Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband gets the better of Cameron - but misses an opportunity

Rather than just needling the PM, the Labour leader should have the made case for reform.

Maria Miller's resignation, coming after David Cameron had insisted for six days that she was safe in her job, meant today's PMQs was always likely to be one for him to forget - and so it proved. Unable to explain why having done the "right thing", Miller had now been forced to go, Cameron sought to present Miliband as opportunistic. "Why didn't he call on her to resign?", he cried, "he seems to be first leader of the opposition to come to this House and call on someone to resign after they've resigned!"

But Miliband, smirking with incredulity as the PM spoke, delivered the perfect riposte: "I’ve heard everything – now it’s my job to fire members of his cabinet!" Things didn't improve for Cameron as he resorted to accusing Miliband of "playing politics", the age-old cry of a Prime Minister in trouble. While Cameron unwisely spoke of a "political bandwagon", Miliband positioned himself on the side of the public, declaring that Cameron "just doesn't get it" and referring to him as "the last person in the country to realise her position had become untenable". It was fine knock-about stuff and perfect material for the 10 o'clock news.

Yet while he got the better of the PM in the House, Miliband missed the chance to seize the initiative and make a wider case for reform. As he noted, the Miller affair has "undermined trust not only in his government, but in politics". If any party benefits from the row, it will likely be UKIP, an outfit without a single MP. But it was Cameron, not Miliband, who raised the prospect of cross-party talks on reforming the system. Had Miliband been bolder, he would have demanded an end to the right of MPs to police their own expenses through the discredited standards committee and the introduction of a right to recall (perhaps noting that one Maria Miller signed a letter in support of the proposal in 2008) for miscreants. By focusing on needling Cameron, he missed the chance to offer answers to the crisis of trust in all parties.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.