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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.