It’s official: New Labour is teetering on the edge of extinction. Staff at the party’s Victoria Street headquarters have confirmed that the “new” is about to be removed from Labour’s email domain name. With the flick of a switch, the most successful rebranding exercise in British politics will be consigned to history.
“We’ve had the new domains available for a while now. They’ve been ready for a couple of months,” says an insider. “We’re just waiting for the word to make them go live.”
Apparently the party’s IT gurus have been lobbying hard for the change. But one man has stayed his hand. “Ed’s been nervous about making the shift,” says a shadow cabinet insider. “He’s very aware of the symbolism.”
It’s ironic that the candidate who won the leadership on a platform of moving “beyond New Labour” is now so nervous of erasing its name. But it coincides with a debate about the political definition of Labour in the post-Blair/Brown era. Last week there was fevered speculation, strongly denied by the Miliband team, that the party was about to recast itself as “Progressive Labour”.
Technically, the Labour Party is still only the Labour Party. Tony Blair famously teased delegates to the 1995 Clause Four special conference by saying he had something to say about the party’s name, pausing for effect, then announcing: “It’s staying exactly as it is.” But, in practice, ever since the “New Labour” branding was unveiled at the 1994 conference, Labour has been a double-barrelled party.
There was a rumour that Peter Mandelson was pushing for a similar change in the run-up to the 1987 election, but Neil Kinnock felt it would have been a step too far. Mandelson was forced to settle for a rose on the logo and a hundred-seat Tory majority.
Miliband, by contrast, is not an instinctive fan of flamboyant – or what he would regard as cosmetic – gesture politics. “I don’t do huskies,” he told the Guardian, referring to David Cameron’s decision to canvass for Tory voters on a Norwegian glacier during the 2006 local election campaign. He has also resolutely rejected calls to engineer his own “Clause Four moment”. A briefing from a press aide that his Rochdale speech to the National Policy Forum presaged constitutional change on a par with Blair’s was firmly squashed.
“It’s not Ed’s kind of politics.” said an insider. “It’s not ideological, he just finds all that stuff a bit crass and shallow.” Despite criticism in some quarters that he has failed to define himself, Miliband doesn’t believe he needs to erect a giant signpost to indicate the direction in which he’s taking his party. “All those people whingeing that they don’t know where Ed’s going are kidding themselves,” says a supporter.
“I’ve spoken to Ed about this,” says an aide. “His reaction is: ‘They know precisely where I’m going, they just don’t like it.’ “
Abolishing a domain name would not represent Miliband’s Clause Four moment. It wouldn’t even be on a par with hugging a hoody or a husky. But it would send a signal of intent.
I expect that someone will be receiving an email from firstname.lastname@example.org before too long.