Ed Miliband delivers his speech on the Labour- trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London last July. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ed Miliband's Special Conference speech: the three key themes

The Labour leader's message: the reforms will get working people back into politics, transfer power from MPs to party members, and help turn Labour into a movement again.

Labour's Special Conference on Ed Miliband's party reforms, which takes place at the ExCel Centre in London tomorrow, was once expected to be a make-or-break moment for his leadership. But happily for Miliband, there’ll be no need for a John Prescott-style figure to plead with the trade unions to back him at the eleventh hour. While there will be some dissenting voices (Young Labour and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union have announced they will vote against the changes), the reforms are likely to be overwhelmingly endorsed (one Labour source predicts a 75-80 per cent vote in favour). Given the anxiety that they initially provoked, on both the left and the right of the party, this is no small achievement.

The real challenge for Miliband is to elevate the occasion from a wonkish and technical discussion of party reform (as necessary and democratic as that is) to a showcase of his vision for Labour and the country. His chance to do so will come when he opens the debate at 11am (delegates will vote on the motion at 1pm with the result announced around 1:30pm). Labour has released extracts of the speech in advance; here's my summary of the three key messages Miliband will deliver tomorrow.

1. The reforms will help get working people back into party politics

As politicians regularly lament, public disillusionment with them has rarely been greater. Just 65 per cent of people voted at the last election (despite it being the narrowest for 18 years) and just 1 per cent belong to a political party. With 187,537 members, Labour is the largest of the three main parties (the Lib Dems have 43,451 and the Tories 134,000) but this is still down from 405,000 in 1997.

One of Miliband's hopes is that his reforms will help to make the party more attractive to non-members. Recognising the limits of of the traditional model of party membership, he will allow Labour's 2.7 million trade union levy payers (who currently pay an affiliation fee of £3 a year) to become associate members and others to become registered supporters (also for £3), allowing them to attend local CLP meetings and to vote in leadership and deputy leadership elections (albeit a "long, long time in the future", as Miliband quipped at a meeting in Leeds last week). By significantly lowering the bar to entry, Miliband hopes to attract thousands of new recruits. This might be seen as creating a disincentive to membership (and it will in some respects) but Labour is keen to emphasise that only full members (who pay £45 a year) will be able to vote in candidate selections, to stand for election and to attend conference as delegates.

Given that trade unions are full of the "ordinary" voters beloved of politicians, Miliband is understandably excited by the prospect of bringing these "ghosts in the machine" into the party. If 10 per cent (270,000) of current levy-payers sign up (the private estimate made by party officials and union leaders), the party will more than double its membership. As Miliband told me last week: "It’s important that Labour Party members understand this point, that isn’t just about some big number of 400,000. That is about doubling the membership of each Constituency Labour Party. Now, if I think about my own Constituency Labour Party, that would make a massive difference, having not 350 people, but 700 people, that is a big deal that we’re talking about. It’s about that big change and the big change on the ground."

He will say tomorrow:

More and more people are turned off from politics. It increasingly feels like a match being played while the stands are emptying. We won’t turn that round by saying we’re right and they’re wrong. We won’t do it by singing the old songs even louder. If we do we’ll find ourselves shouting in an empty stadium.

That’s why today we are debating much more than our internal party structures. We’re debating something far bigger: how do we get people back into our politics? Think about the people you meet in your daily lives. Let’s not fall for the myth that they don’t care. They do. They are just turned off political parties.

We have to have the courage to change. There are thousands of working people, affiliated to our Party, in your constituency. But at the moment you have no way of reaching them. Home helps who look after the elderly, and worry about their own mums and dads. Classroom assistants who teach our sons and daughters, and have high hopes for their own kids. Construction workers who build the homes we live in, but worry about whether they can afford a home of their own. People who keep our shops open morning, noon and night, but are at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis. And the porters, nurses and all the health service workers who support the pride of Britain: our National Health Service.

These are the working people affiliated to our party. But too often affiliated in name only. And think of all the other people, not in trade unions, whose voices we also need to hear: low-paid workers whose boss won’t recognise a union, small-business owners struggling to get a loan from the bank, stay-at-home mums who ask whether anyone is going to speak up for them.

I don’t want to break the link with working people. I want to hear the voices of working people louder than ever before.  But in the 21st century, not everyone wants to be a member of a political party. And you shouldn’t have to pay £45 to have a voice in the Labour Party. That’s why I want to bring in the 100,000s of people who are supporters of our Party. And make them part of what we do.


2. The reforms are a huge transfer of power from MPs to party members

While most media comment has focused on the implications of the reforms for affiliated trade unions, who will lose their exclusive contact with political levy payers, it's MPs who are the biggest losers from the changes. At present, under Labour's tripartite electoral college system (with MPs, party members, and members of affiliated unions and socialist societies each receiving a third of the vote), the vote of one MP is worth the votes of 608 party members and 12,915 affiliated members. But the introduction of a full one-member-one-vote system (OMOV), completing the work begun by John Smith in 1993, means that MPs lose their privileged status. As Miliband will say:

Today, we won’t just be voting to open our doors. We’ll be voting for the biggest transfer of power in the history of our Party to our members and supporters. Today, in leadership elections, an MP’s vote is worth 1,000 times more than each Party member’s.

Twenty-one years ago John Smith set out on the journey of One Member, One Vote. Today we can complete that journey.

Let’s make ourselves the party of equality. Not just in the policies we propose, but in the politics we practice.

The consolation for MPs is that they retain the sole power to nominate candidates for election in leadership and deputy leadership contests. In addition, the threshold for nomination will be increased from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent. While some in the party fear this is too low, and could result in the election of a leader who lacks support in the PLP, Miliband wanted to ensure that a wide range of candidates are able to qualify for election in the future. Under the originally proposed threshold of 25 per cent, only the Miliband brothers would have cleared the bar in 2010.

3. The chance to build a movement

Rather than simply amassing an army of leaflet deliverers, Miliband wants to use the reforms to turn Labour into a movement again, one embedded in local communities and in the lives of working people. As he has recently emphasised, throughout history, it has been mass movements that have created and preserved the space for progressive politics (he cited the example of the gay rights and racial equality movements in his speech in Leeds last week). With the aid of Arnie Graf, the godfather of community organising and a mentor of the young Barack Obama, Labour is seeking to transform moribund local constituency parties into agents for radical change.

As Miliband said of Graf in my interview with him last week: "The really interesting thing about Arnie is, if you go round and talk to our organisers and our candidates, they are the people who’ve had the most exposure to him and who are the most positive about the role he’s playing. They say ‘he opened my eyes to doing politics in a different way’, to reaching out to people, to the way we make policy, to the way we engage people, to not just being seven people in a drizzle, but expanding our base, all of that. I think he’s got a very important role to play and I think he’s a great influence."

He will tell delegates tomorrow:

Keir Hardie used to call our Party a movement. Think about that word. It’s movements that change things.

Let’s invite people in and show what we can do together. Campaigning to stop the payday lenders ruining people’s lives, campaigning for and winning a living wage across our country. campaigning to freeze that energy bill, and in the next 200 days, campaigning and winning the fight to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.

It has always been movements and people that change countries and change our world. If I am elected as Prime Minister I want to change this country, but I can only do it with a movement behind me, supporting what we do and shaping our policy.

Today if you vote for these reforms you will be voting for Labour to be a movement again. Arguing our case house by house, village by village, town by town. But movements are only as strong as the people within them. The depth, the diversity, the reach of a movement is the true measure of its strength and its ability to make change.

That’s why we have to change, that’s why we have to bring people in. Today, let’s vote to change our Party. Let’s build a movement. So that tomorrow, we can change our country.

It's a lofty ambition, but by involving thousands of new members in the party, the reforms will make it easier to achieve. And after the recent briefing against Graf (with a story planted in the Sun questioning his immigration status), Miliband's words are an important endorsement of his work.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.