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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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war