Friday, 7 March 2014

The boy Miliband done good

In a sense, nothing changed over the weekend: there was virtually no doubt that, once a proposal of such import was made “privately” to the NEC – and therefore instantly leaked to the whole world – that ducks were already in a neat row and nods had already been duly given. In dark, smoke-filled rooms, of course (it wouldn’t be the same without them).

But the securing of the party’s reform package – namely, the change from bulk to individual relationships with the party for union members, fair and representative leadership elections and a primary for London – was undoubtedly a great thing.

Finally – finally – Miliband has left his mark indelibly on his party. Even should he turn out next year to have been a mere one-term leader, the changes he has made will have an extremely long-lasting impact (assuming, that is, that such things cannot be undone later: either owing to an untimely 2015 leadership election, as noted
here; or the use of the NEC veto clause on the London primary, as Progress’ Robert Philpot observantly pointed out last week).

There are things missing from the final report: NEC and conference votes remain unreformed. Neither, as blogger Ben Cobley noted, did the party take the opportunity to address its pathological obsession with identity politics, which has left to some nasty stitch-ups in the past, and which may yet be the undoing of the party before long (read this piece by Uncut’s Kevin Meagher if you want to understand why).

It is also clear that, during the five years while it is being phased in, the party will still be vulnerable to pressure from one-off union donations, although as of yesterday it seems
the odd large donor may be willing to step in to counterbalance that effect.

However, having written a long essay last summer – in Chapter 2 of Labour Uncut’s alternative manifesto – on why it was overridingly important that Miliband reformed his party, I cannot help but be pleased. This will likely not touch the opinion polls; but leaders sometimes need to do things because they are simply necessary and right.

So, after a brief, euphoric interlude, back to reality.

Let’s not forget that, just before the announcement of the party reforms, there were some pretty disastrous announcements on party policy; the dotty “let’s create a new bank, right here in the barn” initiative, and – most importantly – the retention of the 50p tax rate. Or – not policy, but bonkers nonetheless – Andy Sawford’s campaign against
free coffee at Waitrose.

The public will still remember these, and they may count a lot more as the calendar advances towards next May. Historical precedent indicates that our modest poll lead, untended, is likely to
wither away to nothing by then and Miliband still has awful leadership ratings.

There is work to do.

But, having achieved the most far-reaching reforms in decades, no-one will now be able to say Miliband can’t manage his party.

With that success under his belt, he has now a short window to prove something vital, yet thus far elusive: that he can manage the country.

This post first published at Labour Uncut and selected for Progress' What We're Reading

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