Sunday, 29 September 2013

Curate's egg conference, but the real one's in six months' time

The political commentariat is confused about Miliband's speech, not to mention the conference itself. Opinions seem to range from triumph to disaster, although the “disaster” ones seem to be mostly of the Daily Mail's “red menace in our society” variety.

And that’s not surprising, as both speech and conference were good in parts. But that's not the whole story, as we shall see.

The conference, for a start, did at least start naming some policies and Ed Balls did start to recognise – up to a point – that Labour would need to be ruthless on spending and therefore each pledge was meticulously costed. And there is the understanding that Labour will need to stick to Tory spending limits, if only for one year rather than the three that Labour stuck to from 1997.

But this is all without mentioning the elephant in the room: that the economy is, albeit agonisingly slowly, starting to recover where Balls has spent almost three years suggesting (if not actually saying) that this might never happen, so disastrous was Osborne’s handing of the economy. It is recovering, and if there is a major barrier between Miliband and Number Ten, it surely lies in Balls’ department.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Leadership and party: how Ed can use one to revitalise the other

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.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Centre Left goes to…Brighton!

An occasional Centre Left series which tends to happen whenever I get the chance to go anywhere. I don’t get out much, y’see.

It’s been a while, Brighton. As my grandparents' home for the first twenty years or so of my life, it’s a bit like coming back to see an old friend, who you don’t see very often but it’s always a pleasure.

If I remember well, my last conference here was 2000, my clearest memory being of myself and various other reprobate comrades at about 3am singing "Roll Out The Barrel" (or similar) in an upstairs lobby of one of the larger hotels, which happened to have a grand piano.

These days I’ll have to make do with the traditional conference karaoke with some old friends (yes, @martinangus, we all know that LAWS is the best karaoke in town and will be on at the New Madeira Hotel on Monday night).

For those who don’t frequent the town much, since my childhood it has developed a markedly hippy, liberal vibe which it's hard not to warm to, as well as transforming itself into surely the unchallenged gay and lesbian capital of the UK. It’s also home to some very sensible and decent Labour people I have met over the years.

Since my last conference here, a fairly solid Labour council here has fallen to the Greens. Despite my politics being of a modestly greenish hue, one wonders about their ability to manage their way out of a paper bag, let alone a multi-milllion pound council budget. I guess we will see how they’ve done at the urns in 3 years’ time. My guess is they won’t stay, and they were there for the same reason as George Galloway in Bradford, because of a general disillusionment with politics. But I could be wrong.

And so to the political content of this conference. Most conferences are labelled “make or break” for some spurious reason or another, and this one is no exception. Although Labour really needs to start breaking its silence on major policy areas, whatever Miliband says about policy will still probably not be listened to by the public – yet.

But it genuinely is make-or-break in one particular area: Miliband’s proposals on party reform need to be accepted, in principle if not outright (that will be at a special conference next Spring).

If they are not, two things will happen: firstly, he will probably not lose the leadership but his own credibility will be shot, and his chances of reaching Number Ten will be seriously diminished, if not destroyed.

Worse, the party will have lost the chance for serious reform for a generation, and what someone once called “the forces of conservatism” will have won a very important victory. 

As the Centre Left has blogged on many occasions, you cannot underestimate the importance of party. Miliband did with the failure of the “damp squib” Refounding Labour programme, and it came back to bite him. We cannot afford to fail this time.

As it so happens, you may have seen from a series of news and comment pieces in the Independent over recent weeks that myself and my good colleagues from Labour Uncut will be launching tonight our first-ever book, entitled Labour manifesto uncut – How to Win in 2015, containing some rather good ideas on how to do just that.

However, it’s about more than just manifesto policy - my own little chapter is different: it’s about party reform and how it could actually be the key to a revival in Miliband’s poll ratings.

The point is that there are still other things still not covered by the Collins Review on party reform – a document I read on the journey and seems pleasingly robust – which Labour still needs to do, like sort out its damaging addiction to identity politics in our ethnic communities.

In other words, we only have one chance in this generation before the window closes again – let’s really sort things out. There are plenty of other things apart from Falkirk-style stitch-ups which the party needs to fix.

And for the'll just have to read the book.

Labour manifesto uncut – How to Win in 2015 will be launched tonight, Monday 23 September at the Pragmatic Radicalism fringe, details here.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Primaries don’t break the bank and a majority of Labour supporters would take part

My ninth piece for the Independent, on the exclusive polling for the Uncut pamphlet we are publishing on Monday in Brighton is here, with the full tables in the Labour Uncut version here.

The story made the Indy's news pages and I even got a namecheck in the newspaper, I think. Gosh.

Bottom line: there's a lot of scaremongering going on, but primaries could recoup the money and they would have a pretty significant level of participation.

At the moment, at least, this really huge reform really does look like it is all going ahead - I haven't had a chance yet to read the Collins Review interim report which came out yesterday, but Chuka Umunna also did an interview today to that effect.


On Monday, dear readers, we launch the Labour Uncut pamphlet with a chapter from yours truly on "leadership and party", so hang onto your hats - the precis of the pamphlet to be published tomorrow in the Indy.

Exciting times.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Miliband at the TUC, a story few seem to be reading correctly

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.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Revamping Labour's union ties could help Ed Miliband

Rather chuffed to be able to announce that my teaser piece on the forthcoming pamphlet by the Labour Uncut gang, of which I have written a chapter, yesterday was the subject of the lead front page story in the Independent by Andrew Grice.

You can see the full analysis with data at Labour Uncut here and the pamphlet will be launched in two weeks on the Monday of Party Conference in Brighton.

The thrust of the piece is that we have done a bunch of polling done to support the proposals in this pamphlet, including some on a sample of trade union members.

The rather explosive conclusion is that the majority of members in Labour-affilated unions actually agree with Miliband's proposed reforms to their links with Labour, despite some of their leaders' attempts to argue a diametrically opposed position.

Watch this space over the next couple of weeks for more...

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Syria: the hangover

If Westminster is often a bubble, at frenzied times like last Thursday's Syria vote it becomes even more so. Everyone is waiting for the latest news. What can easily happen, and what seems to have, is for Parliament to forget about the world outside entirely until it is over.

As the Telegraph
reports, some Labour MPs, as they left the parliamentary lobby giddy with unexpected victory, were rudely jolted back to reality by pictures of Syrian victims of incendiary bombs, as a reminder of what had just collectively been achieved by voting down intervention, without necessarily meaning to. The hangover had begun.

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