Miliband isn’t chasing power, he's hoping power will find him

By turning his back on two thirds of the electorate, Ed Miliband has guaranteed that if Labour wins in 2015, this will have nothing to do with the party or its leader.

There is an outside chance that Labour could still win the next election – we may yet see Ed Miliband strolling confidently up Downing Street one sunny morning in May 2015. But if that happens it will have nothing to do with Labour or its leader.
 
When Miliband was elected party leader in 2010, I had a number of concerns. First, for me, he didn’t tick the box of what a prime minister looks like. Second, having shifted to the left skilfully to defeat his brother, he would find the task of dragging his party back to the political centre where elections are won that much harder.
 
Now, Labour is not going to be dragging itself back to the political centre. Or strolling nonchalantly towards the political centre. It’s not going to be moving towards the political centre at all.
 
At the Labour party conference in Brighton, Miliband took a fateful decision. To ensure that his party secures the votes of approximately a third of the electorate – the much vaunted “35 per cent strategy” – he has opted to turn his back on the other two-thirds of the electorate. There will be no accommodation with those who want to see a tough stance on welfare reform, or who feel Labour should adopt a hardline stance on immigration. There will be no fiscal straitjacket. No embrace of free schools. No bold programme of public-service reform. Labour will fight the next election on its most left-wing political platform since Michael Foot was leader in 1983. And, barring a miracle, it will lose on it.
 
The next election has, in effect, been placed in the hands of three men, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. They will choose how the remaining 65 to 70 per cent of votes will be divided up. If they split them evenly, Miliband may still become prime minister. If they don’t, he won’t. Labour now has virtually no say in how those votes will be parcelled up; with the possible exception of a referendum on Europe, it has little real influence on anything.
 
How has Miliband got himself into the position in which he has chosen voluntarily to disenfranchise the majority of those who could have voted for him? Partly it relates to his victory in the leadership election. Few new leaders have been elected with so little room for manoeuvre. Denied a clear mandate by his failure to win the constituency and MP sections of Labour’s electoral college and forced to surround himself with a shadow cabinet that had not endorsed his candidacy, Miliband was handed a tainted inheritance.
 
According to Labour insiders, in the early days the plan was to solidify support among his centre-left base, then gradually build outwards from it, guiding the party back towards the electoral mainstream as he did so.
 
This never happened. Miliband’s failure to use his crucial first 100 days to define himself caused his leadership to be quickly placed under intense pressure and scrutiny. As a result, he found it impossible to lay down secure enough foundations on which to build a more centrist programme.
 
Another problem was Miliband himself. The Labour leader had enjoyed a relatively low profile outside of the party’s immediate family. He just wasn’t prepared for the level of scrutiny or criticism that was suddenly flowing his way. “Forget all that Zen stuff,” one Miliband ally told me. “Ed’s actually quite thin-skinned.”
 
A vicious circle was created. Miliband’s failure to cut through generated criticism. That, in turn, heightened his insecurities and made him cling even closer to his base, which has made it harder for him to connect with the voters. And so it continued. There is no breaking that circle now. The staging of his big conference speech was instructive. He was, literally, surrounded by his party. It enveloped him.
 
Almost every one of Miliband’s major announcements was aimed squarely at his activists. Directly setting the prices of the privatised energy utilities. Appropriating property developers’ land. The abolition of the bedroom tax. Votes for 16-year-olds. All the issues that could have challenged his party were either glossed over (immigration targets), not mentioned (the welfare cap), or dodged (the confrontation with the Unite leader Len McCluskey over the selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk).
 
Which isn’t to say that nothing he said would resonate in the wider world. We would all like to see lower energy prices. Yet he wasn’t reaching beyond the hall, instead asking the rest of the country to come and join in. If the rest of the country said no, his attitude was simply: “That’s tough.”
 
This was not where Miliband was supposed to be. When he told his first conference, “Red Ed? Come off it,” it wasn’t because he thought, three years later, he would be unveiling the de facto nationalisation of the power companies, planning to bring the railways back into public ownership, embarking on what has been described as a “Marxist land-grab” and standing on a pallet pledging to “bring back socialism”, as he did one afternoon in Brighton.
 
Labour’s leader is running out of time. The next election is 19 months away. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t shift his party from where it is to where it needs to be to win a convincing majority.
 
Instead, Miliband has made his position clear. There will be no attempt at compromise with the electorate. He will wait on the sidelines while Cameron, Clegg and Farage decide among themselves who will get the keys to Downing Street. An avowedly leftwing leader will stand on a left-wing prospectus and try to win power from the left for the first time in half a century. The voters? They can take it or they can leave it.
 
They will probably leave it. But credit on one level – Ed Miliband is not chasing power. Instead, he is waiting to see if power, by some bizarre alignment of the political stars, will find him.
 
Dan Hodges is a blogger
Ed Miliband speaking on the final day of the Labour party conference in Brighton. Photo: Getty.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear