Labour's economic challenge

Ed Miliband needs to make sure his colleagues understand the need for radical change.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show this morning. Harman was asked by Marr about the new kind of economy envisaged by Ed Miliband in his speech to Labour conference last month. Her rather unconvincing answers tended to confirm the analysis of the chief economist of the IPPR Tony Dolphin, who argued here recently that it's much harder to articulate a new economic paradigm than it is simply to assert that things need to change.

Dolphin wrote that "Distinguishing between 'predators' and 'producers' was an unnecessary hostage to fortune". Questions about good and bad businesses drown out, Dolphin went on, the "arguments of thinkers such as Will Hutton, Anatole Kaletsky and William Baumol over different models of capitalism". Marr duly asked whether Top Shop boss Sir Philip Green was a predator or a producer. Harman replied somewhat uneasily that "it's not about individuals", rather confirming Dolphin's fears.

Miliband and Labour's main problem, according to Dolphin, is that "there is no new well-developed economic model - comparable to monetarism in the 1970s - sitting on the shelf waiting for him to pick it up and champion it. He therefore faces a tough decision. Does he want to tinker at the edges with the existing model - a bit more banking regulation here, an employee representative on a company board there? ... Or is he prepared to make the case for more radical change and to champion those independent voices in economics that are not heard enough? "

When Marr invited her to elaborate on Labour's vision of a new economy, Harman did make it sound as if all Labour has in mind is to tighten up the regulatory framework governing financial services. But I suspect Miliband doesn't want to take to the easier of the two options Dolphin described and does want to "make the case for radical change". If that's true, then he needs to make sure his colleagues, Harriet Harman included, understand just what he has in mind.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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