Saturday, 31 July 2010

Which campaign has an "August surprise" up their sleeves?

There are so many US election obsessives in Labour politics that you can be sure that each leadership campaign knows the US campaign textbook inside out. Though there are generational differences - many were closely involved in the New Democrat/New Labour exchanges; others took part and have tried to learn more from the Obama insurgency against the Clintons; while the civil rights movements and liberal campaigning remain an inspiration to many in the party.

There was more evidence of that today, as the Ed Miliband campaign conducted what must be the first ever mass voter identification push by text message in British party elections; a tactic central to Obama's US mobilisation.

My mobile received this at lunchtime today:

Hi It's Ed Miliband. Hope you don't mind me contacting you about the Labour leadership election. Can I count on your support? Reply Y or N. To opt-out text stop to [number redacted]

The final day of July saw the last formal hustings event before the ballot papers go out at the start of September. Campaigns who have found that format constraining can now freestyle - and each needs to work out how to generate momentum. Each of the candidates is having a short break, but there is little chance of a mooted August "holiday pact" to cease campaigning taking root. The race is entering its crucial stage.

So which campaign has an "August surprise" up its sleeve - and what might it be?

Might Jon Cruddas endorse David Miliband - as had been mooted - or might he stay out of the fray, and continue to campaign for the possible future post of elected party chair?

Campaigning will get more robust in the final weeks. I doubt we would hear anything as aggressively negative as Hillary's "red phone" attack on Barack Obama, but it will be interesting to see if any campaign thinks that "going negative" will bring more gain than risk in an internal party contest?

Does any candidate have an unanticipated way to play the second preferences game in a transferable vote election, which could change the race in an unexpected way. Could any form of candidate pact help deliver the race - or could that again backfire, if it seems like the Old New Labour way of operating after the Blair-Brown years?

Are there any other August "game-changers" in this race which nobody has thought of yet?

Do share your ideas or theories with us - in the comments or by email - as to whether there are moves to look out for which could shake the election up?

Labour's future

In this guest post Jonathan Rutherford introduces a new e-book which seeks to deepen the Labour party's debate ideas, organisation and party renewal.

What is Labour's future? Soundings journal, and Open Left at Demos Demos ask the question in a new, jointly published e-book, Labour's Future (PDF) We don't offer answers, but set out a series of points of view - from Phil Collins' Liberal Republic to Doreen Massey's, 'the political struggle ahead' - that frame the coming debate.

The e-book comes out of a seminar held back in May that brought together 50 people associated with different political perspectives. A number of papers were given and Jon Cruddas and David Miliband gave responses. The aim was to explore what common ground might exist and the prospects for a political axis around which to build cross-party political renewal.

There were some sharp differences of opinion around the role of markets and our understanding of capitalism and the legacy of New Labour. But there was also a shared agenda around pluralism and the importance of alliances in a time of political realignments. There was agreement about the need for the democratic reform of the party and for developing community and workplace organising. Jeremy Gilbert argues that New Labour's view of party members was that they were the problem and not the solution.

'In the era of ‘we-think’ and network culture, the collective intelligence of the membership is the greatest possible resource that the otherwise-impoverished party has at its disposal'.

There was also an honesty about the depth and seriousness of Labour’s defeat. We know that Labour is disconnected from the people, but there is a reluctance to face up to the current depth of feeling against it. If Margaret Thatcher’s class war created an enduring and single-minded hatred towards her from her victims, New Labour has become the focus of an eclectic range of hatreds that emanate from across significant sections of society.

Time will tell how enduring these are, but some honesty and good politics will help dispel them.

We know Labour has no political economy for rebuilding the post-crisis economy. The discrediting of neoclassical economics has left a great hole in policy-making. Cameron has been allowed to steal Labour's traditional values of mutualism, association and relationships for his Big Society – or at least to clothe himself in their language. The truth is that Labour in power stopped building relationships with people and it stopped building a politics of dialogue and mutual respect.

Both Anthony Painter and Stuart White address the issue of reciprocity as a foundational ethic for Labour politics.

The e-book offers a start to a deeper and broader debate that the format of the leadership contest has not enabled. The process of change is only just beginning and it is for the longer term, in or out of office.

As David Lammy writes, 'We must revitalise our party, recognising the limitations of the political methods of the last fifteen years.'

The contributors are Philip Collins, Sally Davison, Jeremy Gilbert, Stuart Hall, David Lammy, Neal Lawson, Doreen Massey, Anthony Painter, James Purnell, Michael Rustin, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears, Allegra Stratton, Heather Wakefield and Stuart White. You can download the e-book here.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The fragile unity of the Liberal Democrats

What revelations there were in Nick Robinson's Five Days That Changed Britain mostly coloured in what was known back in May.

Cameron's self-acquittal from the charge of telling his backbenchers something false was simply being "quite sure in my own mind" that the falsehood was true at the time. Clegg acquitted himself of directly misleading Cameron, while tacitly acknowledging that indirectly misleading the Tories on this point was a deliberate LibDem negotiating strategy.

Clearly, all's fair in love, war and coalition negotiations. So it must be acknowledged that the LibDems played a blinder in the poker game of bluff and counter-bluff. Much credit for the 'psy ops' choreography of the sense of hope and despair among rival bidders with their dramatic switches from Tory to Labour and back again must surely go to Captain Ashdown of the secret service. But this was never just, nor even mainly, about bartering up the price. As Ashdown made clear, trying and failing with Labour was absolutely indispensable to constructing a narrative which could deliver a united LibDem party for a Tory deal. (Ashdown's Today programme intervention on the Monday morning was a masterclass in the political dark arts, laying a false trail in the interests of party unity).

For all of the efforts of Andrew Adonis and Alastair Campbell, Labour had something of a shocker. Peter Mandelson made several wry observations as a shrewd political onlooker. As the second most powerful figure in the government, he must surely share with Gordon Brown the responsibility for the apparent absence of serious Labour preparation for a Hung Parliament. Ed Balls claimed he didn't even know who would be in the room on the Labour side for the first meeting: was a government ever to result from what Sam in the West Wing might have called a "pick-up meeting"? (It was hardly difficult to work out what offer to make for the LibDems: I sketched the contours publicly back in January 2009 for the New Statesman). Was the lack of any serious preparation for what was always Labour's best hope from the election the clearest sign yet of excessive Labour defeatism in the final six months?

Mandelson's final insight - that partnership, alliance and coalition may be the future of British, and hence Labour politics - is correct. The events of May 2010, even of the outcome was unlikely to be different, demonstrate several ways in which Labour's ethos, culture and structures are ill-equipped for this. And the outcome of a Tory-LibDem coalition may present significant psychological barriers to serious attempts to change this.


The Celebrity Masterchef-style of the documentary's voiceover focus on the principals meant the documentary underplayed the real politics of what made the Coalition possible. Robinson stressed how much the Clegg-Cameron personal chemistry mattered. This did underpin the LibDem leader's belief that the electoral arithmetic made a deal with the Tories much the better outcome. But that happy chemistry could be decisive only if the leader could persuade other LibDems more sceptical about the Cameron charm offensive - his shadow Cabinet, MPs and Federal Executive during those five days, and the broader party at the special conference after the deal was struck - that this was the right deal for the LibDems.

Clegg's impressive political achievement in May was to keep his party united while making his centre-right alliance. It may still matter, perhaps in the Autumn of 2011 or the Spring of 2012, that the LibDem leader placed enormous emphasis on persuasion and party management - mandated to do so by his party's democratic culture and structures - while Cameron's more perfunctory efforts have left a significant legacy of mistrust. It was not just that Clegg ensured all hands were dipped in the blood. Many LibDems signed up for the Coalition with a song in their heart, or at least with considerably less anxiety than seemed probable.

Yet what could also be seen in Robinson's documentary were the contours of several clear fault-lines which could one day divide Clegg from his still united and pro-Coalition party.

Firstly, it was brave for Clegg to own up to his other deception: making a pitch to the electorate on the central issue of the election which he did not any longer believe. It seems an unnecessary risk for Clegg to make up and energetically promote a story about the Governor of the Bank of England's powers of persuasion - an account which Mervyn King says he does not recognise - and then to find a prime-time moment to say it was never true, just ten weeks later.

But there is no mystery about why Clegg stayed stum. Whatever he and David Laws had concluded about the deficit, he would not have carried his party, nor kept his Shadow Chancellor and primary electoral asset, had he announced a conversion to Osbornomics in March or April rather than June.

His LibDem colleagues have signed up to the Budget but for Clegg, this is now a matter of conviction too. As Steve Richards wrote after the Budget,

Senior Liberal Democrats speak to me of the party's "deferred anger" over the coalition's extreme approach to public spending cuts. They suggest anger is delayed until the referendum. But those who assume that Clegg will walk out afterwards misunderstand his view of the coalition and its economic policies. Clegg is in a similar position in relation to his party as Tony Blair was over Iraq. Blair used to go around telling his colleagues: "It's worse than you think. I believe in the policy." Clegg is known to have told friends after George Osborne's Budget: "The good news is I'm not a patsy. The bad news is I believe in the Budget."

If Clegg's a believer - perhaps to a Monkees soundtrack ... he couldn't leave her if he tried ... - this is a contested, and probably a minority, LibDem view. That Vince Cable was influential in recommending the Coalition as a "head over heart" choice to MPs is not news. But he was candid in admitting he gave serious consideration as to whether to personally play a role in it. Cable will defend the Coalition and the Budget too, but as the grown-up political compromise as coalition give and take, without having to claim a Damascene conversion when the Tories prevail.

Secondly, it was quite clear that Clegg had never bought into the "head versus heart" line of the natural Lib-Lab alliance anyway. Labour had many good links to Paddy, Ming, Charlie, Vince and Danny Alexander - but had to go through more formal channels to the LibDem leader himself. That is partly ideological, for the Clegg-Laws group which is instinctively economically and socially liberal. And perhaps there is also a generational shift here. Ming Campbell's sceptical detachment about the Cameron-Clegg alignment - "they are not quite two peas in a pod but they are very similar" - reflected the primarily anti-Tory commitments shared by Cable and represented in the wider party by Charles Kennedy, which are not shared by a more equidistant generation of LibDems. (And this may particularly be true of a later generation whose formative political experiences come after 1997, shaped by their response not to Thatcher but to Blair, at whom the "Labservative" campaign strategy was pitched).

It is enormously premature to claim that May 2010 realigned British politics permanently, but it would be mistaken to anticipate any easy return to Lib-Labbery being the "default" option in future. Labour pluralists like John Denham note that the Coalition's agenda means future cooperation would require significant LibDem changes; equally, social liberals are right to suggest it would take a rather different Labour party too.

Thirdly, rather more immediately, there is a bubbling under but fundamental tension about what this Coalition is for. Clegg and Cameron prefer to present it to the public as a genuinely shared undertaking, in which they have found a common philosophy to the questions of the age. This allows both to present themselves as conviction politicians, not eternal hagglers in the Coalition bazaar.

The price paid for that is an existential danger to Nick Clegg's party. If there really is a common Liberal Conservative project, why is there any need for two separate parties to carry it out? (Clegg might also be tempted by a pragmatic "save our seats" case for Coalition electoral alliances too - which would be the way to sell it to the LibDem backbenchers - but the wider party will be aware that this involves the public presentation, including by the Tories, of an alliance of conviction).

So if the LibDems remain mostly united behind the Coalition, they also mean different things by it. The mainstream of party opinion remains in favour of the Coalition as the contingent best choice in May 2010, and as having delivered compromises worth making since, not as the happy discovery of a new permanent political realignment. Cable may represent the LibDem centre of gravity on both economics and politics. By stepping out of the deputy leadership to allow Simon Hughes a platform, he ensured the tension would remain visible, without requiring constant Cable-led Cabinet level rebellion to prevent the party being entirely submerged.

Captain Ashdown, putting party unity first, will need to keep a foot in all camps. If Coalition were to be the future of British politics, those black arts will be needed again another day. Perhaps in a different cause.

Bill sets elephant trap for the Yes to AV campaign

A letter in the Guardian, co-signed with Will Straw of Left Foot Forward.


The problem of a headline "Labour to oppose vote reform bill" (28 July) is that it risks implying that Labour is ditching its manifesto support for a referendum on the electoral system, and that this is all that the coalition's parliamentary voting system and constituencies bill is about.

Yet Labour's amendment reaffirms its support for an AV referendum, while opposing the flawed proposals to rush through new boundaries by ditching the current non-partisan system.

A bill combining these different issues makes no sense, except as a backroom deal between the two governing parties.

The deal makes sense for those who want the boundaries to go through and the referendum to fail, but it is an elephant trap for the Lib Dems who want to win the referendum. The effect is to destabilise pro-electoral reform Labour forces, when there is no chance of winning a yes vote without mobilising Labour voters.

If Nick Clegg were to propose two separate bills, parliament could consider the merits of the separate issues. Labour would have to support a referendum bill, and the coalition could whip through its re-districting plans.

Sunder Katwala

General secretary, Fabian Society

Will Straw

Editor, Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 29 July 2010

David Miliband leads - but race looks too close to call

The first piece of decent information about the views of those who will vote in the Labour leadership contest comes in a YouGov poll of party members and trade unionists for The Sun.

David Miliband is confirmed as the frontrunner - the poll suggests he would win the election if it was held tomorrow - but the details of the poll also suggest that the race is likely to go to the wire, with the Miliband brothers some distance ahead of their rivals.

YouGov has David Miliband leading on the first round of the electoral college, projecting the following totals.

David Miliband - 37
Ed Miliband - 32
Diane Abbott - 12
Andy Burnham - 11
Ed Balls 11

That is based on a 38-32 lead among party members on first preferences, and a 34-26 lead among trade unionists.

And that would take him to victory an electoral college run-off with his brother 55-45, though this depends not just on the polling but on the assumption that neither brother will have an edge among Parliamentary second preferences.

But the piece of information which the David Miliband team will emphasise and emphasise is that Labour voters think he is the potential leader most likely to win, with 52% of party members thinking that with his brother on 24%.

That is the key area on which Ed Miliband (or other candidates) must make a convincing counter-argument for their own merits over the next few weeks, or David Miliband's team should be able to go on to win, if they can use the poll to successfully continue to frame the race as a "head versus heart" choice.

Ed Miliband's task will be to give an account of a winning electoral strategy which demonstrates he would be a convincing "head and heart" option. That could be the crucial campaign battle, since other aspects of the poll show that Ed Miliband could be particularly well placed to pick up ground, perhaps particularly on second preferences. Party members see him as closer to sharing their political views.

One interesting detail is that Andy Burnham is perceived by party members as at least as left-wing as Ed Balls and Ed Miliband - indeed 24% think he is very or fairly left-wing, compared to 21 for Ed Miliband and 20% for Ed Balls (with David Miliband on 9% and Diane Abbott on 68%). 61% place Burnham as somewhere from slightly left-of-centre to left-wing with Ed Balls on 60% and Ed Miliband on 64%. (Diane Abbott is on 81% and David Miliband on 42%)

Those three candidates have very similar perceived centre-left positions among party members, 53% of whom place themselves as very or fairly left, and a total of 85% as somewhere from slightly left-of-centre to left.

The other piece of good news for David Miliband is that he is currently in first place among trade unionists polled, which is potentially the trickiest section of the electoral college. I am not sure of whether it has been possible to check those polled do have votes. The lead, which is much smaller than in polls of Labour voters generally, may partly reflect name recognition at this stage.

So David Miliband is the front-runner - but nobody would confidently call this election on the basis of tonight's poll.


How much could opinions change as the campaign reaches its final stages?

Quite a lot, if a YouGov poll of party members two months before the deputy leadership contest in 2007 is any guide. The poll fieldwork concluded on 28th April, with the results announceed on 24th June, and the first preference voting then was:

Hilary Benn - 36%
Alan Johnson - 19%
Peter Hain - 15%
Harriet Harman - 13%
Jon Cruddas - 10%
Hazel Blears - 9%

Harman, fourth and 23 points behind Benn with members at that stage, ended up the winner. Cruddas (fifth) topped the electoral college on the first round. Hilary Benn finished 4th.

The member preferences on the first ballot in the voting itself were Harman 24%, Benn 21%, Cruddas 17%, Johnson 17%, Hain 12%, Blears 9%.

Tune in for election night 1910 this Saturday

The story of the 1910 General Elections Peers against the People and the dramatic is the subject of Carolyn Quinn's documentary, broadcast this Saturday night at 8.30pm on the BBC Parliament channel.

If you stay tuned at 8.30pm, you could watch me trying to do my best AJP Taylor impression, giving a TV lecture 'Political Lessons from 1910' which goes out at 8.30pm after the documentary.

As regular readers of Next Left (and Our Kingdom) might recall, it is the dramatic story of the fight for and against democracy and, curiously, of a very Lib-Lab political triumph for reform over the forces of conservatism and reaction.

Happy times!

Growing support for the two bill solution on AV

There is growing support across a wide range of strands of political opinion for the Coalition to propose two separate Bills, so that Parliament could consider the merits of the separate issues in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. The Bill combines a referendum on the Alternative Vote with politically contested plans for a new system for redrawing boundaries.

Even if the single Bill passes, reformers are increasingly fearful that a long-running row will make it much more difficult to campaign successfully for a Yes vote in a referendum.

The Guardian editorial, which is critical of Labour's stance and supportive of the LibDems.

The bill as it stands is a trade-off within the coalition. Each of the partners has to stomach something it dislikes, in order to get the reform it wants. If one part falls, everything collapses. In Labour's eyes, the boundary changes are so odious that they outweigh any possible benefit from AV. It would have been better, and perhaps is still not too late, to separate the bill into two pieces of legislation.

David Blackburn on The Spectator Coffee House, while sympathising with some of the Tory rebel points.

Cameron has an easy option: split the opposition by re-writing the bill. Detach the boundaries changes clauses from the AV bill, and then re-introduce them in a separate bill.

Will Straw at Left Foot Forward who strongly backs electoral reform while offering a detailed critique of the boundary reforms:

This is a good idea as it would mean that Labour MPs could heartily support the AV bill while continuing a principled opposition to the proposed boundary changes. Reformers should encourage the Coalition to do just that.

I see no coherent reason not to do this - and it seems essential that those in the Coalition who want the referendum to pass rethink and get behind this.

The main counter-argument is that the Coalition partners have bound these different measures together in a form of survival pact, because they feared in May that they would not pass alone, since neither partner really wants one half of the Bill.

As The Guardian notes, that is low politics. But there is very little point in low politics if you get the Macchiavellan calculations wrong.

Yet the fear the Bills could not pass separately is simply wrong. After all, the low politics of a Coalition survival pact remain the same whether there is one Bill or two Once the Tories and LibDems have agreed the compromise, two Bills would be the same deal in terms of the Coalition manouvering and survival pact anyway, but without the risk that they've been too clever by half in messing the manouvering up. (The argument "We can't because we said we'd do it like this" is tautologous. If its the brilliant plan you thought it was, carry on and you'll be fine. If they do so, presumably its because the Coalition still has the votes for their backroom deal, knows the Tory backbenches are bluffing and can be faced down. In which case, ministers might as well quit the whingeing entitlement culture which bizarrely assumes that the Opposition must support any political deal the Coalition partners make).

Firstly, there would be no risk whatsoever to the AV referendum. The Labour party has to back it - as its own amendment makes clear. The Tory frontbench has to back it. Splitting the Bill gets a majority of 200 for something the Coalition feels it might risk losing now. So there is a big advantage there.

Secondly, it is very difficult to see any serious risk (regrettably) to the constituencies and boundaries process. The Coalition has a majority of 80. All that is needed is a clear pledge from the LibDems that their whips can control their MPs as part of a two Bill deal. But it would be a matter of confidence for the Coalition, and it would be an act of enormous bad faith - and very dangerous to their own interests - for Nick Clegg's party to collapse it right now. So they would troop through the lobbies for the boundary bill.

Two Bills would be carried.(The Coalition will probably have to persuade the House of Lords they are taking voter registration seriously. Surely these reforming democrats can do that? And they will have to do that for one Bill anyway).

The only difference is presentational for the LibDems: they would now have to vote for the boundary measures on their merits - but that has to be their public argument now anyway - and they could still privately tell their activists they were supping with a long spoon to get their referendum.

Would the Coalition lose face? But they have shown a willingness to back down - new politics? - having been pretty ill-informed about rape anonymity, for example. Perhaps more pertinently, the 55% rule was a behind closed doors stitch-up on which the existence of the Coalition was said to depend. The charge of a partisan motivation was said to be a slur - though negotiators freely admitted it in public. LibDems accused constructive critics of making partisan points which were not constructive - yet the Coalition u-turn then did exactly what sites like Left Foot Forward had constructively proposed.

Simon Hughes cited Parliamentary time on Newsnight. That should be turned on its head.

For there is a further major benefit to the two Bill solution - one of democratic scrutiny. It is very strange that this New Politics government would introduce major constitutional changes and cut out pre-legislative and committee scrutiny wherever possible. The Bills could both kick-off together and remain linked. But the proposed lack of scrutiny of the boundaries proposals can be avoided, while still completing its passage before the May referendum itself.


The other reason to avoid splitting the Bill is a Macchiavellian stitch-up by their Coalition partners. Excited commentariat talk about electoral pacts and mergers is good for a Tory centrist image. But it is entirely bad for the LibDems: the political Cabinet acknowledged they need help to promote a distinctive identity, yet Downing Street keeps on briefing the love-in which threatens it.

But all of the talk is clearly empty while they still intend to oppose AV.

Are the Conservatives playing the LibDems? They would be doing exactly this if they wanted to strangle at birth the prospects of a Yes vote in a referendum, with the bonus of helping the LibDems blame a Labour party ready to support AV (in two Bills, and in the country too) rather than a Tory party which will oppose it.

David Cameron will grant Nick Clegg a referendum - but refusing to split the Bill is simply to deny him any fair shot at winning it, for this may prove a decisive moment in influencing the referendum campaign and outcome many months from now, as Steve Richards (another commentator who wants Labour to remain committed to AV) notes in The Independent:

One of the country's most respected pollsters tells me he predicts the referendum will be lost by quite a wide margin. He suggests that the only way a big "No" victory could be prevented is if the next Labour leader threw his full force behind the campaign for AV.

That is a tough point for Simon Hughes. He might be vociferous in supporting the Coalition strategy and attacking Labour - but how is that going to do anything to deliver a referendum Yes, which many Labour people still want? Raising the temperature of the Lib-Lab argument may play well to both party galleries but they are very bad for the Yes campaign we need.

But they will certainly be chuckling in the Boot and Flogger.

New politics? Listening government? Split the Bill!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Balls camp is battling Blairites and Bennites

Mehdi Hasan writes in tomorrow's New Statesman about "operation target Ed Miliband", reflecting an increasing focus by rival campaigns on the "insurgent" campaign which increasingly seems to have acquired something close to the status of co-favourite with frontrunner David Miliband.

The piece is based in part on speaking to "sources close to Ed Balls" who, whoever they may be, seem to be raising the stakes.

The piece reports that Balls has told friends he has been squeezed between "“Tony Blair on my right and Tony Benn on my left” - and he didn't mean Diane Abbott.

(We'll add a link when the piece goes online at the NS).

Hasan writes:

Publicly, the Balls campaign is sticking to an “It’s all still to play for” line. Allies of the shadow education secretary have reminded me of the 2007 deputy leadership election. Then, Peter Hain raised the most money and yet came fifth in the first round; Hilary Benn obtained the most CLP nominations but came fourth; Alan Johnson had the most support from MPs but came third. In the end, Harriet Harman, without the endorsement of a single major union, defeated both Johnson and Jon Cruddas, who had the support of Unite.

However, privately, Balls has conceded that he cannot win. Friends say the decisions to endorse Ed Miliband by Unison and, in particular, by Unite (despite the best behind-the-scenes efforts of his friend and fixer Charlie Whelan) have shaken him.

Will he pull out? His closest supporters are adamant that he won’t, but the shadow education secretary has told friends that he feels boxed in by “Tony Blair on my right and Tony Benn on my left”.

Balls is not the only Labour MP to have tagged Ed Miliband as a Bennite. When I mentioned the accusation to Ed Miliband himself, he merely sighed. “I think the public are much more sophisticated than that,” he told me, and: “The idea that campaigning for a living wage or a high pay commission makes you a Bennite is ridiculous.”

Luke Akehurst has provided a good pre-buttal of the idea of Ed Milband being a Trot. And as a somewhat ferocious Trot-basher, Akehurst can claim to know one when he sees one, and moderate social democracy of a type shared by most of the leadership candidates isn't it.

Perhaps all of the candidates have faced caricatures of this kind, though Hasan suggests it is a tactic more likely to backfire than succeed.


For more incisive interrogations of the potential weaknesses of the different candidates, head over to Hopi Sen's blog, where the former Labour staffer and top blogger has decided to make sure he does not get sucked back into the party machine by blogging on 'The Case Against' each of the five candidates.

Sen has begun with both Milibandwagons - try the case against Ed Miliband and the case against David Miliband for starters.

The series is a great blogging idea - and the execution shows it is possible to have serious and critical scrutiny of would-be leaders without descending into caricature.

Election '45: the PLP gathers

More extracts from Austin Mitchell's Election '45, the book published by the Fabian Society in 1995 to collect memories of the most celebrated election in British political history.

On Monday, we marked the 65th anniversary of the count and declarations, including Tony Benn's account of why Attlee was one of the last people to find out he would be Prime Minister. It was another two days before the PLP met for the first time at Beaver Hall in London on 28th July, 65 years ago today. Labour had gained 209 seats to make the PLP 393-strong. When they then also assembled in the Commons on 1st August, John Parker's wife Zena said of the new intake "it looks like an enormous Fabian school".


"I got to Paddington and stood waiting for a taxi to go to the Beaver Hall. One came along and I jumped in it and said 'Beaver Hall'. I probably told him I was a new Labour member of Parliament and we were going to elect our leader. When we got to the Beaver Hall, he wouldn't take my fare. That was the great mood of the moment. It was a mood of such hope and such aspiration and of something unfulfilled. At the meeting I was so ignorant that I didn't understand the undertones and I didn't realise at all there had been this attempted coup against Attlee that was staged by Morrison and others. To me they were all sitting on the platform, a band of brothers united in victory. So I am afraid the possible tensions of the occasion passed over my head. I was just there as one of the rank and file to sit and join in the applause. It went over rather quickly. I don't remember it as a long meeting at all. We elected Clem".
- Lieutenant James Callaghan, Labour MP, Cardiff South.

"In Beaver Hall, members met from everywhere in England. Overwhelming excitement, we all cheered at any excuse. When Attlee arrived and walked on to the platform with Dalton and Bevin, to everyone's amazement he had changed Dalton from being Foreign Minister to Bevin being Foreign Minister overnight".
- John Platts-Mills, Labour MP, Finsbury.

"We had a meeting at Beaver Hall and on the way down to the meeting I ran into Ellen Wilkinson, who said, "You won then". I said "yes". So she said "what seat was that?" I said "Chislehurst". She said, "my God, the revolution has arrived". The meeting was electric, because one of the questions that we put was when were we going to get an increase of salary, because a lot of us were out of the forces with no pay. On polling day, I had a letter stating 'If you are elected, you may remain in civvy street for the time being. If unelected, you are to report at your headquarters by 23.00 hours on the same day.

The reaction was very sympathetic. The Chancellor said they were considering it, and eventually we got a thousand but a lot of us who were in the forces were released, and lost the bounty that was paid to other forces. So we saw the Minister of Defence and he said I can't help you, I'm in the same boat. We could just about manage on a thousand".
- Sergeant George Wallace Labour MP, Chislehurst.

"I was very innocent - I didn't know people like Herbert Morrison and company would stand against each other. All the leaders of the Labour Party were more or less saint-like. When we got to Beaver Hall, everybody thought it was awful plain sailing. There was some sort of vague movement going on n the background - Morrison wanted a vote but that was pretty quickly squashed by Bevin, who wouldn't have any nonsense. He disliked Morrison more than anybody in the world, I think. I rather liked Morrison, he had this wonderful quiff of hair. He complained to me once about why he didn't get the leadership before the war. He said it was all the Freemasons who got together against him because he was out for a bit and Attlee took over as leader and the Freemasons ganged up against him"
- Major Woodrow Wyatt, Labour MP, Birmingham Aston.

* This Election '45 series will conclude with the King's Speech and debate, August 15th-16th.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Labour should support AV while opposing this Bill

I want to see the electoral system changed - and look forward to campaigning for the Alternative Vote at a referendum soon, even if the date seems very much subject to confirmation.

But, beyond AV, I think the government's bill is badly flawed. Labour reformers must advocate that Labour oppose the Bill in a constructive way. I would be interested what other pro-reform voices think the best approach to the conundrum of this hybrid legislative proposal should be, as I am personally still thinking through what it would mean.

I have no problem with broadly equalised constituency sizes, though size does not explain much of the current electoral bias. But the reduction of the size of the Commons is a poor move for which no decent reason is given. I strongly believe that Lynne Featherstone should be pushing to have the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on its impact on gender and race equality: reducing the House of Commons will almost certainly slow down even recent gradual progress on gender equality, making a mockery of the commitment of every party leader to speed it up. This was not a minor commitment of Cameron or Clegg, and it is not good enough to claim it is an unintended consequence when it is so evidently foreseeable. This impact has had much less attention that it merits.

I am not convinced by the changes to processes of inquiry, even if the status quo is far from perfect, particularly when they are being pursued as a matter of partisan controversy, at odds with British political tradition. And the Coalition should take seriously the issue of voter under-registration before it redraws the political map to write out 3 million potential voters.

In particular, I certainly think Labour should be willing to support and vote for an Alternative Vote referendum on its merits and as a stand-alone measure while opposing or amending the redistricting approach. And I particularly think that we need to do this if Labour is to oppose the Bill on second and final reading.

It would in my view be appropriate for Labour to back AV, while both opposing and offering reasoned amendments on the redistricting proposals, and to oppose the Bill on final reading if these do not succeed. The government ought to be able to carry its hybrid package with LibDem and Tory votes: it has a majority of 78, and I expect it would be carried since it is essentially a matter of Coalition confidence. (I think that will also require a willingness to listen to reasoned and reasonable amendments - particularly in the House of Lords - and that Labour ought to contribute to this)
If it can not carry the Bill, I personally think it would prove possible to secure an alternative Commons majority for the AV referendum to which Labour was committed in its manifesto, and that Labour should propose this..

So Labour should support and oppose aspects of the Coalition's reform on their merits. The Prescottian argument that everything should be opposed strikes me as short-sighted, though it will find some audience. But there is a perfectly valid principled argument for, on the final vote, opposing the package if there are not very significant changes. It is difficult to see why Labour MPs should vote for measures they oppose.

I also think that it would be a strategic and tactical mistake for those of us who think it is important for the party to continue its support for AV, and want to mount a case for campaigning as a party in the referendum, not sitting on a fence, to make support of this Bill the occasion on which Labour has the argument about that.

I am a bit bemused by how strongly Nick Clegg has been playing to the Tory gallery in his attacks on Labour - including specifically over constitutional and electoral reform. The Tory backbenches will be trying to make sure that reform does not pass, while the ability of a Yes campaign to win may well find that the ability to mobilise Labour voters in favour proves decisive. Clegg's current approach is making the job of those in the Labour Party who want the referendum to succeed much more difficult.

I would have thought Clegg must know that, though he gave every impression to the contrary when taking Commons questions on the issue. But I hope that other LibDem frontbenchers, backbenchers and activists can will be thinking about opening an important dialogue how we can try to make sure that members of rival parties can successfully cooperate on this issue.

Civic, non-party campaigners will have a particular role in helping to ensure that engagement does occur in a constructive way.

A gold rush to unite us all

The Olympics are coming! The Olympics are coming!

With exactly two years to go, Britain got off to a great start with Gold for Mo Farah and Silver for Mark Thompson in the first major track final of the European Championships in Barcelona.

If the heart of the British track tradition is the great sporting rivalry of Coe v Ovett, it was great to see the strength of the sporting friendship between these world class competitors in a post-race interview which for once seemed to avoid futile cliches.

It may not quite be the appropriate monent, but we'd have to find a little bit of politics to get them onto the blog.

With those Union Jacks fluttering for Mo Farah and his "splendid Gold for Britain" (as the Daily Mail rightly notes), it seems we can all celebrate his achievement 17 years after the Somali immigrant arrived in Britain as a 10-year old.

No doubt Rod Liddle was cheering too. (Despite an unfortunate tendency to make sweeping generalisations - "Incidentally, many Somalis have come to Britain as immigrants recently, where they are widely admired for their strong work ethic, respect for the law and keen, piercing, intelligence" - Liddle will surely welcome the counter-example).

Britain has consistently done much better at the Olympics under centre-left governments - in 1908, 1948 and 2008!

With the Coalition in power, the British Olympic Association must know their political history, as they are talking down our 2012 prospects from a 4th placed finish to the top 6. If they don't cut the funding too much, perhaps they could still do better.

Curiously, the pattern holds good for most great British sporting moments, as I set out in a Comment is Free piece after the 2008 Games.

Wilson previously liked to remark that England had won the football World Cup in 1966 under Labour. Though the Conservatives governed Britain for most of the last century, the greatest British achievements in international sport have consistently taken place under centre-left governments. That is true of the Rugby World Cup of 2003 and the pioneering football European Cup victories of Celtic and Manchester United in 1967 and 1968. Now Beijing 2008 joins British success in the London Olympics of 1908 and 1948. (The landmark historic sporting achievements I can think of under Tory rule are Botham's Ashes of 1981, which was matched by the 2005 victory, and Roger Bannister's four-minute mile in 1954).

Chuka's Burkean stance

I have conducted an analysis of the CLP nominations, published over at Left Foot Forward. The evidence-based progressive blog has firmly established itself as an essential guide to inside number-crunching of every element of the electoral college.

It particularly shows how influential MP nominations have proved in influencing CLP nominations. I noted that:

The most important example of a switcher CLP was David Miliband’s victory in the Bassetlaw primary, because it also converted John Mann MP’s own vote. None of the other CLP nominations carry any weight in the electoral college. The scale of participation made it unlikely that the MPs preference would prove decisive, as was most often the case elsewhere.

This did generate a comment from Joanne Milligan claiming that .. "I’m led to believe that Chuka Umunna and Kate Hoey have said they will cast their MP vote for the candidate who won their CLPs supporting nomination".

That seemed worth checking out. But I now have it on very good authority that the rumour is false. Chuka is supporting Ed Miliband for the leadership, having nominated him for the role.

A Streatham party member here on the office research team confirms that Ummuna did not make any such promise, but simply consulted members before his own nomination.

It may be that our MPs for Bassetlaw and Streatham take different views of Edmund Burke's famous speech to the electors of Bristol of 1774. Perhaps this might inform their contributions to future debates about party democracy.

John Mann's initiative was a creative and novel one. It also enfranchised party supporters in Bassetlaw who will not have a vote in the contest, asking them to influence (and indeed determine) their MPs vote.

The Streatham CLP decided its nomination in a traditional way. It seems to me that Umunna's position is a pluralist one. Presumably, the point of Labour's electoral college is that the views of MPs, members and affiliates are all taken into account. If CLPs mandate their MPs, it rather defeats the purpose of the electoral system we use.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Did Nick Clegg betray 2.7 million voters?

The headline from Newsnight's polling on the Coalition shows that 40% of Liberal Democrat voters say they would not have voted LibDem if they had known Nick Clegg would form a Coalition with the Conservatives.

58% say they would still have voted LibDem. By contrast, 86% of Tory voters are happy with how they voted after the Coalition.

Those are very similar numbers to the approval ratings for the Coalition, on which Peter Kellner commented last week. The official LibDem line is that this is a communications problem, because voters have not realised how influential they have been. The alternative account would be that it is about substance, not PR, and that the budget helps to explain why Tory voters are so much happier with the government than Liberal Democrats.

So what happens if you translate the poll into a proportion of 6,836,824 LibDem voters on May 6th?

That's 2,734,730 people who voted LibDem who feel betrayed enough by Nick Clegg's coalition choice to withdraw their support from the party.

While 3,965,358 LibDem voters still agree with Nick.

Election '45 ... the results come in

Today is the 65th anniversary of the day in July 1945 on which the General Election results were announced. These extracts are from Election '45: Reflections on the Revolution in Britain, edited by Austin Mitchell. In the book, published by the Fabian Society in 1995, the story of the 1945 election is told by those who took part: from MPs of all three parties, candidates and Fabians around the country with their memories of the campaign and the result.


Polling on 5 July ushered in a three-week lull ... Only in nineteen constituencies did the fight go on. There the election had been postponed because of Wakes Week ... Meanwhile the Forces' vote came in - 986,784 by proxy, 1,032,688 by postal ballots. Parties and candidates waited for counts and declarations on 26 July. Most assumed this would confirm Churchill in power.

"We had worked hard on 5 July, but did not celebrate beyond saying 'Thank God that's over'. In the early evening of 25 July, the ward agent called and invited me to a victory celebration at a nearby union and a club. I wondered how we could celebrate the night before the count. It seems that on 25 July in Stratford, and I assume elsewhere, the ballot boxes were taken to the town hall and the ballot papers counted to reconcile the number with the number issued. Thus anyone present could see which way things were going. I have always wondered why the result next day apparently took Churchill and the press by surprise. Surely impressions as to how various constituencies had voted were fed back to party HQ".
- Arthur Edwards

"It was a morning count three weeks later, to let the service vote come in. That did produce less tension than a late-night count. A long time to keep up tension. I don't think I went into that count thinking I was going to win and therefore I don't remember a great shock of ebbing hope. The result wasn't overwhelming. It was probably one of the smallest Tory majorities there has ever been in Solihull. But then of course the national result came out gradually over that afternoon and that was sensational. That was superb. Tremendous sense of exhiliration, I suppose on my part tinged with just the smallest hue of disappointment. Four hundred Labour MPs had been elected. I hadn't managed to be one of them. None the less, at twenty-four, you couldn't expect too much. But it left me very determined to get into the House of Commons as soon as I could. It took me a while after that, another two years and ten months. But that wasn't so bad".
- Captain Roy Jenkins, Labour, Solihull, defeated by 5049.

"I was carried literally shoulder high from the city hall almost before the speeches had been concluded, my supporters were so enthusiastic. There were men and women in their with tears in their eyes. It was so unexpected. I don't think we had really imagined a victory of that sort. It was the consummation of so many hopes and aspirations over such a long period and here we seemed to be on the point of achieving it all. I recall going into the local hotel at lunchtime, 12.55pm, and the 1 o'clock news came on, and sitting in the corner unknown and isolated because he didn't belong to Cardiff and nobody knew him was the Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg, who had been elected in a by-election for Cardiff East against Fenner Brockway in about 1942 or so. As the news came in on the 1 o'clock bulletin it seemed inconceivable to hear these impregnable names of Tory ministers toppling one after another, cut down like trees in the forest as they crashed to the ground. When the name of Sir James Grigg came over the air, as they read out this list of names, there was a group of young army officers sitting in the other corner. They didn't know Grigg. They didn't know he was there, and instinctively shouted with a loud 'Hoorah!' and there was the poor man, literally without anybody with him because his campaign people had all gone".
- Lieutenant James Callaghan (Labour, Cardiff South, majority 5944)


All morning on 26 July, BBC bulletins carried the news of the fall of ministers and Labour's toll of seats mounted. By the lunchtime news it was clear a great victory was in the offing and the final figures showed that Labour had made 209 net gains to win 393 seats on 11,992,000 votes. The Conservatives were reduced to 189 seats and 8,666,000 votes. The Liberals were a rump of twelve MPs, fewer than ever before and fewer than the independents. Labour had a majority of 146 over all other parties, more than enough to build the New Britain. All the world over, supporters rejoiced.

"I spent 26 July on a flight across the Atlantic. The pilot passed round a message - 'First results show Churchill relected'. Was this a garble for 'rejected' or 're-elected'? The huge headlines in New York removed the doubt. Then came anxious questions from Americans about the meaning of the result, and for me a belief - alas naive - that never again would there be a Tory government in Britain".
- David Jones (London Fabian)

"When the result was declared we were on a holiday in Southport. We were walking back from the beach one lunchtime when we saw people standing in groups in the middle of the road, talking excitedly. My father rushed into the nearest newsagent's and came out with an early edition proclaiming a Labour victory. My sister and I danced a jig - my mother was in tears - and we were soon all celebrating with complete strangers. This in the middle of Lord Street - the Bond Street of the North!"
- Margaret Wright (Suffolk Fabian)

"I was at Pachmarhi, the hill station, during the hot weather as an instructor at the Army School of Education (India). The General Election at home was followed with the greatest interest by the staff. For one thing, it would probably result, if Labour won, in a different policy for India, even eventual independence. This point was of particular concern for the regular army officers who ruled the school - the commandant and chief instructor, who were colonels both - and all those who had served the British Raj for many years. They were natural Conservatives, only at home in the Indian wing of the school where the language was Urdu. They were however all at sea in our British wing for there we trained leaders for discussion groups dealing with current affairs in Britain about which they were ignorant. In our wing all the staff were Labour or Liberal supporters or sympathisers. On 26 July, the day in which the election results were announced,, there was considerable excitement in our mess. One of us had brought a blackboard from the lecture room. As the results came in from Delhi Radio, he was busy, jumping up and down during dinner, writing them up on the board while we cheered every victory and the mess servants, in their immaculate white, watched the sahibs with amusement".
- Peter Kingsford

"I was working at the gas company. A friend was one of the telephonists there and she rang through to me and said 'Dotty, Dotty, the results are coming through. It's 99 Labour, Conservative 22'. I said 'You must've got it the wrong way around'. She said 'I haven't', and the general manager just put his head around the door and said 'Oh well, we'll be nationalised in five minutes".
- Dot Voller, Brighton Fabian.


Returning from the first session of Potsdam, Churchill was stunned by first results, which he got while in his bath on 26 July. 'A blessing in disguise' said Clementine. 'At the moment, it seems quire effectively disguised', he retorted. It also surprised the Labour leadership. By nightfall Churchill had resigned and Attlee had been asked to form a government. 'Quite an exciting day', he commented.

"We got Mr Attlee to come to a Central London Fabian dance on the night the final election results came out. As I had a car and some petrol left from the allocation they gave us for the election, I and Jack Diamond drove him to his next appointment. He could not stay long at the dance. He seemed very surprised and pleased at the election result, as we all were. He kept saying he must hurry as he had a government to make that night".
- Philip Soper

"On the day of the declaration, I went to Transport House. I think we may have had an opinion poll but nobody talked about it and we never thought we would win. Who thought we would beat Churchill? He had won the war single-handed. So when I was at Transport House, at Transport Hall on the ground floor, we sat there in the dark with the results being written on smoked glass and flashed up on an epidascope, and the Tory ministers were falling like ninepins. The door opened and there, blinking from the bright sunshine, was Clem, who had just come back from Potsdam and he had been picked up at Northholt by a police car which didn't have a radio. When he arrived he didn't know what had happened and a BBC man came up to me with a microphone and said 'Would you give three cheers for the Prime Minister'. I was a bit too shy, so somebody else did. But I saw Clem at the very moment when he realised he had become Prime Minister.

That night I went to Central Hall Westminster, which was packed with Labour supporters. I was up in the gallery looking down and I saw Clem come on to the platform and he said 'I have just returned from the Palace where the King has asked me to form a government'. The whole place erupted. But what was so exciting about it was that everybody was so surging with confidence. Here we were, so utterly bankrupt, saved by the skin of our teeth by the Red Army who carried the brunt of the Nazi attack and then by the Americans who came over and provided the main forces at D-Day. And yet my generation thought we could beat Hitler, beat Mussolini, end the means test, end re-armament, build the welfare state, have the health service, and we did".
- Tony Benn.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Vote for your 10 favourite political blogs

Total Politics runs an annual "best blogs poll" - and voting for the 2010 poll closes next Saturday.

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010

The poll is being jointly promoted by Total Politics, and its publisher leading Tory blogger Iain Dale, with the awards being held in association with LabourList and LibDemVoice, and promoted by blogs across the spectrum, to try to get as broad a range of contributions as possible.

You can find last year's top 100 here. Next Left was a new entry at 32, and 6th on the top 100 Labour blogs list.

The rules are simple.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.


PS: A very public sociologist wants you to vote for the 100 worst blogs too.

And I have just spotted one change in the rules which might cause some pointless friction in the political blogosphere: "No blog will be excluded from voting".

In every previous year blogs were allowed to exclude themselves from the voting. That is good for those who oppose awards, competitions of all kinds, and like to stick up for the stereotype that lefties oppose competitive school sports, etc.

The most prominent to do so has been Liberal Conspiracy, on the implausible grounds that the poll is somehow part of a right-wing conspiracy, and perhaps more because Sunny Hundal and Iain Dale don't like to miss the chance to take potshots at each other. Indeed, the organisers took the unusual step last year of revealing where Liberal Conspiracy would have come if it had not pulled out, rather against the spirit of their own rules.

Liberal Conspiracy won't be promoting the poll or canvassing for votes, and may be actively discouraging them. As they are one of my top ten blogs, I shall vote for them anyway!

The Ed Balls dilemma

The most talked about Sunday newspaper story about the Labour leadership race will certainly be the Sunday Telegraph's report that Ed Balls is considering quitting the race, though very few people can know whether it heralds a major development, or is simply campaign gossip. (Paul Waugh rather more tentatively blogged on Friday about a Westminster rumour that Balls could drop out and back David Miliband, though suggesting it sounded ridiculous).

Putting it on a news page shows that The Sunday Telegraph has more confidence in its story than that. However, it reports no sources for its claim, which remains in essence hypothetical speculation about what might happen over the next week. We should note that the report does report a denial of its central premise, albeit not a very vigorous one.

"Mr Balls's camp was insisting he would fight on in the wake of the Unite result, which was particularly disappointing for him because his close ally, Charlie Whelan, is the union's political director".

One thing the report does reflect is that - objectively - the position of the Balls campaign looks tough, especially in terms of working out a strategy to win the leadership. Ed Balls has consistently been third favourite throughout with the bookmakers, but the biggest challenge is how to smash open and overturn the assumption that the leadership will come down to a Miliband v Miliband battle.

The main piece of hard information we have is that Balls will start well behind both Milibands in the Parliamentary third of the electoral college on the first round. Most, though not all, MPs first preferences are public. Left Foot Forward have estimated that Balls trails with 13.4% of this section behind David (38.9%) and Ed Miliband (27.9%).

A winning Balls strategy would surely need to offet that deficit by topping the affiliated section, and doing so with a commanding double digit lead over at least one and preferably both Milibands there. That becomes more difficult without any of the big three union endorsements, even if how much these will help Ed Miliband is open to debate. The logic of the Parliamentary position is that Balls did not just need to top the poll in this section, but to win big, to get into a position where there is everything to play for among party members.

We know next to nothing about party members' voting intentions in this race. But both Milibands are running a long way ahead in logging CLP nominations. At time of writing, LabourList has details of 13 CLP nominations for Balls so far.


There are a couple of more circumstantial reasons for wondering if the story is likely to develop further over the next week.

Ed Balls was on twitter some time after the story broke, simply to retweet an announcement of Telford CLP's nomination for him, while politely thanking them. One should not over-interpret a slience, but one might have anticipated an immediate vigorous challenge to the story and statements about fighting on to win, to shoot it down. (That was how the Andy Burnham camp immediately reacted to similar stories).

Former New Statesman political editor Martin Bright noted that Sunday Tel political editor Patrick Hennessy had often in the past run stories which suggested good links with Balls, the Treasury and political allies like Charlie Whelan as sources of news reports. (Martin Bright and Charlie Whelan are not close friends).

Despite the speculation, the Ed Balls leadership campaign may well continue, seeking to turn Balls' post-election performances into votes. What may frustrate the candidate and campaign is that Balls could not have run a more energetic or hyperactive campaign. In causing significant damage to Michael Gove in the Building Schools for the Future row, he has a good claim to have been more effective than any other Labour frontbench spokesman since the election. Balls' combative political persona is often regarded as both a weakness and a strength, but there is little doubt his taking on the Coalition has been popular with party members. Balls is also widely thought - including by rival candidates - to have put in strong performances in the hustings, exceeding expecations for some.

But can that be turned into votes? In a number of ways, Balls faces the risk of being most squeezed by the shape of the five-candidate race, particularly in the first round. With Balls often placed to the "left" of the four ex-ministerial candidates (though that can be contested), Diane Abbott's presence in the race could lose him some first preferences. On issues such as redistribution and inequality, Ed Miliband is appealing to a similar section of party opinion, while Andy Burnham joins Balls in stressing the non-metropolitan nature of their campaigns.

And I do think that media talk of "deals" between candidates will be overblown. Of course, were any of the five candidates were to depart the race, their endorsement would be newsworthy and high-profile, and capable of carrying some influence.

But that is a very different proposition to claiming that any of them could "deliver" their supporters to another candidate. MPs are not tradeable in this way; that is all the more true if party members and supporters for a ballot which has not begun. (Particularly doomed are alliances which appear to be primarily tactical rather than principled: John Redwood's pact with Ken Clarke to try to stop the evidently more eurosceptic candidate William Hague in 1997 being the classic, jaw-dropping and wholly unsuccessful example).

I would also be very sceptical about media speculation that Balls could support a candidate who promised to make him Shadow Chancellor, not least because any candidate may find they have more to lose than gain from anything that looks like horse-trading for jobs.

If Ed Balls does not win the leadership, his performance as Shadow Schools Secretary has shown why he should be an important asset for the Opposition frontbench, particularly in major frontline roles like education, health, home affairs or the economy. Shadow Chancellor could certainly be one of those roles.

But I am sure that Balls would be the first to acknowledge that any Labour leader would also have a formidable alternative candidate in Yvette Cooper.


UPDATE: Ed Balls blogged on Sunday lunchtime about why he is fighting on to win the leadership.

I’ve never been a front runner in this campaign, I did not have the early organisation of some other candidates and I am behind on formal CLP and union endorsements.

But the votes which count won’t be cast until September. The Labour Leadership will be decided by millions of individual members of the party, the unions and socialist societies all making their own decisions – many of whom have not yet made up their minds


From the beginning I was fearful that the Labour leadership election would be a time when our party turn inwards, talked to ourselves, and only debated competing visions, principles and personalities.

But I believe it’s vital too that we show that Labour can take the argument to the coalition on values and policy and win the argument that there is an alternative to what they are proposing.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The case for AV: Vote for whoever you want to!

The proposed question for a referendum on the Alternative Vote was published this week. I am a supporter of AV - and have set out a detailed case why earlier this year. So I want the referendum to be held and won. There is a long way to go. There will be much debate in parliament about a flawed Bill; about the potential impact of AV on both the political system and on party interests; and about how the broader politics of Coalition and austerity will affect strategy and tactics on this issue. So expect much more discussion on Next Left of the high and low politics of all of this.

But the prospect of a referendum also means it is important to think about the public arguments for and against the change. So let's kick off an occasional series about public-facing advocacy on this issue. (Offers of contributions are welcome).

To start, here is one argument for AV - Vote for whoever you want to! - which I feel deserves more attention than it gets.


If democracy means anything, its about the freedom to choose who we vote for. That's why people fought for everybody to have the Vote and for the secret ballot too.

So why should we put up with an electoral system where millions of people are told they can't vote for who they want?

"Don't waste your vote", the political parties tell us, when you just want to be able to vote for your genuine first choice.

Its because of our electoral system that almost 3 million voters say they didn't vote for their favourite candidate or party at the General Election(*).

What's democratic about that?

Here's a better Alternative.

Let's have a democracy where we can all always vote for the candidate that we think is the best, without worrying about whether you should have compromised with your vote.

Perhaps a local Independent has impressed you most on a local issue. Maybe you think the Greens or UKIP or another small party provide a voice that deserves to be heard.

Or you might want to stand up and support Labour in Cornwall, or the Tories in Glasgow, or the LibDems in a traditional Tory v Labour Midlands seat. Should you be told to put up with a democracy where it doesn't make sense to vote for what you believe in if its not a popular enough choice where you live?

Why should you be told you have to choose between voting how you want and making your vote count?

Vote Yes to change to the Alternative Vote - and all of that can change too.

Here's what the Alternative Vote means.

Everybody could vote for whoever they really want to. Every candidate could get every vote that people think they deserve.

So we'd hear no more talk about "wasted votes" - trying to tell you what you can and can't do with your vote. There would be no need for newspaper guides to "tactical voting" which often leave most people more confused than they were before.

The political parties would have to stop campaigning with dodgy bar charts trying to tell you who can and can't win - and make a positive case about why you should trust them with your vote.

Every MP would need to listen to more people because they would need to have a majority of their constituents. Our current system lets too many get to Parliament without making sure that most voters want them there.

Letting everybody vote for who they want to - and making sure every MP has to win a majority of the voters.

That's why the Alternative Vote is a better alternative.


(*) Provisional: Previous studies have shown that 10% of voters say they voted tactically in General Elections. That would be 2.5 million votes if that was the proportion in 2010. Please do let me know if you are aware of a post-election study or survey on this question. Much discussion of electoral reform - including projections of outcomes under different systems - overlooks the issue that General Election results do not give an accurate picture of the real pattern of first preferences.

Friday, 23 July 2010

David Davis suggests Cameron will offer Clegg a "coupon" election

David Davis is making trouble for the Coalition again, perhaps inadvertently. My favourite detail in the Financial Times scoop account of how the former Shadow Home Secretary came unstruck is that the "Boot and Flogger" sounds a splendid place for the Tory right to let off steam.

Mr Davis made his remarks to businessmen, including former colleagues from Tate & Lyle, during a private lunch at the Boot and Flogger wine bar in Southwark, London, on Thursday within earshot of everyone at the establishment.

A Boot and Flogger Parliamentary Club would be an ideal name for a guerrilla "Real/Continuity 1922" backbench force.

No doubt it is Davis' description of the Cameron-Clegg relationship as the "Brokeback Coalition" which will get most attention.

With Davis speaking in a private setting, there are several "political correctness gone mad" type references to women, ethnic minorities and David Laws being gay which would appear to add to the evidence that the (very welcome) Conservative shift to social liberalism can, sometimes, remain work in progress.

And Davis may get into trouble for the political sin of truth-telling when it comes to the Big Society. As the FT reports:

In comments that reflect Labour attacks on the government, Mr Davis said the “Big Society”, was just “a Blairite dressing” for the coalition’s small government agenda.

“The corollary of the big society is the smaller state. If you talk about the small state, people think you’re Attila the Hun. If you talk about the big society, people think you’re Mother Teresa,” he said.

In passing, the former Europe Minister no doubt speaks for much sceptic backbench opinion when he comments that the “proper answer for the eurozone is to expel the Deutschmark”, with perhaps an echo of the late Nicholas Ridley.

So Davis certainly gives good quote. And Big Beast does speak for much Tory opinion in his view that the Coalition is better structured to deal with the LibDems than with the Tory party. (Paul Goodman's incisive analysis of the discontent on the Tory right for the Guardian captures this well).

But so many good lines might mean that the really interesting point may be missed.

The most striking comment are not those which confirm Davis' fairly well-known private antipathy towards the Coalition but his putting on the record (apparently sympathetically, despite being a Coalition-sceptic) current Westminster discussions of how the Tories might decide to offer the LibDems a way out of opinion poll blues which both parties feel are almost certain to get rather worse.

This all remains entirely hypothetical and speculative - but the (inevitable) denials that anybody is thinking or talking about such scenarios should be taken with a pinch of salt.

This is what Davis thinks Orange Book LibDems from the Clegg wing would find an unrefusable offer to split their own party:

Mr Davis went on to suggest that it “would not hurt” the Conservatives if their coalition partners split. Most of the rightwing Lib Dem MPs held “seats that should be Tory”.

He suggested that the Tories could agree not to run against “20 or 25” such Lib Dems as part of an electoral pact. He said given their party’s weakness, this would be “an offer you can’t refuse” for a “guaranteed seat for life”.


Now LibDems this week showed a rather shaky grasp of their own history, as demonstrated by Hopi Sen, with party HQ making and defending the false claim that Clegg was the first Liberal leader to take PMQs since 1922.

Though LibDem campaigns guru and history scholar Mark Pack offered an interesting response, surely the central issue was much less about the history of Prime Minister's Questions, as about the apparent LibDem failure to recognise that Asquith was Liberal leader in 1922, albeit of a rump party on the opposition benches which was to be out of office for almost nine decades.

That was because Lloyd George had split the party through the "Coupon election" gambit which left the great radical as a prisoner of the Tories, still heading a coalition to give it a cross-party image despite having helped to give the Tories a single-party majority in the Commons in the General Election.

The Liberal Democrat History Group has a good account of the cataclysmic consequences for the party of the Lloyd George split:

Initially, Lloyd George had assured his former Liberal colleagues that the contest would in no way impair the unity of the Liberal Party. At a Downing Street meeting, following the announcement of the election, Lloyd George told sympathetic Liberals that the joint Coalition manifesto represented a perfectly clear and satisfactory exposition of Liberal policy. The Daily Chronicle hack, Harry Jones exclaimed that 'the walls of Downing Street had never heard more democratic sentiments or a speech more instinct with the spirit of true Liberalism, from the lips of any statesman'. The premier declared that he remained true to the Liberal faith in free trade and peace and indicated that a desire for revenge should not be permitted to dominate the peace settlement with Germany, which should be driven by the notion of justice

... Yet, within days he was openly attacking his former colleagues and questioning their claim to support the Coalition. His moderate Liberal tones and talk of a righteous peace were replaced by a call to 'Make Germany Pay' and the government began issuing lists of coupon candidates to help the electors determine where their loyalties should lie.

Historians have debated the motive behind this volte-face, but most agree that it reflected Lloyd George's belief that Liberalism was ultimately doomed; a belief apparent in the conversation he had with Ridell in January 1918, when he told the press magnate that 'the Liberal Party was a thing of the past that could not be resuscitated'. Trevor Wilson claims that Lloyd George was therefore keen to use the election as a means to salvage his own political future and consolidate his personal support.

Could history repeat itself?

Who knows. What is obvious is that, either before or even after the end of the Coalition, it would make a great deal of strategic political sense for the Conservatives to offer Nick Clegg and some Orange Book allies a "coupon" which would both save their skins and split their party. Of course, that would be bad for the LibDems, who would hope and expect that their leader to refuse, just as it was when their former leader made his choice 1918-22. (One obvious scenario would be for the Tories to make such an offer as a lifeline to Clegg were he ever the victim of an internal party leadership coup to end the Coalition; and the threat of such an outcome could well become an implicit important 'nuclear option' deterrent for the leader against coup whispers if things are tough in a couple of years time).

To take what Davis thinks would be an offer too good to refuse would make Clegg a modern LibDem Lloyd George or Ramsay MacDonald. So it may never happen. But it is not difficult to sketch out a potential alignment of interests which makes the possibility difficult to rule out. And what we can say is that every previous Tory-Liberal alliance has led to an attempt at some form of Parliamentary realignment of this kind.

The main problem in the summer of 2010 is that David Davis making the discussion more public now is not the sort of collegiate assistance which will do Nick Clegg or his party absolutely any favours at all.

Whether or not he loses any sleep over that, only Davis himself will know.

"I am the largest donor to the Conservative party in Yorkshire"

A major Tory donor stressed the scale of his generosity to the party since David Cameron became leader while lobbying the government to cancel an £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters.

The email from Andrew Cook, chairman of engineering firm William Cook Holdings was released under Freedom of Information request from Angela Smith MP

Clive Betts MP read Cook's email in the Commons, as The Guardian reports.

"I am the largest donor to the Conservative party in Yorkshire and have been since David Cameron was elected leader. I am delighted you are back in power, albeit in coalition."

To laughter from the Labour benches, Betts continued quoting Cook to add: "I have specialist knowledge of the situation which I would like to share with you confidentially. The loan is probably unnecessary and possibly illegal under EU rules."

Smith told the Commons that Mr Cook had donated £500,000 to the Conservative party, along with the £54,000 worth of plane flights to David Cameron (who forgot his green credentials with boasts of Tory "air superiority" in the election campaign).

The loan was cancelled three weeks later. The Coalition denies that the Tory donor's lobbying influenced its decision.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Share the news of your #CLPVote

The David Miliband campaign today stressed its belief that it retains the momentum in the Labour leadership race, after the Unison endorsement for Ed Miliband had seen several bookmakers trim the odds, reflecting the perception of a closer contest.

It felt like "Super Thursday" in the CLP nomination race. LabourList have the most up-to-date tallies, and earlier tonight were showing the David Miliband campaign (135) being pursued by Ed Miliband (117) with Andy Burnham (30), Diane Abbott (19) and Ed Balls (10), while awaiting 15 more declarations.

These nominations themselves are a mixed bag. Some CLPs are nominating on a first-past-the-post system, and others doing what the guidance to CLPs suggests and using a an alternative vote system. (Those patterns might provide some examples of how second preferences are making an impact). The size of meetings vary, and whether General Committees or all member-meetings get to vote.

Will Straw writes that Left Foot Forward is seeking help to crowd-source and make public as much information as possible about the CLP nominations.

Anybody with information about their local CLP nomination should post it in the comments section below or tweet them using the #CLPVote hashtag. We are interested in constituency name, candidate nominated, methodology (ie first-past-the-post or transferable voting), and scores in the 1st round of voting (ie before any candidates were knocked out).

The CLP nominations are unlikely to drive support, though the campaigns believe momentum matters, but they do reveal it. The (perhaps 5000+) active party members who will participate in the nominations will have different characteristics to the broader membership, notably in levels of activism, engagement and knowledge. And a sample of CLPs which is well short of a full aggregation will need a health-warning too.

But, until anybody were to conduct an independent poll of the Labour membership, it will be one of the few pieces of interesting information about how members are reacting to the contest.

How David Miliband "lurched" to the centre-left

This is the first in a series of Next Left posts seeking to look in more depth at how each of the competing leadership campaigns are seeking to secure the party leadership. We begin with David Miliband, who began the race as favourite.


"I love the Labour Party. I love it because it embodies the values I believe in: equality, cooperation and compassion". David Miliband's campaign was first out of the blocks in mailing all party members with a leaflet in which the candidate gazes out across South Shields beach inviting party members to join him in changing "the way we do politics".

Those who think the High Politics of New Labour has been rather too Alpha Male might take heart from how often the Miliband brothers have both talked about love during a contest bound to mix fraternal solidarity and sibling rivalry. But that David Miliband pitch reveals a good deal about how his campaign is trying to win this race, running as a Labour values "unity" candidate in a way which seeks to challenge perceptions of the candidate as to the Blairite right of the field, and how the candidate with most support from both MPs and party donors is trying to ensure he mobilises support from the bottom-up too.

The leaflet's timing surprised rival campaigns. Why mailshot the membership in the first half of July, fully six weeks before they will receive ballot papers? Firing the starting gun now on large-scale voter contact efforts shows just how much emphasis the early frontrunner's campaign is placing on momentum, and the premium that they are placing on maintaining their status as favourites in the race.

The mailing's primary purpose was not simply to win individual votes, but to underpin the campaign's broader efforts to secure the lead in supporting nominations from Constituency Labour Parties. The intended contribution to the campaign narrative was made clear by David Miliband's campaign manager Douglas Alexander, taking to twitter just after 10pm on Friday night to celebrate that "tonight alone, he's won 15 CLP nominations":

David Miliband just secured his 100th CLP nomination from Stoke Central: The latest evidence that he's the grassroots activists' choice.

That New Labour message discipline is not dead was demonstrated as former Scottish Secretary and Alexander's co-campaign coordinator Jim Murphy tweeted a thought of his own half an hour later:

David Miliband is the grassroots candidate with all the momentum.

The CLP nomination race could seem a rather phoney war. While MPs and MEPs get to both nominate and vote in the ballot, the CLP nominations are purely symbolic. They are printed on the supporting statements received with ballot papers, but carry precisely zero weight in the electoral college itself. But in a leadership race where there is very scarce public information about how the race is going, and no polling of the leadership electorate itself, the logging on the Labour website of CLP nominations has become - after the MP nomination race and alongside endorsements from unions and affiliates - a significant "pre-ballot primary" for the leadership teams.

The grassroots theme is an important message for the David Miliband campaign, which is investing heavily in a movement for change proposition, particularly the training of 1000 activists in community organising.

Grassroots engagement on that scale can be an expensive business. The all-member mailshot itself would have cost up to £60,000. It is unlikely that all five campaigns will find the resources to finance a similar exercise, though the Ed Miliband and Ed Balls campaigns at least would be expected to do so. Funding was not a problem for the David Miliband campaign, as the Electoral Commission returns show. Yet even the best funded campaign is constrained by the campaign spending cap for the leadership contest, set at £156,000 and which will not be increased to account for the recent increase in membership. The cap covers the direct costs of mailshots, telephone canvassing and speeches to which other candidates are not invited, though campaign staff fall outside it. So rival campaigns were sceptical as to whether any campaign could mailshot the membership twice and remain within the spending cap.

The David Miliband campaign are confident that they can do exactly that. The weight placed on those two mailshots of all party members in the campaign strategy can be seen in the willingness to spend up to £120,000 on them - three-quarters of the regulated campaign spend. Except only for the statements from all candidates which will go out with the ballot papers themselves, they will be by some distance the most significant large-scale communication with the party electorate.


The Alexander technique

Had things had turned out differently, Douglas Alexander might have imagined one day running against David Miliband for the Labour leadership. But it may well, however unfairly, be some time before the Labour Party again elects a Scottish or Welsh leader in the post-devolution age. So David Miliband writes about the party's need to engage with an emerging debate about Englishness, while, as a good Unionist, running has a leadership campaign co-chaired by two Scots, Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy.

The more significant public message is one of post-factionalism. Alexander's role alongside Murphy symbolises a post-Blair, post-Brown "fusion" campaign to elect David Miliband. It is certainly proof of the splintering of the Brown inner circle which had seemed, to anybody outside it, to be one of the tightest-knit Westminster cliques for most of the last 15 years. That changed as the Brown premiership after the Autumn of 2007 and the fallout from the election that never was. So that small circle of Brown advisers has managed to generate competing leadership bids from the two Eds, yet also to provide the chair of the David Miliband campaign too.

The imprint of Alexander, the most experienced campaign operative of the New Labour fortysomething generation, can clearly be seen in the campaign narrative and messages.

Look again at that leaflet

Alastair Darling stresses David Miliband's "deep commitment to equality", the issue of narrowing the gap which Tony Blair preferred to duck.

Beyond commitments to restore party democracy and defend the union link, the most substantive piece of policy content is on Labour choices towards the deficit.

Labour choices on the deficit – opposing and exposing the Tory Liberal government’s choice to take a huge gamble with our economic future. We should be starting cuts at the top not the bottom. Doubling the bank levy would allow us to keep the capital allowances that support manufacturing.Scrapping tax breaks for private schools would allow us to reinstate Labour’s planned extension of free schools meals. Introducing a Mansion Tax on £2m homes would raise as much as the Tories are cutting from the poorest on Housing Benefit.

David Miliband disagrees with Ed Balls' proposal to drop Labour's commitment to halving the deficit in four years, and supports Pat McFadden (who is backing Miliband's campaign) in the argument that the party must ensure it has more to say beyond "fight the cuts". The leadership platform stresses how that alternative must be based on Labour doing more to contrast its approach to deficit reduction from that of the Coalition.


Why is there no Blairite candidate?

So David Miliband is emphatically not running as a Blairite candidate in this leadership contest, though it is equally clear that he retains strong support from most self-identified Blairites. (David Miliband might rationally calculate that the Blairite establishment form a "core vote" element with nowhere else to go, particularly now that Andy Burnham is mainly running a northern insurgency against the political elite. Perhaps that is a strategy which they might reasonably be expected to understand).

"That's where the money is", was the legendary response when a prolific bank robber was asked why he did it. The Miliband-Alexander campaign strategy reflects where the votes are in the Labour electoral college. It is a pitch to the mainstream social democratic consensus of much party opinion, which has never thought of New Labour and Labour as incompatible concepts. This was how John Smith won a very one-sided contest in 1992, and it was the basis on which Gordon Brown ran against nobody at all in 2007. Unity is a popular appeal in political parties. The downside is that, if there are important strategic or political choices for the party, they are likely to be muted in the campaign and must be resolved by the leadership afterwards.

If the Labour party has more often than not been led from the centre-right, it has not had so many sharply polarised left/right leadership contests, excepting the Gaitskell-Bevan contest of 1955 and of course the deputy contest of 1980. It would be to rewrite the history of early Blairism to make 1994 too strong an exception. Blair too ran on a broad Labour values ticket, despite the occasional "Blair reveals SDP mark II" headline in the newspapers (very much to Blair's horror). Blair did not propose the rewriting of clause four until the Autumn conference.

Beyond its electoral rationale, a good case can also be made that this broad social democratic platform represents the authentic David Miliband. The "Blairite" label was always something of a simplification; Tony Blair's belief that he Miliband had not "got religion" on public service reform was part of the reason why he moved on from heading the Downing Street policy unit in 2001. (An earlier piece on Miliband's political vision during the summer of 2008 went into more detail). The candidate cut his teeth working at ippr on the social justice commission, and was advocating in his ippr collection Reinventing the Left in 1994 a pre-new Labour modernised social democracy which I have previously described as perhaps "a rather Scandinavian, greener, more feminised and pluralist model description of 1990s social democratic revisionism on the eve of New Labour" than actually existing New Labour was then to become.

Peter Mandelson has not officially endorsed David Miliband's candidacy, while speaking supportively about it. The campaign has shown little interest or urgency in seeking to seal that deal! The campaign seemed to escape any serious fallout from the Mandelson memoir, despite their coded and rather contradictory account of the miserable and turbulent summer of 2008. (There was never any real challenge being planned, just a curious exchange of text messages about mountaineering which would seem to confirm the opposite). But there was nothing here that was not already widely known, and many think it is best filed away under history. Yet perhaps this Mandelson non-endorsement of David Miliband also offers a curious echo of the Blair campaign of 1994, where Blair's campaign organisers Mo Mowlam and Peter Kilfoyle had to swear (falsely) to MPs that Mandelson was not involved, leading to the mysterious acknowledgement of "Bobby" in Blair's victory speech.

An intriguing but unconsummated engagement between David Miliband and Jon Cruddas must be added to the mix. Cruddas, who had a good deal to do with the framing of Miliband's Keir Hardie lecture, has not endorsed a candidate either, but he has declared as a candidate for the not yet existing post of elected party chair, which David Miliband has proposed. This engagement builds on an earlier constructive dialogue between those thinking ministerial refuseniks of left and right, Cruddas and James Purnell, a long-time friend and ally of David Miliband. the potential "fusion" here is between the Purnell/Milibandite view that Labour should bring together the liberal and social democratic traditions, and Cruddas' more Labourist vision of what a pluralist liberal socialism should entail. Yet, beyond creating new positions and processes of party engagement, this new Milibandite "Labour unity project" must surely entail David Miliband remaining open to what Cruddas has advocated as a rather mild "lurch to the centre-left".


Comparative Milibanism: is it getting harder to spot the difference?

Long-standing students of comparative Milibandism might have anticipated that a leadership campaign might finally clarify the differences between David and Ed (as well as with their father Ralph). That both are running in this contest is an indication that both believe there are substantive differences, albeit within a shared social democratic worldview. But the contest has done more to obscure than to articulate these.

Both agree that Labour stands for equality, but needs to argue for a more reciprocal account that does not offend public notions of fairness. Both brothers now support a high pay commission, though that is a promise to study an issue, rather than a commitment to do anything in particular about it. They have disagreed over whether Trident should be included in a strategic defence review, but again, that is a process rather than substantive policy difference. Ed Miliband would support the 50p tax rate over £150,000 as a permanent feature; perhaps David Miliband may not but he is not pledging its reversal. David Miliband has not endorsed growing calls for a graduate tax, but points out that the abolition of up-front fees means the current system of interest free loans paid retrospectively has several similar features.

Go to the hustings in search of substantive policy differences, you may find yourself digging around in the schools curriculum and the relative merits of the GCSE or the international baccalaureate.

The publicly articulated differences are primarily tonal. It is quite possible, indeed it is probable, that the Milibands would make different choices and judgements as party leader. The supporters of both candidates certainly believe that is substantively the case - including on important issues such as the deficit, public spending, progressive taxation and the role of the state. This remains, for now, primarily based on assertions about about instincts. The case can not - at present - be proven if one is only allowed to use the evidence of what the candidates themselves will say.

That risks creating some dissonance for the David Miliband campaign. They can not both warn that Ed Miliband risks dragging the party leftwards into its comfort zone and the risk of unelectability, which was the initial response to the brother's launch, yet at the same time deny that they are running substantively from Ed Miliband's right, because the campaign strategy is to close down the political space, making the appeal to voters primarily about the leadership credentials of the candidate. The core claim that he is the most credible PM-ready candidate on offer is now the core message of the David Miliband leadership bid.


After inevitability

This is not the leadership race which the David Miliband campaign anticipated. And the campaign did not get off to the best of starts. A hurried declaration in front of a doughnut of MPs outside St Stephen's entrance reflected the likelihood of a short, sharp contest, initially the preferred option of much of the Shadow Cabinet, before acting leader Harriet Harman and the NEC were persuaded by the balance of backbench opinion and a strong consensus in the party outside Westminster that the first contested leadership contest for 16 years required a proper and longer debate. And several observers thought that David Miliband looked uncomfortable at the early hustings. He has argued there has been too much emphasis on Labour's record in power, and not enough focus on the future.

Yet the main adjustment was less to the longer contest than to a challenge from his younger brother. For months, all of Westminster knew that David Miliband and Ed Balls would run when there was next a leadership vacancy, but nobody could confidently predict the final field. Harriet Harman, Alan Johnson and Jon Cruddas all had supporters who urged them to run. So did Yvette Cooper and Ed Miliband, yet it was never clear if family ties might prevent a run. It was the Miliband v Miliband dynamic changed the race. With David Miliband so quickly taking the mantle of a frontrunner, the younger Miliband saw an opportunity to offer an "insurgency versus inevitability" frame - with David as Hillary Clinton and Ed seeking the Obama stardust, and helped by media fascination with the unusual spectacle of two brothers campaigning to be party leader and prime minister thereafter. (We may return to this when we look at the Ed Miliband campaign in a later post).

So David Miliband's campaign quickly retooled, now emphasising its own "movement-building" credentials, though the common language may perhaps obscure different instincts about competing models of community organising.

Yet, even though it is now rather disguised, there were good reasons for David Miliband to run an "inevitability" campaign and to accept the frontrunner mantle, even at the risk of being cast as Hillary. There is an important difference between British Labour and US Democrat elections: Labour MPs are not simply tie-breakers, as the US 'superdelegates' are, but have an enormous weight in the electoral college. If career politicians believe a candidate will win, they have an enormous incentive to get on the bandwagon. Labour MPs do not, like US convention delegates, wait for the members' votes. Rather, they can do a great deal to influence and perhaps even decide the outcome: a strong "inevitability" effect could give one candidate an enormous advantage in the electoral college before the ballot papers are sent out.

Labour's electoral college means that every single MP is worth almost 1000 votes from party members and perhaps five or ten thousand trade union votes if turnout were high. A candidate with a lead of 50 MPs would win with a score-draw among party members, or squeak home to win the college with tens of thousands less votes. But David Miliband's parliamentary lead does not appear to put him on an "inevitability" trajectory. There is no accurate tally of the remaining undeclared MPs, nor of crucial parliamentary second preferences. David Miliband might well anticipate that he could maintain a Parliamentary lead in every round but not perhaps by a margin much above twenty MPs in the final round. That would leave pretty much everything to play for.


Electoral college strategies: how does David win?

This Next Left series on the campaigns will look at each campaign's strategy and best hope of winning the electoral college, and some of the hurdles they face. For the early frontrunner, the shape of the challenge seems clear. It is not just the best-funded and best-staffed but quite probably the most organised and professional of the leadership campaigns. David Miliband's is the strongest campaign on declared support in Parliament, but looks relatively vulnerable in the affiliated section.

In short, the David Miliband campaign might well hope to retain a Parliamentary lead which might be needed to offset a likely deficit in the affiliates' section. That could (perhaps happily for everybody) make the individual members' vote decisive.

There is no good public information about party members' voting intentions among all five candidates, though the David Miliband campaign suggests its own member canvassing offers reasons for optimism (as one would doubtless expect them to). His experience as Foreign Secretary, while a potential burden with parts of the party, does give him higher public name recognition, which is helping him to lead in the polls. The campaign hope this will influence members as an "electability" credential.

In the affiliates section, David Miliband has nominations from Community (the only union to back Blair in 1994) and USDAW, a significant medium-sized force. But the campaign is not going to win an endorsement from any the big four, where the Blairite tag has hurt him, despite investing significant effort in the hope of the GMB's nomination. Campaign supporters hope that endorsements will carry much less weight than in the 2007 deputy leadership, but no campaign can easily predict what the turnout might be; nor is there any easy way to reach many of these voters, many of whom may be blissfully unaware that they have a Labour leadership vote until the ballot paper arrives.

The campaign's immediate battle is to maintain the momentum factor, fighting CLP by CLP to do so. Many observers now regard the race as too close to call. Westminster wonders if we might now see campaign favouritism tilt towards brother Ed over the next fortnight, largely based on the AV factor.

But what about those second preferences? The David Miliband campaign believes in winning from the front and will need to aim for a large first round lead. But they do challenge the assumption that they will not be able to appeal in the second preferences' market, again by stressing again an appeal based more on the candidate's leadership credentials than perceived political positioning. This may particularly matter in Parliament, where many MPs will be able to make their own personal assessments of the candidate's relative strengths. And the claim to be a "Labour Values Unity" candidate can be substantiated by surprising supporters such as Paul Flynn, who might have some claim to out-left anybody else in the PLP. If Ed Miliband has Tony Benn, then David Miliband's team are confident of a supportive endorsement from Dennis Skinner.

How the left could yet decide the result - for David

The conventional wisdom remains that Ed Miliband's positioning, mildly to David's left, could carry the election on transfers were the count to end in a close Miliband v Miliband run-off. An alternative theory, while counter-intuitive, can offer a plausible argument as to how the party's left flank could, yet help to deliver the final round to David Miliband, not his brother, as a result of the campaign's decision - on nomination day itself - to help Campaign Group candidate Diane Abbott make the ballot.

Supporting Abbott's nomination can be seen as a rather public spirited decision: it was one which this blog advocated. By preventing any hint of a stitch-up, and stopping the primary public frame of the contest being the narrow social background - and gene pool - of an all-male, ex-spad, ex-Oxbridge leadership quartet, it will be good news for whoever is elected. So several leading Labour figures - most notably acting leader Harriet Harman - nominated Diane Abbott in the party's interests.

Still, it was the Miliband campaign which made the crucial difference. It was not just that the candidate personally nominated a rival. Left Foot Forward's campaign analysis shows the scale of the Miliband campaign's active involvement. At least half a dozen further declared David Miliband supporters also nominated Abbott. They included Chris Bryant, Denis MacShane, Stephen Twigg, Phil Woolas and Keith Vaz, some of whom had to retract a formal David Miliband nomination to do so.

There is no doubt that the campaign calculated that an Abbott candidacy was good not just for the party, but good for the David Miliband campaign too.

Campaign insiders play this down. They are right to doubt whether any members in September will recall how any candidate got onto the ballot in June. No avalanche of grateful Campaign Group second preferences for David Miliband is anticipated. Still, the campaign did expect to gain in other ways. The immediate rationale was to check the fascination with the Cain versus Abel story of a race between two brothers, which was giving the younger Miliband's insurgency a great deal of early momentum: "We knew that Diane Abbott would take much of the oxygen away from brother Ed", as one influential D.Miliband supporter told me.

Given the Alternative Vote system, it looks as though Abbott's presence on the ballot is unlikely to prove decisive, unless she could herself create a political earthquake. But that may not be the case. Some members will vote for only one candidate. Say that just 3% or 5% of party members, of leftist inclinations were to vote Diane Abbott (1) but do not express any preference among.the ex-ministerial candidates after that. (This may not be particularly rational: exempting your ballot from the race simply magnifies the weight of everyone who disagrees with you). But it will happen. The question is on what scale. And whether, in a knife-edge Miliband v Miliband run-off scenario, those abstentions could yet prove decisive, by reducing the number of transfers to Ed Miliband which most observers would anticipate.

In the jargon used by the campaign teams to refer to those ballots which express no preference between remaining candidates, could it be the "exhausts" wot win it?

Were that to be so, David Miliband's altruistic nomination strategy could end up proving a most important act of enlightened self-interest. The decision to broaden the field to the left could even clinch the result in a photo finish. Might that not prove a rather apt way to crown a decidedly non-Blairite candidate, running for Labour values on a unity ticket?

Sunder Katwala is General Secretary of the Fabian Society. Future pieces in this series will look at the other leadership campaigns. Neither the author nor the Fabian Society are supporting any individual candidate: Fabian members will be ballotted indvidually in the affiliates' section of the leadership election.