Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth, Scotland. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's left and right are growing restive

The right want Ed Miliband to be more "pro-business". The left want him to abandon austerity. His challenge is to hold the centre. 

In the opening years of the parliament, when growth was stagnant and unemployment was rising, Labour could reliably score points at the government's expense. But the strength of the belated economic recovery means it is now much harder to do so. After abandoning its attack on the coalition for cutting "too far, too fast", Labour has profited in the last year from its relentless focus on living standards. But the return of wage rises means that the potency of this attack is likely to diminish between now and the election (even if, for many, the squeeze goes on). With the Tories ahead in the polls on leadership and managing the economy, two reliable long-term indicators of the general election result, and Labour's headline lead far slimmer than a year ago, MPs are growing increasingly uneasy about the party's message. One former shadow cabinet minister told me: "People still don't have a clear idea of what we would do differently in government. We're not generating the enthusiasm we need a year before an election." 

In the last day, two other former shadow ministers have broken cover. From the party's right, former business minister Pat McFadden told Newsnight: "I want to see a Labour Party that takes wealth creation every bit as seriously as its fair distribution. I’m all for justice and fairness in the work place. But you have got to create wealth too." This echoed what Alan Milburn wrote in the FT on Monday when he called for "Labour to embrace a more avowedly pro-business agenda and match it with a more overtly pro-business tone. The Eds need to say it and look like they really mean it." Their fear is that while empathising with the public's anger over extortionate prices and stagnant wages, Labour will look as if it doesn't have the answers required for the hard work of government. 

From the party's left comes a different message. In an article for the Guardian yesterday, Diane Abbott took aim at Ed Balls over his decision to match the coalition's spending levels in 2015-16 and to embrace policies such as a cap for welfare spending. She wrote: "Party members might well ask, in between knocking on doors trying to persuade people to come out and vote in the May elections, what is the Labour leadership's plan to restore confidence in our economic leadership? Balls has a plan. He just does not feel able to spell it out to party members. It is called embracing Tory austerity...And the problem with restoring Labour's reputation for economic management is that we have allowed the coalition to frame the debate."

And concluded: "If we accept the coalition cuts agenda, there will be another £25bn worth of public spending cuts needed after the 2015 election. They will be the deepest since 1948. It is difficult to see how a Labour government that implemented cuts on that scale could last more than one term. So the urgency of framing an alternative to coalition austerity is not just about one month's polls. It is about the long-term survival of an incoming Labour government." For Abbott and the left, the danger is that Labour's fails to represent a genuine alternative to Conservative austerity, leaving voters with little incentive to turn out next May. 

But for others, the danger is not that Labour appears too committed to austerity but that it still appears too profligate. One self-described shadow cabinet "hawk" recently told me that the party needed to "shout much more loudly" about its pledges to eliminate the current deficit and reduce the national debt (as a share of GDP) by the end of the parliament. "We've got tough targets but no one knows about them," he lamented.

For Ed Miliband, the challenge is to hold the centre. His mantra remains that Labour must offer both "credibility" and "radicalism". Unless it commits to tough policies in areas such as public spending, voters won't trust it with the reins of government. But unless it also offers a distinctive alternative to the coalition, they won't believe that it can make a difference - and will stick with the devil that they know.

To this end, while promising to continue public spending cuts, Labour has pledged to freeze energy prices, to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, to abolish the bedroom tax, to reintroduce the 50p tax rate and to guarantee work for all young people unemployed for more than a year and all adults unemployed for more than two. Similarly radical policies on childcare, social care, tuition fees and transport are likely to follow. But as concern over the nature of Labour's offer grows, the party will find it harder than ever to keep its nerve. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.