Ed Miliband set the agenda this conference season

If Miliband's analysis was so powerful, why is he not being spoken of as Britain's next Prime Minist

Generating responsibility in society, from top to bottom; crafting a something-for-something culture; battling vested interests in the name of the public good; building a British capitalism that is less dependent on financial services; ensuring that wealth is less concentrated in the South of England; demanding that business leaders offer new apprenticeships to our young people to deliver real skills; making it possible for each generation to enjoy a better quality of life than their predecessors.

These were the key themes in Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party conference last week. And each of them, every single one of them, was
repeated by David Cameron yesterday.

It happens very rarely that a Conservative Prime Minister directly echoes his Labour opponent. But Ed Miliband's speech explained the unique challenges that face Britain in a way that no other politician had yet done. A week on from Liverpool, even his severest of critics must now admit that Ed set the agenda this conference season.

The question remains, then, why, if Miliband's analysis was so powerful, is he not now being spoken of as Britain's next Prime Minister?

One of the reasons is Miliband's occasionally stilted speaking style. Another is the entrenched media scepticism about his leadership that has undermined him from the start. But most of all it results from the fact that although he has identified the challenges that Britain faces, he has not provided a persuasive account of how we should overcome them. More than that, when he has proposed a solution, it has too often involved the central state.

Writing in response to the Conservative conference this week, Miliband argued that the difference between the Tories and Labour lay in the fact that Labour was willing to use the power of government when the Tories were not. "All the time in the rules it sets --such as on tax and procurement-- governments make judgements", he argued, "encouraging one type of behaviour compared to another."

This is true. But it is not a powerful enough rallying-call for the British people in a time of political trouble. The answer to the challenges that Britain faces cannot be more government alone. The answer has also to involve you and me. The crisis requires changes in the way that we do business, the way we relate to each other in our communities, the way that we bring up our children. Not just changes in government action.

The Labour leader might not like the "can do optimism" that David Cameron offers. He might not relate to its vision of "get-up-and-go". But the British people do. They don't want just to have things done for them by someone else, least alone by those in Westminster and Whitehall. They want to be part of the solution to Britain's troubles, not just part of their cause.

Ed Miliband knows this. But at the moment the British people don't know that he does. In the months ahead, he must put this right. He must showhow we can come together in our own lives to help overcome the current crisis, even while the Conservatives are still in office. If he does that then he might well succeed not only in shaping the agenda of British politics but in helping to bring about the new political era of which he dreams.

Marc Stears is Visiting Fellow at IPPR and Professor of Political Theory at Oxford.

Marc Stears is fellow in politics, University College, Oxford and visiting fellow at IPPR.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.