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.

DebateTech
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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.