Miliband's generation could shift Labour further to left. Photo: Getty Images
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Ed Miliband changed the Labour party in a way we don't yet fully appreciate

Ed Miliband leaves the party's left flank in ruder health than it has been for decades.

What’s Ed Miliband’s legacy? A cruel response might be “15 years of Tory power”.  But a more considered answer can be found in this morning’s Guardian.

35 people, among them the head of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, and the economist Ann Pettifor, have signed a letter calling for debt relief for Greece and an end to austerity policies throughout “Europe and across the world”. 26 of them are members of parliament.  Just six are from the explicitly anti-austerity parties – although all three Plaid Cymru MPs, and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas are all among the signatories – with the remaining 20 all drawn from the parliamentary Labour party.

Of those, 11 were elected under Ed Miliband, ten in the general election of 2015 and one, Liz McInnes, in a by-election in 2014.

Why? Partly because Miliband’s office was largely outmatched in selections by forces to his right and left, partly because one way Team Miliband bought silence – if not loyalty – from the trade unions and the left was to cede the field.  “There are two ways to fix a selection,” one veteran notes, “You can  either just do a David Miliband and plonk someone down, no questions asked, like or lump it."

In the Miliband era, the second, more subtle form of fixing was more often used; shortlists where, for one reason or another, only the preferred candidate is likely to make it through. The socially-conservative electorate of Wythenshawe & Sale were given the choice between five women, and one man, Mike Kane, who went on to become the seat’s MP.  (This doesn't always work. Liz McInness, in Heywood & Middleton, was put on the shortlist as a no-hoper. She went on to win the nomination and is still the MP now.)

For the most part, that benefited the Labour left. In Edmonton, one insider quipped that party members were offered a “cake or death” style choice between Kate Osamor, from the party’s left, and a series of candidates “no-one would ever want to vote for”.

Added to that, the Labour right has lost its gift for organisation. “A lot of people flounced after 2010 [when Ed Miliband defeated his brother, David] and took a lot of knowhow with them,” observes one MP from the party’s right. Labour’s modernisers won precious few selections in open contests, and didn’t benefit from a helping hand from Miliband either.

The overall effect has been to tilt the parliamentary Labour party towards the left for the first time in decades. “Not many lent votes there,” was the observation one Brownite grandee made of the 2015-era MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn. One left-leaning Labour staffer says the 2015 election was the Left’s best result “since ‘87”.

The difference is that 1987 marked the final defeat of Labour’s left flank in the civil wars of the 1980s. 2015 very probably ushers in the era of a new era of assertiveness and organisational strength from the Labour left. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.