Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ed Miliband needs to reform his party first

With his leadership of the Labour Party still barely two months old, it did not take long for talk of plots against Ed Miliband to start crawling out of the Westminster woodwork.

One national daily informed us that David Miliband was standing ready to take over should his younger brother prove a flop in the job he so narrowly beat him to in September.

I doubt very much whether David had anything to do with this 'story.' Indeed, many more stories like it and the South Shields MP will probably have to quit politics altogether, rather than risk becoming a focus for discontent over his brother's leadership.

No, I suspect this story arose, as these things tend to do at Westminster, from a Labour MP speculating idly to a journalist about what might happen if Ed Miliband were to fall under a bus.

But the story was not completely without significance. It demonstrated that some Labour MPs remain far from convinced by Ed, and that the new leader still has a big job on his hands to unite his party.

In that respect, his return from paternity leave at the start of this week came not a moment too soon.

Mr Miliband's announcement on his first day back of wholesale review of Labour policies is a wise move as far as it goes.

Barring an irretrievable bust-up if next May's referendum on the voting system goes against the Lib Dems, the coalition is likely to be in power for five years, and there is thus plenty of time for Labour to reinvent itself.

Furthermore, it is a tactic that has worked successfully for the last two Leaders of the Opposition who have managed to be promoted out of that job into Number Ten – Tony Blair and David Cameron.

Both men used policy reviews as a means of detoxifying their parties in the eyes of voters, Mr Blair from its tax-and-spend image, Mr Cameron from its 'nasty party' tag.

But it doesn't always work. Neil Kinnock launched a similarly wide-ranging review in the 1980s called 'Meet the Challenge, Make the Change', but failed to convince the electorate that Labour had done.

Likewise William Hague's much-vaunted 'Common Sense Revolution' in 1999 served only to reinforce voter perceptions of the Tories at that time as shrill and extremist.

For me, the fate of those two leaders seems to sum up the real difficulty facing Ed Miliband – whether he has the personality to connect with the British public and project a new and compelling vision of what his party stands for.

This is what ultimately distinguishes the successful opposition leaders from those who ultimately failed to make the transition to government.

Personality aside, his other big problem is whether the party under him can forge a distinctive policy agenda that is neither Old nor New Labour

For all the talk of the "death" of New Labour, and its replacement by True Labour, Real Labour or Next Labour, any departure from it will inevitably be portrayed as 'Red Ed' lurching to the left.

If anything, Mr Miliband needs to try to out-modernise the previous generation of modernisers by being prepared to tackle issues which they ultimately shied away from.

Welfare reform is one obvious example, but so is reform of the party's own archaic structures and its absurd system of electing its leaders.

It would be a brave politician indeed who, having prospered under the electoral college system, would then advocate its replacement by one member, one vote.

But if Mr Miliband is looking for a 'Clause Four Moment' which will force the electorate to sit up and take notice of him, that could well be the best option.

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Anonymous said...

'so is reform of the party's own archaic structures and its absurd system of electing its leaders.'

I wonder, if he does go that road, whether it might be worth linking that with a programme of major constitutional reform of the State as well - especially the removal/replacement of the House of Lords, the extension of devolution to a full Welsh parliament and possibly also to England outside London, and a considered approach to voting reform.

That's assuming the coalition don't pre-empt him on all that, but the early signs are far from encouraging, so it might be worth a gamble. It's not an issue that would win him the next election, but it would cost him very little and at least get him attention.

Anonymous said...

An idle question, if I may - are you a paid up member of the Labour Party?

I ask, because if not, you should really be paid for your supportive and continuous, ( and I do mean continuous) blogging on the subject.

Very tiring old chap; rather like flogging a dead horse.

Ben said...

I'm a fairly strong Conservative supporter, who has to disagree with Anonymous.

I come here for measured and insightful comment, from a standpoint that I don't share, which is often illuminating.

(And I do wonder if Anonymous is getting 'continuous' mixed up with 'continual'; the latter word makes a little more sense in this context.)

G Eagle Esq said...

Well said, Ben


Perhaps in this enlightened and kindly space, there are great mysteries of greater interest than whether Paul is or (more likely) is not a Member of the Labour Party

* Why Paul is so keen on Mrs Balls as a future Leader of the Labour Party

Let us disregard this young Lady's Part in forcing through the unnecessary & lamentable Home Information Packs, which so expensively contributed to the destabilisation of the UK Housing Market

Surely it matters that she - and her Young Man - were part of the Treasury Team which created the STRUCTURAL DEFICIT that has led us to the Brink of Economic Collapse and consequentially to the "Government Cuts" which are going to occasion so much unEmployment in the Beloved Country

.... and I cannot recall either of them expressing any regret or remorse for this

AND why is Paul (apparently) so sympathetic to a Labour Party which has led Britain to this point

Remaining your obedient servant etc