Ed Miliband waits in front of his office at Portcullis House for the arrival of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on February 03, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour backs Miliband's party reforms by 86% - but the really hard work begins now

After today's comfortable victory, far greater political and financial challenges lie ahead for the party.

Labour's Special Conference has just voted in favour of Ed Miliband's party reforms by an overwhelming majority: 86.29% to 13.71%. Party affiliates (trade unions and socialist societies) voted in favour by 48.42% to 1.58%  and constituency party delegates by 37.87% to 12.13% (some London CLPs, in particular, were angered by the decision to use a closed primary to select Labour's London mayoral candidate). Given the concern that the changes initially provoked, on the left and the right of the party, the result is no small achievement. Shrewd party management by Miliband, Ray Collins (who led the review) and Simon Fletcher (Miliband's trade union liaison manager) ensured that this wasn't the bloodbath that the media wanted.

But for Labour, as Miliband knows, the really hard work begins now. The party's future financial health now depends on its ability to persuade trade union levy payers to opt into donating (their affiliation fees are currently automatically transferred by union general secretaries). If Miliband is to achieve his stated ambition to build a "movement" and to revitalise Labour, he will also need thousands of workers to choose to become associate members.

The other challenge will be managing relations between the party and the union general secretaries. As early as Wednesday, when Unite's executive meets, Len McCluskey is expected to announce that the party's largest donor is reducing its affiliation fees to Labour by £1.5m to reflect the fact that almost half of its levy payers do not support the party. With the GMB, Labour's third largest union affiliate, already having cut its funding by £1.05m, the changes could have cost the party £2.55m by next week. In total, Labour sources estimate that the reforms will cost it at least £4m (if half of the current 2.7 million levy-payers opt-in) and as much as £7m (if 10 per cent do).

The hope and expectation among Labour figures is that the unions will make up the shortfall through one-off donations (which are not affected by the reforms) to ensure that the party is in fighting shape for the general election. With only a minority of levy payers like to opt-in, the unions will be left with a surplus in their political funds. But the complication for Labour is that theysare unlikely to hand this money over without demanding something in return.

As McCluskey said in his speech to Unite following Miliband's announcement of the changes last summer, he will no longer tolerate those who "welcome our money but don't want our policy input" and expects Unite to have "enhanced" influence under the new system because "our voice and our votes are looked at as legitimate". On another occasion, he told the Guardian that while he was not "looking to bankrupt the party", future funding would depend on "the policies Labour themselves are adopting, and in the context of whether we would give donations that would be determined by my executive and my political committees. It is a collective decision".

McCluskey's policy wishlist includes an end to public spending cuts, the repeal of the benefit cap, and the building of a million extra homes. The challenge for Miliband will be adopting policies radical enough to appease the unions while also ensuring Labour sticks to its tough deficit reduction targets. Far greater battles than today lie ahead.

Here's the speech Miliband delivered after the result was announced by Angela Eagle, the shadow leader of the House of Commons and the chair of the NEC:

Well friends, first of all, thank you.

You know, I took a big risk last July but I did it because I believed, and I believe today that we can only face up to the big challenges that our country faces if we face up to the challenges in our party.

That is what we have done today and we should all be proud of the Labour party that has shown the courage to change.


I just want to say one thing very directly to the country.

Some of you left us at the last general election.

Some of you thought we lost touch.

You were right.

These changes agreed today are designed to ensure that this party never loses touch again with the British people.

And now, the vote to change our party has been won.

The fight to change our country is just beginning.

So let’s go out and fight for the young people who need a job.

Let’s go out and fight for disabled people paying the bedroom tax today in our country.

Let’s go out and fight for all the low paid workers facing a cost of living crisis.

Let’s go out and fight for those families who need better childcare.

Let’s go out and fight for the small businesses people who need someone on their side.

And let’s go out and fight for the future of our National Health Service.

Above all, let’s go out and fight with every fibre of our being for the future of this country.

It’s in our hands.

We know Britain can be better than this.

Let’s go out and prove it.

Let’s go out and win.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

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.