Arnie Graf, the US community organiser who mentored the young Barack Obama, has been appointed by Ed Miliband to conduct a “year zero” review of Labour’s organisation and campaign structures.
Graf, currently director of the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), created by Saul Alinksy, is scheduled to arrive in February to conduct a “preliminary study” into the party’s operations and infrastructure.
It is understood Graf asked for, and received, commitments from Ed Miliband that his review would be conducted with the full authority of the leader’s office, rather than under the auspices of an external consultant.
Graf’s appointment is said to have been brokered by Lord (Maurice) Glassman, founder of the London Citizens network, who is now firmly established as a key adviser to the Labour leader.
According to Labour sources, Graf’s arrival coincides with a decision by Ed Miliband to distance himself from Movement for Change, the community organising model nurtured by his brother during the leadership campaign. According to an insider, “Movement for Change are David’s baby. Ed wants the party to go in a different direction.”
The IAF’s “modern organisational model” is based around micro-level community activism, with particular emphasis on intensive one-to-one training and mentoring. It was during one of these sessions that Graf and the 24-year-old Obama met, and bonded. Obama told Graf he was planning to become a lawyer. Graf urged him to stay political. Everyone knows what happened next.
Graf is believed to advocate an aggressive edge to community engagement. “You’ve got to get into the hard work of justice,” he is quoted as saying, “and you don’t get justice without disruption.”
How that agenda will play with existing party officers is a matter of conjecture. Ed Miliband insiders still regard many Victoria Street officials with suspicion, describing them as “part of the old establishment”. In turn, a number of senior Labour Party workers are unimpressed by what they see as the poor organisation and leadership that have characterised Ed Miliband’s first 100 days in post, along with what one calls the “faddism” of his team’s attachment to community organising.
According to a party insider, “Graf is coming over with a very wide-ranging brief. Ed was initially minded to test the water with a few different organisational pilots, but Graf was adamant. If he wasn’t coming with the full backing of the leader he wasn’t coming.”
News of the appointment is generating a mixed response among Labour MPs. One said: “We just lost an election campaign, and we lost it badly. Having a fresh look at the party’s organisation is a no-brainer.” However, another said, “It’s all very nice flying in friends of Barack Obama, but Yorkshire, the Midlands and the English Home Counties aren’t like south side Chicago. What does this bloke know about British politics and the issues on the ground?”
Graf is reputedly a highly skilled organiser. Those skills are about to face one of their sternest tests.
Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.