearly did them at the bidding of his opponent.
Secondly, as Deborah Mattinson lays out in this report from recent focus groups, he has undone most of the good work that he had done pre-election to change the image of the “same old Tories”. The public may once have briefly thought they wanted coalition, but after thier outright rejection of Nick Clegg and thier new distaste for Cameron’s dithering and disillusion with his platform they are using comfortable familiar language to define Cameron and his Party – which is a disaster for the Tories.
Finally, let’s be honest about where we are not. Cameron has been damaged and the sheen is now off him, but I don’t think he will be forced to resign. Certainly the rumours of backbenchers calling for his blood proved to be sound and fury only. This issue has changed the mood music, it hasn’t brought down the Government. We need to be cautious that we don’t over claim or be over optimistic.
Cameron will continue, and he will have other good days. Ed will continue and he will have other bad days. Labour have earned the respect of the public on this issue, but the hard part will be translating that to a decent hearing for and support of our broader agenda. That will take a continued hard slog.
It is far too early to tell what effect the News International scandal is going to have on the future of the British media. It is even too early to tell what effect it will have on the premiership of David Cameron and the fate of the Tories.
But something was different this week. The narrative shifted. The opposition reported in the press was all Labour. The Lib Dems have been nowhere to be seen. No longer was the story “coalition splits” but about the tireless campaign of two Labour backbenchers Tom Watson and Chris Bryant and the effective dissection of Cameron by Ed Miliband at PMQs and in the media since.
Will this be permanent? Probably not. Splits are an interesting story. Lib Dems complain that the media don’t understand coalition when they report on splits, but frankly this is for show. The fact is they are desperate to burnish their oppositional credentials and being the opposition within is a perfect way both of doing so and of cutting Labour out of the picture. Those who complain about it now will miss it if – as I predict – it slowly ebbs away.
It’s possible the Govenrment will decide not to oppose Labour’s motion on Wednesday. That they will play a statesmanlike “not every party has the monopoly on wisdom” role, and minimise their defeat by being seen as colluding in the right decision. This kind of tactical U-turn is hardly unheard of from David Cameron. But from all we’ve heard so far that doesn’t seem likely. Some of the key parts of the Conservative family are already on the offensive. It does not feel like a coincidence that the day we learn that senior News International journalists have threatened to make it personal about Ed in retailiation for his rightly attacking the position of Rebekah Brooks, Conservative Home have started to attack Ed’s spinner Tom Baldwin. How neatly coordinated.
What Cameron will have to decide is whether to swallow a humiliating defeat with his party on the wrong side of public opinion in the belief that the News International empire will rise again. And rise with enough clout to have been worthy of all this pain and of the humiliation the Prime Minister is taking now. Will rise and support him and annihilate his enemies. It’s not totally unlikely. As I posted on Thursday, Nothing solid has changed yet. The banks remain unregulated and unrepentent, the press may well do so too.
Wednesday’s opposition day debate will be a test for the Lib Dems. However, it is one I and most others expect them to pass. We all know that were it not for Vince’s unfortunate premature articulation in front of a giggly blonde that he would have been trying his damndest to put the knackers on the BSkyB deal. We know it’s what the Lib Dems want. What Clegg and his party have to decide is do they want it enough to defeat the Government?
What will the Lib Dems in Government do? What will their backbenchers do? This feels like it should be a simple question. There’s nothing in the coalition agreement to force them to vote for Murdoch. If they don’t they can prove their mettle and their plaintive cry of being a seperate party. If all the Lib Dems – from Clegg on down vote against, the Tories can be defeated on this issue. But there will be hell to pay for the Lib Dems. They can kiss goodbye to any – even slight – chance they had of Lords reform, for example. I also predict they won’t gain much in the polls either, their invisibility on the issue mean that the public see this as Labour’s thing. Labour have rightly won this issue. Will doing the right thing be worth the political pain for the Lib Dems? I hope so.
I’ve just finished reading Mehdi Hasan and James MacIntyre’s book about Ed Miliband and his rise to Labour leader. It’s a fascinating book about how powerful people relate to each other. It’s insights are interesting and remarkable to read. But because of its focus on the movers and the shakers it isn’t the whole story of that ramshackle, rambunctious and brilliant campaign. I was extremely proud to be a very small cog in that contraption. I remain so to this day. I’m proud of Ed’s leadership and the work that is being done to change the party and the debate. He’s not perfect and there will be times when I disagree with and criticise him. But overall, it’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
The phone bank in Elder street was possibly the hottest place in London. Situated in an insalubrious back street near Liverpool Street it had a bank of about 14 phones and computers. Having graduated within the campaign from caller to runner of phone banks in early July, I can’t remember a single time that all the computers were working. Logging them in was my first job on arrival and then greeting and briefing the callers.
My briefings were simple. While there was a script on the computer screen to use as a guide, there was clearly a recognition from the campaign that the volunteers were a selling point in themselves. I would encourage volunteers to listen to the people they were calling. If they were receptive to a conversation (far more were so than in my old telesales days!) they should explain what had brought them to volunteer their hot summer nights to the campaign. I believed then as now that those stories are the most compelling. They are true, they articulate the passion of those volunteers and they connected with the electorate on a shared level of understanding. MY other key point was that however tempted, however the other side of the conversation was going, we should never, ever be negative about any of the other candidates. “After all” as I would say to the volunteers “Who do you think will serve in Ed’s shadow cabinet?”.
I ran phone banks for the campaign 2 or 3 nights a week throughout July, August and September having been on the phones from their beginning. I brought in the innovation – again a motivating tool from my telesales days – of having a bell for people to get up and ring whenever we got a first preference Ed vote. It’s a lovely way of acknowledging the work done by that volunteer, and bringing the room together and building momentum. Some nights that bell went like the clappers!
Between encouragement, taking over the more challenging calls and ensuring no volunteer died of dehydration in the sweltering heat, I was kept pretty busy. But I was a part-timer. Someone who came along after work to help out. I had no anticipation of seeing my name in the Index of Ed but there are several people missing. Perhaps because of the closeness of the final vote, there has sprung up a narrative that Ed swung the election in the tearooms of Parliament. It’s true that due to the tripartite electoral college, the votes Ed generated there were utterly crucial. But Ed won with 175,519 votes to David’s 147,220. There are some people I want to tell you about who made that happen.
First and most glaringly missing is Kat Fletcher, the employed head of volunteers for the Ed campaign. It says in the book that Ed’s team recognised the importance of their network of grassroots style campaigner – with over 5000 volunteers, credit must be given to Kat. She’s a hard nut to crack at times – and I speak as someone who now considers her a great friend. Equal parts inspiration and irascibility, Kat built herself a core army of extremely loyal and excellent volunteers. They set up a separate volunteers office – again in East London – and were working at least 12 hour days. The extraordinary dedication of volunteers like lovely Lisa Mitchell – whose working class insecurity never quite managed to mask her real brilliance, kooky Rosanna Donovan, who could get a room of corpses up and canvassing, irrepressible Rana Begum who has enough energy to light up Greater Manchester, thoughtful Aiden Hocking who worked so hard on dull data entry while having long and amazingly well informed discussions about political strategy impressive Cllr Jason Eller who combined volunteering for Ed with his duties as one of the youngest councillors in the country and finally the wonderful Hollie Tu who works like the devil and can sing like an angel. You can see some of these and more Ed M vols here straight after Ed’s victory here.
These people gave everything to the Ed Miliband campaign. Some of the people on the campaign recognised that. Ed’s brilliant field director Marcus Roberts understood probably better than anyone other than Kat Fletcher the value of what they had built. Sometimes there was some resistance to the role of the volunteers from the “boys in suits” as the Greycoat Place crowd were occasionally referred to among the vols. But the way the campaign highlighted their energy and commitment in the campaign messaging shows the importance of the work they did and why they did it.
Ed is a fascinating and at times worrying book. I lost count of how many jobs were awarded after a phone call with a friend. The circles of power seem further away than ever after reading it. It’s clearly a true and faithful account of the campaign as seen from the Westminster bubble. But there was a little something missing, and that’s the role of the rest. The not so powerful. Ed’s campaign theme was about changing that relationship in all areas of life and I believe in his ability to dedicate his leadership to changing it. So I thought the story of some of the less powerful cogs deserved to be told in its own small, unassuming way too.
There was no position Ed Miliband could have taken yesterday that would have pleased anyone. Trapped between the powerful right wing media, still trying to define him to the country as Scargill Mk II and his well meaning but often strategically naive supporters who want to see him marching and shouting, even if that would stop him being able to actually do something in the future. The Twitter echo chamber was resounding in its condemnation of Ed. But in the real world, the conversations I heard about strikes last night probably reflected why Ed felt the need to disassociate himself from them.
There are two problems with what happened yesterday. One was the appalling presentation. The terrible BBC Interview which I described as looking like a hostage video showed a real lack of understanding in Ed’s team about the way media is changing. Ed sounded awful repeating himself and anyone with any knowledge of current media practices and the way news is now being received would have know that focusing on a line for the 6 alone was not going to look good if all you do is repeat yourself. There is an identified training need there, and it will need work over the summer break.
Secondly, Ed needs to reflect on the fact that there are going to be more strikes. These were by unaffiliated unions. The next ones might not be. I understand that he can’t support every strike and I agree that he shouldn’t. But he will find a lot more pressure to support UNITE and UNISON members. In the eyes of the public he needs to find a way to define himself as an arbitrator not an agitator. That won’t please the agitators on Twitter, but little can or will. It’s worth remembering that Twitter can be very self-reinforcing when it comes to a narrative unsupported by external events or opinion – just look at AV.
Yesterday was an attempt at the arbitrator role and I have no doubt it was well meant, but it was done very poorly. Next time a great deal more thought will have to be put into the strategy.
Let me clarify. I supported Ed because I believed then – as I believe now – that he was and is the best candidate for Leader. I have been and remain a strong supporter of his leadership. Crucially, I want his leadership to work. Identifying an area of weakness is not pouncing if the intention is to work to strengthen it. Ed will fight the next general election and I believe he can win it. But we do need to iron out the operation to make this as likely as we can.
Between a rock and a hard places is a terrible place to be. It will take a politician of Ed’s undoubted skills to navigate this better in future.
In 2014/15 (and, despite recent speculation, almost certainly not before) Labour are going to go to the voters of Britain with a vision for Government. This is my second in an occasional series where I give my best attempts to think about what I’d like to see articulated in that vision. These are not policy ideas, though I will offer those elsewhere, but principles that should form the basis of Labour’s policy making. Here I will be posing questions that should help Labour to establish how we move the arguments for Socialism forward and make it relevant to the 21st century and it’s new challenges. I will also start to offer my answers to those questions.
Note: I started writing this post last week, before I even know Ed would be making his speech today, but dallied over it for too long to have the kind of foresight I might have been afforded had I published on Thursday. However, some of my rewriting and completion of this post today has been coloured by Ed’s speech and even more by the response to it.
Welfare is an area absolutely fraught with dangers for Labour. We have to be honest about that if we are to take power again and create a system fit for purpose. Of the many apparently controversial policies the Tories are pushing through, welfare reforms rountinly poll extremely highly. Like it or not, at present and as it stands, the welfare state is not popular with the general public who fund it.
Labour is not a Party that can only do what’s popular. We must be a Party that also does what is right. But if we become a Party with a tin ear, we’ll be a Party that will never have the opportunity to do anything at all. There must be a balance.
Labour has a historic duty to protect the poorest and weakest in society. But we need to be honest about how we do this better than we have, and how we make sure we are doing the best by everyone.
Firstly we need to accept that some years ago, a generation of claimants of incapacity benefits were parked there because at one time this was an easy short-to-medium term solution to a range of wider social problems. These decisions weren’t made by one group of people, but were made by a group of stakeholders and only sometimes by the claimants themselves.
To an extremely large extent, this wasn’t about people themselves deciding to defraud the system, but systemic support for people whose joblessness itself was diagnosed – sometimes by doctors, sometimes by staff within the welfare system – as chronic. As the pendulum returned back to an economy of far greater employment opportunity, and the Government started to speak in real terms of the goal of full employment, the culture changed. There were clearly more people on incapacity benefit than statistics proved was realistic and so draconian measures were brought in to try to pinpoint those who were claiming a benefit they were not entitled to. Clearly from the horror stories we have seen the pendulum swung far too far the other way. Genuinely sick and disabled people are and have been treated with suspicion and contempt. There has been an assumption that people were shirking, which is massively out of proportion to the percentage of people who are – for whatever reason – claimin benefits when they could be working.
Labour is a Party that was founded on the basis of the value of work – of Labour – above and beyond the monetary value, important though that is. Though we are also a Party that must take our responsibility to those who cannot work seriously, we should not do so at the cost of denying the value that work brings us. If people cannot work they should be supported. If people can work they should be supported to do so. For the benefits their doing brings to society and to themselves. This isn’t about sending the disabled up ladders, or children up chimneys, but is about ensuring that as many of our citizens as possible get to experience the tangible and intangible benefits of work that cannot come with the simple monetary exchange of any form of benefit.
As a society, we should encourage as few people as possible to be on benefits. As a party based on the dignity and value of work, this should not be a controversial statement. We should work with those who can’t work to try to find other ways for them to experience the postive aspects of a contributory relationship with society. But if there are those who could experience this and are not, that should be a situation we strive to change.
If Labour is to protect the welfare state which we so value, we need to ensure that the buy-in to the system is as universal as the safety net it provides. If we don’t accept that we are not currently employing arguments in the favour of this that are working with the general public, we will lose the fight to protect the value of a universal welfare state and any recognisable and workable mechanism for providing it. If we continue to lose the argument, we will end up like Tories faced with a minimum wage. They don’t want it, they’ll try to stymie it, but they won’t be political able to abolish it. We will find ourselves similarly powerless in the face of a welfare reform jugganaught if we do not learn how to duck and weave.
Labour have to learn to be able to better talk abour welfare. The response I saw today to what was a pretty reasonable speech that outlined the values I’ve stated above was a wailing and gnashing of teeth because we’ve become so unaccustomed to talking about welfare that we expect every conversation to happen only through the prisms or ultra-violet and infrared. But the public – before whom we must make a case for a reasonable prospectus on welfare – just don’t view things that way.
If we don’t get this right, we will lose the welfare state. We will let the perfect pitch be the enemy of good provision. We will be so timid about stating that a work ethic is a Labour ethic, we’ll lose those we should be supporting.