Miliband needs entrepreneur evangelists

The Labour leader's critique of "predatory" capitalism would be more effective delivered by experien

In a speech yesterday Ed Miliband set out in more detail the economic thesis he first outlined in his speech to the Labour party conference. It is, in essence, that there are deep structural flaws in the way British capitalism works. There has, the Labour leader believes, been too much emphasis on short-term profit-seeking and not enough consideration for long-term investment. The UK economy has become host to too much "predatory" behaviour and should foster more sustainable, responsible, "productive" business practices.

When Miliband first set out this predator/producer distinction he was quickly ridiculed by commentators and savagely attacked by the Conservatives. His critics presented the Labour position as wanting to install some moral arbiter in the Treasury passing judgement on good and bad businesses - rewarding the former with tax breaks and punishing the latter with, well, who knows?

That, Labour insists, is a crude caricature of Miliband's argument, but privately senior party figures accept that they left themselves open to such an attack by failing to flesh out the idea in more detail and, crucially, by failing to follow up the leader's conference speech with more concrete examples of what he had in mind. Many in the shadow cabinet also feel that the speech itself suffered from being re-written too many times with input from too many people, so the core argument was buried in caveats and digressions.

Yesterday's speech was certainly clearer and more focused - a virtue, perhaps, of being dedicated to one subject and so relieved of the pressures of a leader's speech at a party conference, which, convention dictates, has to cover absolutely everything from foreign policy to lame jokes and semi-fictional anecdotes that "personalise" the policy along the lines "I met a brave woman in Dudley ... her struggle demonstrates why ..."

Miliband is not a natural performer, so that idiom doesn't suit him. He is more effective when simply making a straight argument, as he did yesterday, although of course far fewer people are listening when it is just another speech on a Thursday lunchtime. Miliband is also helped by having Chuka Umunna installed as his shadow Business Secretary, making very much the same argument, as he did in a speech on Monday. Umunna is young, unfamiliar to the voters - so can plausibly represent a new chapter in the Labour story - and a fluent television performer. When he was elevated to the shadow cabinet last month there was a fair amount of whispering about over-promotion (he was elected to parliament in 2010). It is fair to say that Umunna's rapid rise and supreme confidence have ruffled a few feathers. Politics, like every other profession, is hardly free from envy. But many critics are already being swayed by what is generally felt to be an assured start by the shadow business secretary.

An essential part of Umunna's brief is to go around persuading businesses small and large - and the City - that Labour has a credible position not just an elaborate whinge. In that respect, his youth is a handicap. Business audiences are always deeply suspicious of politicians who have no experience of enterprise themselves ... which, these days, is most of them. George Osborne was routinely dismissed as a lightweight until the moment he became Chancellor.

For Labour this is a particular problem as the party is dominated by career politicians and people who have risen up through the trade union movement. It was a noticeable feature of the party's conference this year that hardly anyone spoke from the platform with long experience of the private sector. It is a gap that Ed Miliband urgently needs to fill, both in the way the party presents itself to the public and on his own staff. He is getting better at explaining his "predatory v productive capitalism" idea, but that will have limited effect unless it is bolstered by actual business people saying the same thing. Speeches will never be enough. He needs some heavyweight capitalists joining in to say, in effect, "yes, we are with Ed on this." And he needs someone in his immediate entourage, currently full of academics, think tankers and ex-journalists, who can bring the experience of running a business to the heart of the leader's operation. There are ethical, conscientious, socially responsible entrepreneurs out there. Ed Miliband needs to be recruiting them as evangelists for Labour's vision of a better capitalism. Otherwise his position on the economy will struggle to graduate from being an abstract critique to being a serious political proposition.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political 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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