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.
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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.

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Did Titantic do more for climate change than Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary?

Sex, icebergs and individual plight: the actor’s earlier outing teaches us more about vast disasters than his new docufilm about global warming’s impact, Before the Flood.

“Now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me . . . in every way that a person can be saved.” Or did he? For Titanic actor Leonardo DiCaprio, there is one way in which Jack never did rescue Rose: from the threat of climate catastrophe. 

Over the last 15 years, DiCaprio has made the issue a personal mission. Yet even in his role as UN climate ambassador, he stills feels far from heroic:

“If the UN really knew how I feel, how pessimistic I am about our future . . . I mean to be honest, they may have picked the wrong guy.”

So begins his new documentary, Before the Flood. A quest for answers on climate change, the film sees Leo racing around the world, marvelling at the sound of endangered whales, despairing at the destruction caused by tar-sands – “it looks like Mordor” – and interviewing a series of concerned experts, from professors to Barack Obama to the Pope.

There are plenty of naysayers to stand in his way and put him down. “Who better to educate world leaders on made-up climate change and a crisis that doesn't exist, than an actor with zero years of scientific training?” mocks one commentator from Fox News.

But if DiCaprio can gather enough evidence to believe in himself – AND believe that there are viable solutions out there – then so can we. Or so the story arc promises. His journey thus stands as a guide for our own; a self-education that will lead to salvation for all. 

It's all a little messianic. The film is even named after a biblical painting. And will those who don't already know who DiCaprio is even care? 

The sad fact is that, while DiCaprio’s lasting popularity still owes so much Titanic, the 1997 box-office smash that made his name, his new documentary fails to recapture the dramatic wisdom that put him there. It doesn’t even quip about the icebergs.

This is an oversight. Titanic didn’t win 11 academy awards for nothing. As well as a must-see rite of passage (pun intended) and soundtrack for infinite school discos, it taught me something invaluable about storytelling. Though I was not initially a DiCaprio fan, over the years I’ve come to accept that my lasting love of the film is inseparable from my emotional investment in Leo, or at least in his character, Jack. What Titanic showed so brilliantly was that the fastest way to empathise with suffering on a vast scale – be it a sinking ship or a sinking planet – is to learn to care for the fate of one or two individuals involved.

Every part of Jack and Rose's story is thus intimately linked with the story of the ship. Even that famed sex scene gains its erotic force not from the characters alone, but from their race through the blazing engine room (situated as it is between the foreplay of the naked portrait and the famous post-coital ending in the back of the cab).

And such carefully crafted storytelling isn't only essential to great entertainment but to great activism too. It can literally inspire action – as evidenced by fans’ desperate attempts to prove that both Jack and Rose could have climbed to safety aboard the floating piece of wood.

So would Before the Flood have been better if it had been a little bit more like Titanic and less like An Inconvenient Truth? Yes. And does that mean we should make climate films about epic polar bear love stories instead? Not exactly. 

There are many powerful documentaries out there that make you emotionally invested in the lives of those experiencing the consequences of our indirect (fossil fuel-burning) actions. Take Virunga, a heart-wrenching insight into the struggle of those protecting eastern Congo’s national park.

Sadly, Before the Flood is not one of them. Its examples of climate change – from Beijing air pollution to coral reef destruction – are over-familiar and under-explored. Instead of interviewing a Chinese official with a graph on his iPad, I would have preferred visiting a solar-panel factory worker and meeting their family, who are perhaps suffering from the effects of the smog in a way I can't yet imagine.

If you want a whistlestop tour of all things climate change then this necessary and urgent film is the movie for you. But those hoping it will give new depth to climate activism will be disappointed.

DiCaprio's distant relationship with the effects of climate change leave him stranded at the level of a narrator. He makes for a great elderly Rose, but we need a Jack.

Before The Flood is in limited theatres from 21 October and will be shown on National Geographic on Sunday 30 October.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.