Miliband hires Obama’s mentor to revive Labour

Arnie Graf will conduct a “year zero” review of Labour’s organisation and campaign structures.

Arnie Graf, the US community organiser who mentored the young Barack Obama, has been appointed by Ed Miliband to conduct a "year zero" review of Labour's organisation and campaign structures.

Graf, currently director of the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), created by Saul Alinksy, is scheduled to arrive in February to conduct a "preliminary study" into the party's operations and infrastructure.

It is understood Graf asked for, and received, commitments from Ed Miliband that his review would be conducted with the full authority of the leader's office, rather than under the auspices of an external consultant.

Graf's appointment is said to have been brokered by Lord (Maurice) Glassman, founder of the London Citizens network, who is now firmly established as a key adviser to the Labour leader.

According to Labour sources, Graf's arrival coincides with a decision by Ed Miliband to distance himself from Movement for Change, the community organising model nurtured by his brother during the leadership campaign. According to an insider, "Movement for Change are David's baby. Ed wants the party to go in a different direction."

The IAF's "modern organisational model" is based around micro-level community activism, with particular emphasis on intensive one-to-one training and mentoring. It was during one of these sessions that Graf and the 24-year-old Obama met, and bonded. Obama told Graf he was planning to become a lawyer. Graf urged him to stay political. Everyone knows what happened next.

Graf is believed to advocate an aggressive edge to community engagement. "You've got to get into the hard work of justice," he is quoted as saying, "and you don't get justice without disruption."

How that agenda will play with existing party officers is a matter of conjecture. Ed Miliband insiders still regard many Victoria Street officials with suspicion, describing them as "part of the old establishment". In turn, a number of senior Labour Party workers are unimpressed by what they see as the poor organisation and leadership that have characterised Ed Miliband's first 100 days in post, along with what one calls the "faddism" of his team's attachment to community organising.

According to a party insider, "Graf is coming over with a very wide-ranging brief. Ed was initially minded to test the water with a few different organisational pilots, but Graf was adamant. If he wasn't coming with the full backing of the leader he wasn't coming."

News of the appointment is generating a mixed response among Labour MPs. One said: "We just lost an election campaign, and we lost it badly. Having a fresh look at the party's organisation is a no-brainer." However, another said, "It's all very nice flying in friends of Barack Obama, but Yorkshire, the Midlands and the English Home Counties aren't like south side Chicago. What does this bloke know about British politics and the issues on the ground?"

Graf is reputedly a highly skilled organiser. Those skills are about to face one of their sternest tests.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Meet the MPs who still think they have a chance of defeating Brexit

A crossparty group of MPs believe they have a right to vote Brexit down in the House of Commons. 

The decision on 23 June was final. With the ballots cast, the nation’s voters started the conveyor belt that would take the United Kingdom in only one direction - Brexit. It was independence day, or Brexitpocalypse, depending on your point of view.

But some MPs think differently. A growing handful of of crossparty MPs who backed Remain are now saying they will vote against Brexit if offered the chance. 

With Article 50 yet to be triggered, they still have an opportunity to influence what happens next. But the decision also raises questions about democracy. What is an MP’s role at this point of national crisis? To respect the will of the majority? Or to fight for their individual constituents?

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham (pictured), has led the charge for a second vote on Brexit.

He points out the referendum was “advisory, non-binding”, and argues it should be up to Parliament to make the final decision

In a series of tweets, he said:  “Our Parliament is sovereign and must approve any Brexit.

“My position is clear. I will never vote for Brexit or to invoke Article 50. On behalf of my constituents and the young people of this country I will not do it. Three quarters of my constituents voted to Remain, and I will continue to stand up for them.”

Lammy isn’t the only one to invoke the will of his constituents. Another Labour MP, Catherine West, represents Hornsey and Wood Green. In Haringey, the overlapping local authority, three quarters of voters chose to Remain. 

West tweeted: “I stand with them on this issue and I will vote against Brexit in Parliament.”

Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for the Europhile island of Cambridge, has also pledged to vote Remain. Geraint Davies, a Welsh Labour MP and Jonathan Edwards, from Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, have submitted a formal notice to Parliament demanding a second referendum "on the terms of leaving the EU". 

Perhaps it is not surprising English and Welsh MPs are taking such a stubborn view. Short of following Scotland’s example and demanding London’s independence, they have few other options.

But the MPs’ resistance also brings up a thorny political question. A majoritarian vote is only one part of democracy after all. Constituency MPs and minority protections are also part of the mix. 

There may also be an argument that responsible MPs should act in voters’ best interests - even if that is against the wishes of the voters themselves. 

Speaking in the House of Commons, Tory grandee Ken Clarke noted MPs were yet to actually hear the details of what Brexit Britain would look like. 

He asked the Prime Minister:

“Does my right hon. Friend agree that we still have a parliamentary democracy and it would be the duty of each Member of Parliament to judge each measure in the light of what each man and woman regards as the national interest, and not to take broad guidance from a plebiscite which has produced a small majority on a broad question after a bad-tempered and ill-informed debate?”

It is not a straightforward democratic case. But with two parties divided, a 300-year-old union in jeopardy and the peace process in Northern Ireland under pressure, MPs might be tempted to put the patriot’s argument first.