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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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder