Thursday 22 July 2010

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.


Robert said...

So what next for labour, it's not Blairite, it's not brownite, it's not socialist because that died a life time ago, so what is it.

The cuts in income support, the welfare reforms these people thought were right, the min wage set so low it's down right New labour , the massive cuts in benefits something Labour has done more often then not, a Police force protected even when it kills illegally, ID cards, data bases billions wasted on Computers to save money from people.

You tell me what labour stands for anymore. It does not stand for me. Union will bend over to be shagged like always in the hope Labour will give them a seat on some committee or if they really are good payers a seat in the house of lords.

The fact is we have two choices now Tory or the sons of Tories.

Duncan Hall said...

I suspect it would be seen differently by most grassroots leftwingers: that David Miliband's late manouvre denied them of their preferred choice of left-wing candidate, and merely underlined their "Anyone but DM" position...

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. I think the noms threshold should be 5% of MPs when a vacancy, and then people can get on with their own support.

But I can't quite see how DM's intervention could possibly have had the impact you suggest.

If DM had done nothing to help Diane Abbott, I don't see how John McDonnell could have got close to the ballot, while she also fell well short. But perhaps I don't understand what the balance of potential support for McDonnell and Abbott was.

Given other support for DA (eg Harriet Harman, David Lammy, Rushanara Ali) i doubt whether DM actually could have with similar resources got John McDonnell on, which would not have addressed the gender in the contest point either.

Harry Barnes said...

We might get to know exactly where David Miliband stands, if he would respond positively to the attached.

"Dear David,


You will remember that we last met at the meeting you addressed in Sheffield on 18th June, when I handed you a letter asking you to issue what I have called a "Manifesto of Intent" concerning your leadership candidature. The matter is explained here -

This is the third request on this matter which I have emailed to you at ..... Others have been sent to your campaign's email site. Comments have followed you around on other blogs and web-sites when you have made contributions.

I hope that you will at last respond to the request I am making.

So far Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott have agreed to issue such Manifestos.

Please just let me know one way or the other what the answer is.

All the best,
Harry Barnes (Labour MP 1987-2005)
....."(full contact details provided).

Unknown said...

"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."

What were their respective positions on this, seeing as you mention it?