Why Ed Miliband’s Sun article is a significant moment

Unlike some in his party, the leader believes Labour must engage with the tabloid.

When Tony Woodley tore up a copy of the Sun at the 2009 Labour party conference and Harriet Harman mocked the paper's "news in briefs", it seemed as if the relationship between Labour and the tabloid was at an end. But Ed Miliband's decision to write an op-ed piece for the paper attacking David Cameron's stance on crime suggests he takes a different view.

In his first conference speech as leader, Miliband memorably declared: "[W]hen Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison because of high reoffending rates, I'm not going to say he's soft on crime." He hasn't broken that promise, but he has adopted a notably tougher tone.

Here's the key passage:

Before the election Mr Cameron made promise after promise to get elected. He promised to protect front-line services but now we find he is cutting 10,000 police officers. He promised a prison sentence for anyone caught in possession of a knife and then broke his word. He promised there would be "honesty in sentencing".

But he broke that promise, too. Bluff on crime, bluff on the causes of crime – the worst kind of politics.

Miliband may have argued that "the era of New Labour has passed" yet he isn't afraid to borrow tricks from the Tony Blair playbook. The Labour leader's decision to adopt a policy of constructive engagement towards the tabloid that dubbed him "Red Ed" does much to explain his stance on another issue – phone-hacking.

As the NS blogger Dan Hodges recently revealed, an email sent on behalf of Miliband's director of strategy, Tom Baldwin (a former Times man) warned Labour's front bench not to link the hacking scandal with the BSkyB bid and to "guard against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite". We now have a better idea why.

Few political strategists would argue against engaging with a paper whose circulation remains above three million, but Miliband has also sensed a political opportunity. The Sun is no fan of coalition politics and the compromises it involves, and it recently launched a campaign against Ken Clarke's prisons policy (an editorial last week called for the Justice Secretary's head).

Miliband's intervention, like his decision to come out against votes for prisoners, proves that he isn't afraid to use populism to Labour's advantage. As the coalition's troubles deepen, expect to see a lot more of this.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.