Ed's to-do list: smash Ukip, woo hacks, travel. Photo: Getty
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“Labour is in a tough fight”: five lessons from Ed Miliband’s speech

The Labour leader made a speech to party activists and journalists today in an attempt to draw a line under his party’s crisis. What did he tell us?

He’s going to get out more

One key criticism of Ed Miliband, voiced by the New Statesman editor Jason Cowley last week, is that he doesn’t get out enough. That he doesn’t seem to understand ordinary voters’ concerns because he is out of touch with the rest of the country, preferring a more comfortable mode of seminar socialism and lofty academic ideas.

He acknowledged this today, twice emphasising his plan to get around the country and deliver his message. “This speech is about setting out the big argument for the country, and by the way, I’m going to be doing this again and again, right across the country,” he said, in response to whether Britain can learn to love a geek in just six months.

When asked to identify one mistake he’s made over the past four years, he admitted that he hadn’t been around Britain enough:

“A lesson I learnt most in the last four and a half years or so is about going out more and engaging more,” he said. “Spend less time in Westminster and more time out in the country. You learn more. It makes you a better politician and engages more directly with people. So that’s what I’m going to spend the next six months doing.”


He’s trying to woo the press

As I wrote this morning, it is ridiculous that Miliband’s supporters when doing the media rounds during his time of crisis have been blaming the media, particularly the Murdoch press, for their leader’s problems. It seems Miliband has cottoned on to this rather lazy, misjudged defence.

Today’s speech was essentially a showcase for the press, showing that he can still make a good speech with a strong narrative, without fluffing his lines (the autocues were all too prominent today). He also made a point to take a significant number of questions from journalists, much to the anger of some of the Labour activists, who made up the majority of his audience.

It was also notable when pushed on his passage about holding “vested interests” to account that he mentioned energy companies, banks and payday lenders, but didn’t include Murdoch in that list. Usually he refers to what he sees as his gutsy part in the phonehacking furore when doing his “standing up to vested interests” shtick. He also repeated that he is “not in the whingeing business” and “The Times and all the other newspapers have to take their own views.”

Clearly Miliband and his team are noting the importance of having the media onside, and how difficult the consequences can be when they do not.


Vested interests are a convenient enemy

There was a key passage in his address today lashing out at “vested interests”:

No vested interest, whoever they are and however powerful they are, from banks to energy companies, should ever be able to hold our country back.

He insisted repeatedly that he would hold these to account when Prime Minister, as he has done in opposition, without really specifying what they are. His reticence to outline which or whose vested interests he’s keen to take on suggests two things:

The first is that there is a policy announcement due that ties nicely into this narrative (something new and radical on tax avoidance maybe? His “zero-zero economy” line suggests this too). The second is that they are a convenient enemy: people at the top, working in their own interests, without a care for ordinary working people. It doesn’t matter who they are, they’re just useful for making Miliband sound plucky.


Labour is finally ready to condemn Ukip

It is well-known that many in the Labour machine lament that they cottoned on to the Ukip threat to their vote too late, and have been having real trouble countering Nigel Farage’s narrative in northern and seaside towns that would have once been safe Labour bets.

But Miliband today gave his strongest, most direct, attack on Ukip yet:

I say to working people in this country, let’s really examine their vision. Because when you stop and look at it, it is not really very attractive. And it is rooted in the same failed ideas that have let our country down.

Piece together the different statements from Mr Farage and his gang and think about what it says: That working mothers aren’t worth as much as men. Life was easier when there wasn’t equality for gay and lesbian people. You feel safer when you don’t have someone who is foreign living next door. The NHS would be better off privatised. Rights at work, whether they come from Europe or from here, are simply a barrier to economic success. And let’s get out of the European Union. Is that really the country we want to be? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that’s the kind of country people want.


He’s developing a sharper immigration message

His message on immigration was still a little hazy, but he’s definitely sharpening it up.

In his speech he simply concluded on the subject: “We will be talking more about immigration as a party.” However, when pushed on the subject during the ensuing Q+A, he spoke quite candidly about what he sees as the drawback of only making the positive case for immigration:

I always talk about the positive benefits of migration and it’s absolutely right to do so. The thing that as a party it’s important that we acknowledge though, is that in aggregate migration is definitely beneficial for our country, that is my view, but people don’t live their lives in the aggregate. People live their lives specifically in their own circumstances. And migration affects different people differently.


It wasn’t a particularly exciting performance. I’d say those looking for a confident, coherent Miliband should look to his speech to the CBI earlier this week, which was largely missed by the media. I reported that it was an assured performance, with more to offer business than David Cameron’s attempt. Matthew Parris in his Times column today judged it “powerful” and “incomparably the best” of the three party leaders.

But today’s address did give Miliband the opportunity to outline what he is about, and how his party is going to fight the last six months to the election. His section on Labour’s programme for government was particularly good, delivered with passion and fluency:

And just in case you find people who still believe that there is no difference between the parties, just tell them what we are fighting for:

An £8 minimum wage.

An end to the exploitation of zero hours contracts.

Freezing energy bills until 2017.

Putting our young people back to work.

Paying down the deficit and doing it fairly.

Reforming our banks so that they work for small businesses.

Cutting business rates.

Apprenticeships alongside every government contract.

Building 200,000 homes a year.

Abolishing the bedroom tax.

Tackling tax avoidance.

Hiring more doctors, nurses, midwives and careworkers, and putting the right values back at the heart of the NHS and repealing the Health and Social Care Act.

Read the full speech here.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.