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

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit