How Miliband has already transformed Labour

Refounding Labour was the biggest shake up of the rulebook since the party was formed.

A recent Guardian article claimed "Two years on, Refounding Labour to Win is largely forgotten. Most Labour MPs cannot recall what it proposed, nor can officials." This could not be further from the truth. 

When Ed Miliband first appointed Peter Hain to head up that programme of work, the challenge was clear. Previous leaders had launched schemes designed to shake things up that had been quickly forgotten. It was going to take a huge amount of effort on the part of Ed, Peter and all of us on the NEC if real change was going to happen. But it did. Refounding Labour ended up being the biggest engagement we’d ever had with our members and the biggest shake up of the rulebook since the party was formed.

The change it delivered, however, went further than any amendments to our rule book, important though they were. Over the past two years our party has:

· Made it easier for Labour supporters to get involved in our work by enshrining the rights of supporters in our rules and establishing a registered supporters' network to put them in touch with established local activists.

· Made it easier to be a part of our party by reviewing our membership rates, encouraging those who have more to contribute more to our party, lowering our minimum joining age to 14 and introducing a new youth rate which has seen more young people joining our party.

· Made it easier to be active in our party by reviewing the funding arrangements of local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) so that the biggest contribute more, creating a Campaign Diversity & Democracy fund which is currently ploughing money into local CLPs and supporting the work of new trainee organisers in the field, having Arnie Graf train our key activists in community organising  techniques, enhancing our technology platform and use of new and social media.

· Given members and supporters a bigger say in our policy making process - fundamentally reviewing our National Policy Forum, opening up those structures and processes so they are more accountable and transparent through the introduction of Your Britain, which is enabling both members and supporters to contribute their views on our policy proposals, giving conference new rights in setting our policy priorities.

· Encouraged and supported those from under-represented groups to become representatives of our party through our Future Candidates Programme.

I’ve visited 98 CLPs since November 2010 – more than any other volunteer – and I know that these changes are breathing new life into many of them and enthusing activists across the country.

So the further announcements Ed made last week are part of this process of reform and it’s a testament to his leadership that the National Executive Committee (NEC), which met yesterday, was absolutely united in its determination to approach this challenge constructively, engaging with Ray Collins in the work ahead.

Of course there are many issues that we will have to work through in the next few months to deliver this. We need to work out how to support out trade union partners in delivering individual affiliation and how this can be used to strengthen and renew our relationship.  We will have to put into place the very welcome spending cap for candidates seeking selection. 

And we need to work out what all of this means for Labour members. We must be clear about their future role. Ed Miliband has always been vocal about the value of our membership, the experiences and commitment they bring and we will continue to rely on them as one of our biggest resources and closest links to our communities. So I hope that if selections are opened up to non-members in the form of primaries, we can discuss the possibility of enhancing our members’ voice within the electoral structures of our party, perhaps even increasing the number of places we have on key decision-making structures like the NEC (where CLP representatives currently have just six of the 33 seats).

But no one can say that Ed Miliband is not ambitious, that he’s not trying to deliver a better type of politics for the people of this country.  As one of my NEC colleagues remarked: "this is bigger than Clause 4 and OMOV put together".

While we get on with this work, behind the scenes, the press could play its part in delivering a better politics by providing genuine scrutiny of this government’s actions, which are crippling the poorest in our society.

Devastating changes are going to be made to people’s rights at work on the 29th of this month. Workers who have been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against by their employer, and who seek redress at tribunal, will now be charged for taking that claim to hearing and have no assurance that if their claim is settled they will have their money repaid to them. Employers will also  be able to make 'offers' to employees to leave their organisations - without the need for that employer to go through normal dismissal, grievance or performance procedures – through conversations that will later be inadmissible in any future tribunal proceedings. This is tantamount to giving employers carte blanche to hold 'car-park conversations' with anyone they don’t like, pressing them to give up their jobs before they are pushed or dismissed, with the employee having no means of referring to that conversation, or how threatened they felt by it, in any future case.

While 'bad practice' in the operation of these conversations is supposed to be prohibited, it will, in many instances, be almost impossible for employees to prove that it has taken place.  All of those changes are being introduced after the government has already made it harder for workers to seek redress by increasing the qualification period before they can submit an employment tribunal claim and has cut legal aid for employment issues.

That’s just one example of the scandal of this administration and why we will be doing everything we can to build a Labour Party fit for the 21st century, with the policies and organisation it needs to win in 2015 and form a One Nation government led by Ed Miliband.

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

Too close to call, neck-and-neck, down to the wire. Pick your cliché for a close-run thing, and that’s what the parties are saying about Copeland.

No governing party has won a seat in a by-election since 1982, and the seat has been Labour-held since 1935, but the circumstances could scarcely be more favourable to the Conservative Party. They are well ahead in the opinion polls and Labour’s electoral coalition is badly split over Brexit.

To add to the discomfort, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has a long history of opposing nuclear power, though he has sounded a more supportive note since becoming leader. Sellafield is the main employer there, so regardless of the national picture, that would be an added complication.

Given the competing pressures from the Liberal Democrats on one side and the Conservatives and Ukip on the other, Labour should expect significant erosion in the 42 per cent of the vote they got in 2015. To win, all the Conservatives have to do is tread water. And it's worth noting that so far in this parliament, the results in by-elections have been what you'd expect according to the current state of the parties in the polls - which would mean you'd back Labour to win Stoke but the Tories to win Coepland. 

That Theresa May has visited the seat attests to the closeness. Privately, neither party can be confident of winning. For the Conservatives, that makes it worth putting Theresa May, currently the most popular politician in Britain if the polls are to be believed, into the fray, because what have they got to lose? For the Labour leadership, there is nothing to "win" if they hold a seat in opposition, but there is something to lose if they cannot hold it and Corbyn has visited in the final week. 

What is keeping Labour competitive is the state of the health service in Cumbria. If West Cumberland, the hospital, is closed, then residents will face a two hour drive to the nearest hospital.

The local “success regime” is the cause of significant public opposition. "There are a lot of people who are angry about Jeremy, angry about Trident [the submarines are made nearby]," says one MP, "But they also understand that if they vote Labour they will not be bringing in a government that closes Sellafield but they can send a message about West Cumberland [the hospital that is under threat of closure]."

So Labour have reason to be more cheerful than the bookmakers are concerned. The outcome will come down to what the question that voters are asking when they vote is: if it is nuclear power, the Tories will win. If it is healthcare, Labour will triumph.

In that, May’s visit has probably helped Labour on balance. She could have decisively shifted the contest by making a commitment to keep West Cumberland open and to secure the future of the Moorside nuclear plant. But she did neither, and instead that meant that the local newspaper splashed on her refusal to confirm that the hospital was safe. Which, in a close election, may well be the difference as far as winning and losing are concerned. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.