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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No, Christopher Hitchens did not convert to Christianity on his deathbed

From Mother Theresa to Princess Diana, for Hitchens, there were no sacred cows. He certainly would not have wanted to become one. 

The suggestion that atheist writer Christopher Hitchens converted on his deathbed was inevitable. When the evangelical Christian Larry Taunton appeared on Newsnight last week to discuss his new book, he suggested that “the Hitch” was “contemplating conversion” in his final days. The collective sigh from his fans was palpable.

That particular claim is uncontroversial. Of course Hitchens “contemplated” Christianity – to say so simply suggests he had an open mind. However, the book goes further, and claims that Hitchens began to doubt his convictions in his final days. Taunton writes that: “Publicly, he had to play the part, to pose, as a confident atheist. In private, he was entering forbidden territory, crossing enemy lines, exploring what he had ignored or misrepresented for so long.” The book is littered with similar insinuations that he was, so to speak, losing his faith. His close friends, those he wasn’t paid to spend time with as he was with Taunton, deny this completely.

Naturally, the book has sparked a host of rumours and junk articles that suggest he converted. Not one to let a cheap shot slide or leave an insinuation untouched, Hitchens was forward-thinking enough to not only predict these accusations, but deliver a perfect pre-buttal. When Anderson Cooper asked him, a short while before his death, whether he had reconsidered “hedging his bets”, he responded:

“If that comes it will be when I’m very ill, when I’m half demented either by drugs or by pain when I won’t have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumour later on, because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumours.”

If that isn’t enough, however, his wife has made clear in the strongest possible terms that talk of a softening on Christianity and a deathbed conversion is entirely untrue. “That never happened. He lived by his principles until the end. To be honest, the subject of God didn’t come up.”

The spreading of fallacious rumours of deathbed conversions by the religious is predictable because there is so much historical precedent for it. Many of history’s most famous atheists have suffered this fate, so, in a sense, Hitch has now been inducted into this hall of infamy alongside the likes of Darwin, Thomas Paine, and David Hume. In God is not Great, he wrote that “the mere fact that such deathbed ‘repentances’ were sought by the godly, let alone subsequently fabricated, speaks volumes of the bad faith of the faith-based.”

Now, not for the first time, Hitchens has fallen foul of this bad faith. After all, what can be more abhorrent than baying for a man to abandon his lifelong principles when he is at his most vulnerable, and spreading callous lies when he can no longer respond? It speaks for the complete lack of confidence these people must have in their beliefs that they strike when the individual is at their least lucid and most desperate.

Hitchens felt the bitter end of the religious stick when he was dying as well, and he responded with typical wit and good humour. He was told that it was “God’s curse that he would have cancer near his throat because that was the organ (he) used to blaspheme.” His response? “Well, I’ve used many other organs to blaspheme as well if it comes to that.” One suspects that he would have rubbished recent talk in a similarly sardonic fashion.

Likewise, for a man who was not afraid of a provocative title himself (see: The Missionary Position, No One Left to Lie to) it would be reasonable to think he’d accept his own life as fair game. From Mother Theresa to Princess Diana, for Hitchens, there were no sacred cows. He certainly would not have wanted to become one.

Fortunately, we are blessed with the wonders of the internet, and Hitchens can respond to these claims as Thomas Paine and David Hume could not – from the grave. His prediction and preparation for this speaks of an intellect like no other. In a posthumous debate he still wins out.