Exclusive: Labour MPs launch new Milibandite group

The One Nation group will seek to "outride" for the Labour leader's ideas and demonstrate that the party has moved into a post-Blairite/Brownite era.

Since Ed Miliband became Labour leader, many have noted the lack of an identifiable band of supporters to champion his ideas and defend him from attack. For fear of fracturing party unity after his narrow victory in 2010, Miliband avoided cultivating a political faction as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair did. "I am my own outrider", he has often privately remarked. It is an approach that has left him vulnerable to internal criticism, most notably last summer. One question frequently asked during those torrid weeks was "where are the Milibandites?"

Among the aims of last week's shadow cabinet reshuffle was to offer an answer. The Labour leader rewarded those who have engaged with his political and ideological project and who have shown consistent loyalty. It was notable that both Tristram Hunt (promoted to shadow education secretary) and Gloria De Piero (promoted to shadow minister for women and equalities) contributed chapters to the recent book One Nation: power, hope, community, regarded in the party as the founding text of the Milibandites (it was co-edited by two of his early supporters, Rachel Reeves and Owen Smith). Other contributors, such as Dan Jarvis, Rushanara Ali and Kate Green, were also promoted to more senior posts.

In an attempt to continue to give greater definition to Miliband's project, those involved in the book have now launched a formal One Nation group. The aim, one shadow cabinet minister told me, would be to "outride" for Miliband's ideas, to champion community politics (a central theme of the book) and to demonstrate that the party had moved into a "post-Blairite/Brownite era".

In its supportive stance towards Miliband, it is analogous to the Conservative 301 Group, the loyalist faction formed to act as a counterweight to the 1922 committee. The test of the group's success will be whether it can advance Miliband's project without merely being seen as a front for the leadership.

Newly appointed Labour shadow cabinet ministers Gloria de Piero, Tristram Hunt and Emma Reynolds take part in a photocall in London last week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.