What Labour needs from its new leader

Ed Miliband is the candidate most likely to reconnect with voters and regenerate the party.

The emergence of six declared candidates for Labour leader is refreshing after the non-contest last time. Let's hope that the Parliamentary Labour Party enables enough of them to be nominated, so that members get to make a meaningful choice about the future policy and ideological direction of the party.

It is a shame, in that sense, that Jon Cruddas is not running, meaning that there is a gap, with four candidates from a broadly New Labour heritage (representing variants on the Blarite and Brownite strands within it) and two from the hard left, but no one from the soft-left tradition in the party.

But this isn't just a debate about policy and ideology: the party leader is also our "campaigner-in-chief". And, as a candidate for Labour's National Executive Committee, I am also judging the candidates on their ability to connect with voters -- particularly the C2 skilled working classes, where our vote collapsed this time -- and to inspire and motivate activists and recruit members.

I want to know what their ideas are for regenerating a battered and tired party and turning it back into the formidable fighting force it was in 1997.

The next leader needs to demonstrate that he or she appreciates the role of party members. We need a balance of rights and responsibilities. If you expect members to work their socks off for a Labour victory, then their rights in matters such as candidate selection and shortlisting need to be respected.

We need a new leader who sees the union link not as an embarrassing yet useful source of big money, but as a way of tapping in to the ideas, energy and campaigning skills of millions of ordinary union members. Our organic link with the unions should be a huge source of strength -- used properly, it would enable us to reconnect with many of the people who felt we had stopped understanding their aspirations at this election.

We need a new leader who hasn't given up on the idea of a mass-membership party, and one that genuinely reflects society rather than being dominated by the metropolitan chattering classes, as it is now. Eighteen thousand new members since the election is a great start, but not enough. We need imaginative thinking about how to make membership accessible -- £39 a year is prohibitive for the people we were set up to represent -- and worthwhile, offering something back beyond the right to deliver leaflets in the rain.

And we need a new leader who is committed to making us a truly national party again. Politically, he or she needs to be able to appeal to voters in the south outside London, where we are a weak third and have only ten MPs.

Organisationally, he or she needs to be prepared to put resources in this early part of the electoral cycle into suburban and rural areas we had written off -- so that there are functioning constituency parties everywhere and Labour councillors on every council -- and into safe seats where we have let the party atrophy.

In an era when the Lib Dems have forfeited the right to any anti-Tory votes, where coalitions are based on a mandate defined as the total national vote you get, and where we may be heading towards a new electoral system, there can be no "no-go areas" for Labour.

My judgement is that Ed Miliband is the candidate most likely to rise to these challenges of reconnection with voters and regeneration of our party, but I am pleased to say that at least four of the six "get it". And that leads me to be very optimistic about Labour's potential for recovery.

Luke Akehurst is a Labour councillor in Hackney and was a parliamentary candidate in 2001 and 2005. He is a candidate in the current election for Labour's NEC and blogs at lukeakehurst.blogspot.com.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.