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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.