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 editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.