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29 June 2015

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.

By Stephen Bush

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.)

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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”.

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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.