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

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of "Liberty in the Age of Terror" by A C Grayling.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.