Ed Miliband has a strategy. It's called Ralph Nader

Miliband's new strategy is bold, brave, and politically suicidal

Labour's leader has a strategy. It's the wrong strategy. But it's a strategy nonetheless.

The days of drift are over. The search for definition and a coherent narrative are at an end. This week Ed Miliband will present himself as the Ralph Nader of British politics.

Nader was the quintessential east coast liberal. Ed is the quintessential north London liberal. Nader was a self-styled man of the people. In his speech on Tuesday, we will be introduced to the People's Ed. Nader was a consumer champion. Ed began this conference season going to war with the private utilities. Nader believed he could break the mould of US politics. Ed believes he can rip up the rule book that governs our own.

This comparison may seem churlish. In part it is, but it's also made with a degree of respect.

Miliband will not die wondering. This week will see him making the big political play. Miliband genuinely believes something has changed within the body politic. Labour's leader, and those around him, feel they have detected a mood in the country that the politicians, and commentators and rest of us camp-followers have missed.

"You don't understand", one of Miliband's aides told me last week. "The rules of the game have changed. You can't see beyond the New Labour playbook. Politics is different. People are looking at things differently. Ed sees that. You don't'".

He's right. I don't.

But Miliband does. Or at least he thinks he does. And now he's going to act on it. Labour's leader is going to back himself.

Much has been made about the announcement on the cut in student fees. But the most significant thing about it was the papers it was given to. Under Blair and Brown, the eve of conference briefing was traditionally used as a carrot to attract positive coverage from centre-right titles, typically the News of the World or the Sunday Times. Today Ed Miliband came home to the Sunday Mirror and the Observer. He's not just re-writing the rule book, he's re-writing the Sunday leader columns.

Look, too, at those endearing, and politically telling, official photos of Ed arriving at Limestreet with one of the kids on his shoulders. Remember, this is a man who has just been savaged in the media for not appearing Prime Ministerial. Did he choose to fight back? Arrive in an armored limo with a retinue? No. He looked like he was off visiting the Beatles museum, not making a pitch for the keys to Number 10.

The Nader strategy: I am one of you, not one of them. I will not adapt to gain entry into their world. I will make them adapt, and shape their world view to mine -- our -- world view.

It's bold, it's brave, and it's politically suicidal. But you have to hand it to him. Ed Miliband is the new Ed Cojones.

No compromise on Labour's economic message. No let up on the attacks on those at the top of society. No pandering to the right-wing press. Ed will be true to himself, and his party.

There's only one problem. The rules of the game don't change. That's why they're the rules.

Occasionally you can amend them. Reinterpret them. But you cannot do so from opposition. You can only do so from government.

But again, you have to admire Ed's chutzpah. He is leader of a party who secured 29 per cent of the vote at the last election. Since taking over the reigns, Labour's poll ratings have barely twitched. His personal ratings remain padlocked in a box, in a basement at the bottom of the deepest, darkest focus group dungeon.

His response? A declaration of total war against the British establishment. His ambition? The shattering of the Thatcherite neo-liberal consensus. His definition of success? Not just a Labour government, but an irreversible progressive revolution. Not bad for someone who less than a year ago had nothing more than a boyish grin and a blank piece of paper.

It is insanity. Wonderful, heroic, futile insanity. What does Ed Miliband stand for? By the end of this week, we will see. Where is Ed Miliband heading? By Friday the nation will know. Will they follow him there? Of course not. But nor will they be able to pull themselves away from the spectacle.

None of us will. We have not seen a senior politician attempting to defy political gravity like this in our lifetime. Michael Foot was hamstrung by ideology, Iain Duncan-Smith by insecurity.

Ed Miliband is no-one's prisoner, and he is no one's fool. "Where is the real Ed Miliband?" people have been asking. This week he'll be standing right in front of you.

"A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done". Ralph Nader believed that. Ed Miliband believes it too.

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Trade unions must change or face permanent decline

Union membership will fall below one in five employees by 2030 unless current trends are reversed. 

The future should be full of potential for trade unions. Four in five people in Great Britain think that trade unions are “essential” to protect workers’ interests. Public concerns about low pay have soared to record levels over recent years. And, after almost disappearing from view, there is now a resurgent debate about the quality and dignity of work in today’s Britain.

Yet, as things stand, none of these currents are likely to reverse long-term decline. Membership has fallen by almost half since the late 1970s and at the same time the number of people in work has risen by a quarter. Unions are heavily skewed towards the public sector, older workers and middle-to-high earners. Overall, membership is now just under 25 per cent of all employees, however in the private sector it falls to 14 per cent nationally and 10 per cent in London. Less than 1 in 10 of the lowest paid are members. Across large swathes of our economy unions are near invisible.

The reasons are complex and deep-rooted — sweeping industrial change, anti-union legislation, shifts in social attitudes and the rise of precarious work to name a few — but the upshot is plain to see. Looking at the past 15 years, membership has fallen from 30 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2015. As the TUC have said, we are now into a 2nd generation of “never members”, millions of young people are entering the jobs market without even a passing thought about joining a union. Above all, demographics are taking their toll: baby boomers are retiring; millennials aren’t signing up.

This is a structural problem for the union movement because if fewer young workers join then it’s a rock-solid bet that fewer of their peers will sign-up in later life — setting in train a further wave of decline in membership figures in the decades ahead. As older workers, who came of age in the 1970s when trade unions were at their most dominant, retire and are replaced with fewer newcomers, union membership will fall. The question is: by how much?

The chart below sets out our analysis of trends in membership over the 20 years for which detailed membership data is available (the thick lines) and a fifteen year projection period (the dotted lines). The filled-in dots show where membership is today and the white-filled dots show our projection for 2030. Those born in the 1950s were the last cohort to see similar membership rates to their predecessors.

 

Our projections (the white-filled dots) are based on the assumption that changes in membership in the coming years simply track the path that previous cohorts took at the same age. For example, the cohort born in the late 1980s saw a 50 per cent increase in union membership as they moved from their early to late twenties. We have assumed that the same percentage increase in membership will occur over the coming decade among those born in the late 1990s.

This may turn out to be a highly optimistic assumption. Further fragmentation in the nature of work or prolonged austerity, for example, could curtail the familiar big rise in membership rates as people pass through their twenties. Against this, it could be argued that a greater proportion of young people spending longer in education might simply be delaying the age at which union membership rises, resulting in sharper growth among those in their late twenties in the future. However, to date this simply hasn’t happened. Membership rates for those in their late twenties have fallen steadily: they stand at 19 per cent among today’s 26–30 year olds compared to 23 per cent a decade ago, and 29 per cent two decades ago.

All told our overall projection is that just under 20 per cent of employees will be in a union by 2030. Think of this as a rough indication of where the union movement will be in 15 years’ time if history repeats itself. To be clear, this doesn’t signify union membership suddenly going over a cliff; it just points to steady, continual decline. If accurate, it would mean that by 2030 the share of trade unionists would have fallen by a third since the turn of the century.

Let’s hope that this outlook brings home the urgency of acting to address this generational challenge. It should spark far-reaching debate about what the next chapter of pro-worker organisation should look like. Some of this thinking is starting to happen inside our own union movement. But it needs to come from outside of the union world too: there is likely to be a need for a more diverse set of institutions experimenting with new ways of supporting those in exposed parts of the workforce. There’s no shortage of examples from the US — a country whose union movement faces an even more acute challenge than ours — of how to innovate on behalf of workers.

It’s not written in the stars that these gloomy projections will come to pass. They are there to be acted on. But if the voices of union conservatism prevail — and the offer to millennials is more of the same — no-one should be at all surprised about where this ends up.

This post originally appeared on Gavin Kelly's blog