Has Ed Miliband smelt the coffee?

New poll suggests that the next Labour leader will need to rebrand the party completely.

Ed Miliband has responded to the results of a poll that Demos commissioned from YouGov to understand the outcome of the general election.

The poll shows that Labour's brand is in toxic territory.The next leader will inherit a party that is seen by voters as "out of touch" and which represents "the past" rather than the future.

Ed Miliband told the Independent:

This poll should leave Labour Party members in no doubt that we must change if we are to win again. We need a commitment to change in our policies, change in our party and movement, and change in the way we do politics. While we achieved a huge amount after 1997, the New Labour formula has had its day with the public, and we need to move on.

It's encouraging to see such a positive response to such disappointing poll findings. Throughout the leadership election, the man who co-ordinated Labour's manifesto has been strikingly willing to accept the defeat and rethink Labour's previously held policies and positions. He has been consistent in his critique of political tribalism and technocratic language.

After the Tory defeat in the 2005 general election, Michael Ashcroft published an analysis called Smell the Coffee: a Wake-Up Call for the Conservative Party. He argued: "The Conservative Party's problem is its brand. Conservatives loath being told this but it is an inescapable fact." That Ed Miliband has accepted Labour's brand problem so quickly is encouraging.

This week, Ed Balls wrote in the Times that Labour's next leader needs to be "both radical and credible". He is right. There is no question that his rejection of Brown and Darling's plan to halve the deficit is "radical", but is it "credible"? It is impossible to say, because he has not put a number on what he calls "a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction".

Yesterday's editorial in the Times complained that David Miliband risked damaging his prospects of emerging as "a serious figure capable of stewarding Britain in challenging economic times" because he has taken a bold approach to tax rises but not been credible on spending. The Times has a point, but it is unfair to single David Miliband out for special scrutiny. Being credible on deficit reduction and radical on new policy are minimum requirements for any new leader of the party.

Whoever wins is going to need to rebrand the party to reinforce their new policy agenda, and signal a clean break from Labour's past. Most of all, the new leader will need to show that he has listened to disaffected voters, not just party members.

Spending four months doing more than 50 hustings events, primarily of party members, is not the best context in which to be drafting the "speech of your life". But between winning the leadership on Saturday 25 September and delivering the leader's speech at conference on Tuesday, Labour's new leader is going to need to change gear and give an image-defining speech.

For many voters, the Labour leadership election will have barely registered in their consciousness. The clips on the evening news on Tuesday night at conference and the headlines in the newspapers on Wednesday morning will be the crucial first test of whether the new leader has "smelt the coffee".

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.