Ed Miliband delivers his speech to the Labour conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour might not be at war with itself, but Miliband desperately needs to inspire his supporters

The Labour leader needs to restore the faith of those he believed he offered a new political model. 

It’s not what Ed Miliband’s opponents are saying about him that should worry the Labour leader. It’s what his supporters are saying. There are some MPs who have always had low expectations of a leader who, as they point out, they did not vote for (it was the backing of Labour’s affiliated trade unions and socialist societies that carried him to victory). But these original dissenters are increasingly indistinguishable from those who once revered what they referred to as “the project”. One hitherto loyal former minister simply asks: “Where did it all go wrong?”

A recurring joke in Labour circles is that the party is now divided between those who fear defeat and those who fear victory. Some regard its restored poll lead as a transient advantage that will melt in the heat of the short campaign. One MP notes that whenever the Tories are able to secure favourable headlines, such as after the 2013 Budget and after David Cameron’s conference speech, they move ahead of Labour. Some expect the Conservatives – with the aid of Fleet Street and big business and a better-oiled election machine than in 2010 – to retain their status as the single largest party. Others predict that Labour will crawl over the finish line, most likely short of a majority, but fear that Miliband lacks the agility and guile to be a successful prime minister.

This is not a party at war. There has been no repeat of what Labour’s policy review head, Jon Cruddas, described to me as “the gang warfare” that disfigured the Blair and Brown years. By historic standards, the party that produced the MacDonald split of 1931, the epic struggle between the Bevanites and the Gaitskellites and the SDP schism of 1981 remains united. At the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party following the conference season and the near-death experience of the Heywood and Middleton by-election, there were just two dissenting voices: the Warrington North MP, Helen Jones, and the former welfare minister Frank Field. “It was hard to avoid the undercurrent of anxiety but the group dynamic inevitably led to the PLP rallying around,” a shadow cabinet minister observes. But while not locked in combat, Labour is desperately in need of inspiration.

It was the belief that Miliband would guarantee this quality that once persuaded activists to rally to his standard. In contrast to his brother, who for too many exemplified the party’s technocratic tendencies, he was said to “speak human”. He possessed the emotional intelligence to recognise, as the US psychologist and author Drew Westen wrote, that: “People vote for the candidate that elicits the right feelings, not the candidate that presents the best arguments.”

After Miliband’s victory, his supporters were enthused by his decision to appoint Cruddas, a Labour romantic, to lead the policy review and by his recruitment of Arnie Graf, the US community organiser, to overhaul the party’s campaign structures and end the era of “machine politics” and “command and control”. They now feel, in the words of one MP, “betrayed”.

The “story of national transformation” (as Cruddas phrased it) that many hoped would emerge from the policy review has not been told. Rather than a vision of the future, of the kind that Labour articulated in 1945, 1966 and 1997 (its three pivotal victories), the party has been defined by remedial fixes such as a freeze in energy prices and a marginal increase in the minimum wage. Unlike the Tories, who speak of equipping Britain for “the global race”, or even Ukip, which depicts a plucky Albion liberated from the shackles of Brussels, Miliband still lacks an account of our place in the world.

What Labour does not lack is policy. When he proudly told the PLP that the party had announced more plans than in 1997, Miliband could have added that he has surpassed every recent leader of the opposition. An £8 minimum wage, 25 free hours of childcare, 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 and 8,000 more doctors – he cited all of these to MPs in the Gladstone Room and the full list exceeds a hundred. But shadow cabinet ministers tell me that they fear electorally potent ideas are being “wasted” on voters who are not yet prepared to listen to Labour. The complaint frequently heard by MPs in Scotland and in seats such as Heywood and Middleton was, “We don’t know what you stand for.” Miliband needs to remember the advice given to him by the former Obama adviser David Axelrod (who a Labour aide says is “intimately involved” in party strategy, contrary to reports): that voters must “see the forest, not the trees”.

Some attribute the narrowness of the party’s approach to the increasing dominance of its campaign machine, led by the election chair, Douglas Alexander. Miliband, who is said to be fiercely loyal to the shadow foreign secretary, is accused of deferring to New Labour orthodoxy, rather than investing in Graf’s methods. Despite the party promising earlier this year that a “programme of work” had been prepared for him, Graf has not come back. Yet in a fragmented electoral landscape, the grass-roots techniques he espoused are more relevant than ever. Tom Watson, Labour’s former campaign co-ordinator, laments to me, “The ability of candidates to run their own local campaigns has been diminished.”

MPs in need of consolation turn their gaze to the government benches. There they see the Prime Minister looking anxiously over his shoulder for the next Ukip defector and his forlorn deputy, a man seemingly incapable of lifting his party out of electoral dystopia. In these circumstances, they ask, how can Labour not win? But Miliband’s original promise was something greater than victory by default. It was to transform the party so that it could transform the country. The gap between what Labour is and what it could be weighs on MPs as they move stoically into the autumn. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Isis can be beaten

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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.