Ed Miliband during the press conference to announce his resignation as Labour leader. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Will Labour abandon Miliband's policies or just his strategy?

The leadership candidates have so far focused on tone and presentation. 

The decisive nature of Labour's election defeat means that several leadership candidates have sharply distanced themselves from Ed Miliband's approach. Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall have denounced his failure to appeal to Conservative voters, his lack of interest in public service reform and his refusal to concede that the last government mishandled the public finances. But what is notable is that no candidate (the others being Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper) has so far rejected any of Miliband's policies. Rather, the focus has been on strategy (reaching out to a broader electorate), tone (more optimistic) and presentation (just better). 

This contrasts with Miliband's campaign launch in 2010, which saw him condemn the Iraq war, Labour's relaxed attitude to inequality and its light-touch market regulation. This may change as the contest progresses. Policies such as a 50p tax rate and a mansion tax may be rejected as anti-aspirational. Others such as an energy price freeze and creating two "challenger banks" may be abandoned as unworkable. But whoever wins the contest, more of Miliband's programme may endure than some expect. 

Ben Bradshaw, the Blairite MP for Exeter, who is considering standing for the deputy leadership (he impressively tripled his majority), told me: 

I’m very optimistic. Fundamentally, we’re not in as bad a place as we were in the 1980s. In spite of this disastrous result our manifesto was rather good. It was not, to quote Gerald Kaufman, the second longest suicide note in history. We don’t have mad politics or mad policies, we just had the wrong political strategy and the wrong messaging and the wrong approach.

We had very poor communication. It took more than three years for Ed to appoint a broadcasting officer. It was almost as if communicating through the main medium through which the public experience their politicians was considered not very important or a bit irrelevant ... It’s supremely important.

Unlike in the 1980s, when Labour abandoned mass nationalisation and unilateral nuclear disarmament to make itself electable, few in the party believe that its salvation lies in policy. None of the individual measures proposed by Miliband polled poorly. Indeed, most polled remarkably well. The question that candidates need to ask themselves is whether individually popular policies resulted in a collective product that repelled voters. But this is partly a matter of emphasis. The Tories didn't abandon their right-wing policies on immigration and the EU, they simply ensured that they weren't the focus of their campaign (as they disastrously were in 2001 and 2005). Similarly, Labour may choose to downplay Miliband's left-leaning measures, rather than ditching them altogether. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is the Great Fire of London a blueprint for how governments deal with disasters?

Visible leadership, an established authority, and a common external enemy: an enduring defence mechanism 350 years on.

In 1968, the science journal The Lancet ran a report into human behaviour. When populations are confronted with disaster, it recommended, effective “communications, coordination, and control, and the establishment of a recognised authority” are of utmost importance (advice that should have been heeded immediately after the Brexit result in June this year).

The 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London this week seems is a good time to think about how we deal with disasters: over 13,000 homes were destroyed, 87 churches ruined and thousands of Londoners displaced.

For me, one of the most striking parts of the story of the Great Fire is not the fire itself nor the dramatic rebuilding programme that followed, but the state of flux in between.

When the fire broke out, England was at war with both the Dutch Republic and France. As soon as news reached France, the Venetian ambassador Alvise Sagredo, declared that the fire would be “worse than the plague and any other disaster, capable of making [the English] change their government and their principles”.

In England, even the London Gazette warned that England’s foes would try “to persuade the world abroad of great parties and disaffection at home against his majesties government”. Faced with unparalleled destruction and unprecedented disarray, how did the king, his advisers and civic authorities regain control of London?

With the Guildhall severely damaged and the Royal Exchange destroyed, the first step was to find a new base for civic and mercantile power. On 6 September, Charles II instructed the Lord Mayor and the city aldermen to resume governance of the city. Gresham College and buildings around Bishopsgate were taken over and efforts were immediately taken to re-establish trade. Vendors were granted permission to set up sheds in temporary markets at Bishopsgate Street, Tower Hill, Smithfield and Leadenhall Street.

“Honest and able persons” were selected to monitor the ruined city to ensure fire did not break out afresh, appeals were made across the country for charitable donations and neighbouring counties were called upon to provide sustenance. From the navy stores, ship’s biscuit was offered to the needy and canvas was provided so that the tens of thousands of homeless people stranded in the fields surrounding London could fashion tents.

The measures were not perfect. Visiting Moorfields, the diarist John Evelyn described, “the poor inhabitants . . . some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag”.

Those stranded found food to be in short supply and many succumbed to the illnesses bred by a reduced condition in life, including aged playwright James Shirley, who died in October 1666.

But it wasn’t long before people started to disperse – either leaving London altogether, finding accommodation elsewhere, or returning to the locations of their former homes and shops to erect makeshift shacks above the ruins.

In the background, the trial and execution of French watchmaker Robert Hubert, who falsely claimed to have started the fire, provided a focus for any anger and rage.

With communication ruptured following the destruction of the London Gazette printing house and the General Letter Office, rumours of plots, arson and invasions had spread almost as quickly as the fire itself. Indeed, terrible violence had broken out during the fire, with mobs targeting any “strangers” or foreign-born Londoners. One French servant, for example, reported how gangs of “English women did knock down strangers for not speaking good English. Some of them armed with spits, some with bread staffs, and the captain with a broad sword.”

When the London Gazette was released the week after the fire – after only skipping one edition of its biweekly run – it provided readers with a detailed description of the catastrophe, emphasising its accidental nature and promoting the role played by Charles II and his brother and heir, James, Duke of York, in preventing the fire spreading even further.

Against protocol, the newspaper also allowed important tradespeople to advertise their new offices: the goldsmith-bankers, for example, informed readers that they had found premises along Broad Street.

By mid-September, the etcher Wenceslaus Hollar had already begun his survey of the city and plans had been submitted to the king from John Evelyn and architects Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, to name just a few, as to how to rebuild the capital.

Writing at the time, Sir Nathaniel Hobart, believed that the “rebuilding of the Citty will not be soe difficult as the satisfying all interests, there being many proprietors”. As such, one of the most important innovations following the disaster was the establishment of a judiciary, known as the Fire Court, to untangle the complex web of formal and informal agreements between tenants and landlords. From 1667 until 1672 the Fire Court settled hundreds and hundreds of cases.

There were certainly many bumps along the way – for a while, the City of London was plundered and inhabited by gangs. Plus, anger towards foreign-born Londoners continued; owing to his Dutch background, one Johan Vandermarsh had to fight tooth and nail to keep hold of his property on Lime Street, despite helping to save many of his neighbours’ homes.

All of this considered, there was nothing like the widespread disorder that Charles II had feared and his enemies expected. On the contrary, the visibility of the king and his brother and heir – and the convenient suspicion that the fire had been started by an external enemy – worked to bind the people to their king and settle unrest. Although hard to believe at the time, there was also the promise of “a more beautiful city”.

Rebecca Rideal is a historian, factual television producer and author of 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire.

She will be speaking at London’s Burning festival on Friday 2 September – a contemporary festival of art and ideas produced at Artichoke to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Free to the public, it runs from 30 August-4 September.