Should a leadership contender “trim” to win?

David Miliband’s dilemma has echoes of Ken Clarke’s own leadership bids.

Yesterday, this blog touched on the question of whether David Miliband, in order to win the Labour leadership, could do more himself to shed the unfair "Blairite" tag hung round his neck by the media and his internal opponents.

Looking at the trailed sections of his big campaign speech this evening, I see no sign of him doing so: there is no indication, for example, of a fresh move to get out from under the shadow of Iraq. But we have yet to see the full text.

In some very real ways, this is admirable: there was something heroic -- even for those of us who firmly opposed the invasion in 2003 -- about the elder Miliband's refusal to trash it during the New Statesman hustings in June.

But, again, it must be said that he appears to be faced with a dilemma about whether to disown elements of his perceived past political heritage for the sake of further popularity in his own party, or stick by certain principles.

The man himself is said to be telling aides that he refuses to "pander" in this contest. "That would be the wrong thing to do," he has been heard saying. And he may be right.

Yet this reminds me of the dilemma -- at first sight similar -- faced by Kenneth Clarke during his three attempts to become leader of the Conservatives. Clarke's supporters, particularly in 2001, pleaded with him in private to "trim" his positive position on Europe, the one area that many of his fans still believe held him back from fulfilling his dream of becoming leader.

There is a crucial difference here, however: David Miliband is not actually the ideological "Blairite" that he is perceived to be, as any closer reading of his politics shows.

Yet all the more reason to make it clear -- including tonight -- how his own set of politics is unique.

He may be right not to pander. But he may have to trim to win.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Future of the Left: trade unions are more important than ever

Trade unions are under threat - and without them, the left has no future. 

Not accepting what you're given, when what you're given isn't enough, is the heart of trade unionism.

Workers having the means to change their lot - by standing together and organising is bread and butter for the labour movement - and the most important part? That 'lightbulb moment' when a group of workers realise they don't have to accept the injustice of their situation and that they have the means to change it.

That's what happened when a group of low-paid hospital workers organised a demonstration outside their hospital last week. As more of their colleagues clocked out and joined them on their picket, thart lightbulb went on.

When they stood together, proudly waving their union flags, singing a rhythmic chant and raising their homemade placards demanding a living wage they knew they had organised the collective strength needed to win.

The GMB union members, predominantly BAME women, work for Aramark, an American multinational outsourcing provider. They are hostesses and domestics in the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, a mental health trust with sites across south London.

Like the nurses and doctors, they work around vulnerable patients and are subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse. Unlike the nurses and doctors their pay is determined by the private contractor that employs them - for many of these staff that means statutory sick pay, statutory annual leave entitlement and as little as £7.38 per hour.

This is little more than George Osborne's new 'Living Wage' of £7.20 per hour as of April.

But these workers aren't fighting for a living wage set by government or even the Living Wage Foundation - they are fighting for a genuine living wage. The GMB union and Class think tank have calculated that a genuine living wage of £10ph an hour as part of a full time contract removes the need for in work benefits.

As the TUC launches its 'Heart Unions' week of action against the trade union bill today, the Aramark workers will be receiving ballot papers to vote on whether or not they want to strike to win their demands.

These workers are showing exactly why we need to 'Heart Unions' more than ever, because it is the labour movement and workers like these that need to start setting the terms of the real living wage debate. It is campaigns like this, low-paid, in some cases precariously employed and often women workers using their collective strength to make demands on their employer with a strategy for winning those demands that will begin to deliver a genuine living wage.

It is also workers like these that the Trade Union Bill seeks to silence. In many ways it may succeed, but in many other ways workers can still win.

Osborne wants workers to accept what they're given - a living wage on his terms. He wants to stop the women working for Aramark from setting an example to other workers about what can be achieved.

There is no doubting that achieving higher ballot turn outs, restrictions on picket lines and most worryingly the use of agency workers to cover strikers work will make campaigns like these harder. But I refuse to accept they are insurmountable, or that good, solid organisation of working people doesn't have the ability to prevail over even the most authoritarian of legislation.

As the TUC launch their Heart Unions week of action against the bill these women are showing us how the labour movement can reclaim the demands for a genuine living wage. They also send a message to all working people, the message that the Tories fear the most, that collective action can still win and that attempts to silence workers can still be defeated.