What would Red Ted make of Red Ed?

The Labour leader has nothing on his infamous namesake

The right-wing prints have been hysterical in their reaction to the fact that Ed Miliband may be mildly to the left of Tony Blair. "The new Labour leader, dubbed 'red Ed'," as the Mail on Sunday put it - yes, dubbed by papers like the MoS, not by anyone with the slightest sense of proportion.

It then went on to claim that the result was "hailed as a 'disaster'" by supporters of the former prime minister, although curiously none of them appeared to be willing to be named in the report. (Wasn't New Labour best when it was boldest? Anyway, I digress.)

I'm not sure whether the label "Red Ed" is just a handy stick with which to beat Miliband, or whether one particular historical allusion is intended (probably not, as I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere). I refer, of course, to "Red Ted" Knight, the former leader of Lambeth Council in the early 1980s, and a man who really did deserve the adjective.

He's still around - a local community website reported his vocal criticisms of the leader of Southwark council over cuts only two months ago ("Some may argue that being harangued by Ted Knight is a sign of political arrival," was the response of the councillor in question) - but his excesses seem to have been forgotten.

This is a shame, for although they may not have been terribly amusing for the people of Lambeth at the time, in retrospect the gestures of this "tightly knit group of politically motivated men and women", to paraphrase Harold Wilson, were frequently beyond satire. No cause was too extreme for Knight and his allies to espouse - naturally, they supported all the obvious ones - and their ideology remained as pure as the council's finances were chaotic.

Knight's successor as leader of Lambeth, Linda Bellos, was black, Jewish, working class, lesbian and Marxist, a remarkable - some might even say praiseworthy - combination, but one that Tory commentators had much fun with. However, after Labour's disastrous showing at the 1983 general election, Knight had handed those who wished to characterise the party as being overrun by loony lefties with an even greater gift. Many felt the result was cause for reflection and revaluation. Not Red Ted. "There can be no compromise with the electorate," he declared.

As the Independent reported after the Labour regime (a word I use advisedly) in Lambeth finally fell in 1994: "Knight once flew to Nicaragua, then ruled by the Sandinistas, at the ratepayers' expense to tell the bemused Latin Americans: 'I bring you greetings from the people of Lambeth and solidarity with your revolution.'" Well, I'm sure they were grateful.

According to the Guardian's Michael White, Miliband used to be known as Ted while at university. "Red Ted? That sounds cuddlier already," he concludes.

Given that moniker's past history, I'd say that was one for Miliband to avoid at all costs.

 

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Getty
Show Hide image

Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.