Thursday, 25 July 2013

The gift horse

All hail @GeneralBoles for the oustanding Mr Ed picture
It is difficult to be anything less than delighted at Ed Miliband's announcement on Monday that he will call a special conference next Spring to consider the findings of the Collins Review.

With this move, he has simultaneously done several things: he has, critically, kept the political momentum going on the project which has now been irreversibly framed as the acid test of his leadership; he has surprised his critics by his audacious speed of action, now looking to deliver it in time for the election; he has pacified the moaners by increasing the level of democratic consultation; and, perhaps most importantly of all, largely cloned a successful model for such changes – that of Clause Four in 1995 – to achieve all this.

In addition, the selection of former Millbank staffer and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, who was closely involved in the Clause Four campaign, for the campaign team is an inspired choice; and that is because he also understands both the party grassroots and the vital importance of the objective.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The “Blairite conspiracy” narrative has not disappeared: it has just taken a breather

In “Voodoo Histories”, David Aaronovitch’s superb book on the tendency of our age towards conspiracy theories, he asserts that “conspiracy theorists fail to apply the principle of Occam’s razor to their arguments”. In other words, that they opt for a complex and convoluted explanation over a simpler, more obvious (and therefore more likely) one.

During the last few weeks, both leading up to and since Ed Miliband’s momentous decision to reform union involvement in its funding and selection processes, there have been arguments against from two groups.

The first comprises those which sincerely feel that it could harm the party’s future, that it could somehow “lose its soul”, end up with a worse selection process than before or even – and here I believe there is a case to answer – end up broke.

Whilst we might observe that similar arguments were made in 1993 against OMOV and 1995 against the rewording of Clause Four without the sky falling in on either occasion, let debate be joined with those people and may the best argument win.

The second group may be defined as those who perceived that something terrible was happening to their party even before last Tuesday’s announcement and for whom this merely confirms their worst suspicions. The contention seems to be – and I kid you not – that a powerful Blairite cabal has been busy twisting Miliband’s thinking around to their point of view.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

SPECIAL EDITION: Miliband’s moment of truth

The following piece was published on Wednesday at Labour Uncut, following surely the most important event of Ed Miliband's leadership to date, the proposal of radical changes to Labour's relationship with unions.

The last week or so has undoubtedly set the biggest challenge of Miliband’s leadership, in the aftermath of the Falkirk selection fiasco. It is one to which he has risen.

We can dress it up how we like, but it was difficult to interpret Len McCluskey’s defiant denials – flying in the face of all kinds of inconvenient facts – as anything other an open challenge to his authority as leader.

As ever, it’s not so much what people say, it’s the subtext.

When the leader of Britain’s largest union is moved to tell us that Ed Miliband is leader of the Labour Party, you feel like saying “oh, thanks, Len, just as long as you’re sure. We’ll keep him on, then.” The damaging implication of the statement, of course, is that it might ever have been in question.

Much of the left blogosphere opted to play it down, with the best of intentions; but there is nothing that looks more obvious than a “move along, nothing to see” approach when your house is clearly on fire, and the rest of the world saw it.

Miliband, thankfully, if belatedly, also noticed his house was on fire.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

We were not blind-sided. We were not

Since my last piece on the matter, it is clear that the Falkirk selection fiasco has just blown up into what looks to be the biggest crisis of Miliband's leadership to date, with no easy-to-predict solution on the cards.

For the record, this does not make me feel good, it makes me feel angry and frustrated, mainly because this was all so avoidable. The biggest single flaw in Miliband's strategy, with the possible exception of our failure to regain economic credibility, has been the failure to reinvent the party organisation while we had the chance and deal with a decade and a half's neglect.

But the strangest thing is the shock that seems to have come over the leadership that this was a problem. 

The Sun's Kevin Schofield said on Friday: "Ed Miliband's been blind-sided by this." 

Well, we were not blind-sided. We were not. The signs were there and we chose not to act. We chose to suppose they were the paranoid ravings of embittered members of the ancien regime, who merely disagreed with Miliband's political direction, rather than people who cared about their party and saw it in danger.

Aside from a number of articles by my good friend and Labour Uncut colleague Atul Hatwal, Hopi Sen, Anthony Painter, Peter Watt and many others have written about this issue. The Centre Left wrote about the party's basic need for reform here and again here; its desperately dysfunctional selection process here; and the danger from Unite and the far left hereherehereherehere and here.

It may be too late, as John Rentoul suggests today, but the party is clearly in crisis. 

It is not  overstating the case to say that Labour's chances in the next election will probably be decided over the next few weeks and that only radical, decisive action will suffice. By conference, the die will undoubtedly be cast.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Why we should stop trying to stop Page Three

A few days ago a piece on LabourList asked us to support a campaign to end Page Three of the Sun. I must admit, I’d be happy to see the back of the paper, let alone the page.

A bit of background: since the 1980s, I haven’t bought a Murdoch paper (although, full disclosure: I did recently weaken and buy a Times online subscription, as I was fed up of not being able to read four particularly good journalists). Old habits die hard.

I was never quite comfortable with New Labour’s closeness to the Sun and News Of The World – I remember regularly seeing Rebekah Wade (as was) or David Yelland walking past my desk in Millbank – although I understood the realpolitik of it. We can all now see where it ended up: not in a good place. So that realpolitik should not be a reason to oppose this campaign, either.

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