Ed Miliband could still make his leadership work. Photo: Getty
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Why Ed Miliband should reconcile One Nation ideals with New Labour rhetoric

How the story of Ed Miliband’s leadership can still have a happy ending.

Over the past few years my research has looked closely at Ed Miliband’s leadership performance. Through textual analysis, elite interviews and focus groups, I’ve sought to deconstruct the way Miliband has sought to define and embody a narrative that inspires the public to throw its weight (and votes) behind Labour.

We found moments of genuine success, particularly in the "One Nation" speech Miliband gave at the 2012 Labour party conference. Until this point, Miliband’s narrative had been akin to a Shakespearian tragedy – the pretender who knifed his brother to usurp his claim to the throne of the fallen king. But in his highly personalised articulation of "One Nation" values, Miliband appeared to have successfully assumed the role of the young Prince.

However, this narrative stumbled. It was simply too divisive and too critical of New Labour – a regime which may have fallen but was the embodiment of rhetorical clusters (public service reform, economic discipline and pro-aspiration, etc) that still resonate with many within and beyond the party.

All is not lost, even at this late stage.

First, Miliband needs a team that can be relied on to cheer on the One Nation narrative, not simply mumble its support whenever party plot rumours surface. His team must be actively performing the narrative themselves, going out there and being seen by the party, the media and the voters as a unified, slick, powerfully-performed Labour. Miliband must give his inner circle an ultimatum: back me or get out.

Second, he needs to make peace with New Labour by reconciling its rhetoric within "One Nation". For too long, Miliband has distanced himself from the ideals of New Labour, which, for all its faults, served the party well with its unifying rhetoric. It’s time to stop campaigning against the most successful moment in his party’s history.

Third, Miliband must make sure that strong performance is matched by strong policies. Labour must make clear what its plan is for its first 100 days in power. The party could and should have developed a whole set of distinct policies by now, especially in the key areas of the economy, devolution and immigration. Task each shadow minister with producing a five-point crib sheet for every policy.

Finally, Miliband must make sure that a unified One Nation narrative, actively promoted by an enthusiastic shadow cabinet/election team, articulates a vision of tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if this vision is more mythological than concrete, it must simply identify how the values of One Nation will be applied to build a better future.

Labour’s chance is slipping away. If it is going to make any kind of effort to win in May, it must do it now. It must stick with Miliband – to change leader now would reek of weakness – but Miliband must assume true leadership before it’s too late. Can he do it? Of course he can. He has kept the party united like no other leader. He and his team need only "lift" the party narrative to a national narrative. Do that and he's the next prime minister.

John Gaffney is Professor of Politics at Aston University and Co-Director of the Aston Centre for Europe. His study of UK political leadership will be published in a book, "Leadership and the Labour Party: The One Nation Adventure", by Palgrave following the May 2015 general election

John Gaffney is the co-director of the Aston Centre for Europe, specialising in French politics and the discourse of leadership.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.