Thursday, 30 September 2010

Public will give Ed M's new case for Labour a fair hearing

Ed Miliband will sensibly place little weight on the 'morale boost' of Labour's first opinion poll lead for three years with ICM and the Guardian, reported in Friday's newspaper, where his party lead the Conservatives by 37% to 35%, with the LibDems on 15%.

A central part of the new leader's message to his party is that they should not underestimate the scale of the journey to reconnect with the British public. It will be important to keep emphasising this if the party is ahead in the opinion polls for much of the next year.

A YouGov/Sun poll yesterday asked some more detailed questions. (YouGov, 29/9 Ed Miliband as leader).

In short, the public do not know much about Ed Miliband, but they are certainly willing to give him a hearing.

43% think he will do well as Labour leader, and 23% badly. It is a bit odd that so many people are already prepared to express opinions not just on that, but also more detailed questions: whether he will be serious about the deficit (yes say 53% to 23%, with 24% not sure), whether he is optimistic or pessimistic (27% find him generally optimistic; 12% generally pessimistic; 23% neither while a sensible 37% are "not sure"). So Ed M shoots ahead with a +15 optimism rating with David Cameron lagging on +10%!

If the public can't be expected to have much yet on which to base opinions of Ed Miliband, their answers to questions about New Labour's record and legacy are better informed, making this perhaps the most significant finding of the poll.

Ed Miliband also criticised several of the things the last Labour government did while it was in power. Do you think he was right or wrong to do so?

Right - the last Labour government made mistakes and it is important for Ed Miliband to recognise and admit this: 71% (Tory 77, Labour 78, LibDem 65, ABC1 71%, C2DE 69%).

Wrong - Ed Miliband was part of the last govenment and it is a mistake to criticise his own party's record: 18%

Similarly, 56% say he was right to distance himself from the war in Iraq by saying it was "wrong", while 26% disagree.


The enduring argument between the Labour leader and some of the right-wing newspapers and commentators could turn out to be how often - and how ferociously - they want to attack him when he chooses to make Labour arguments which the right's gut tells it are outside the 'mainstream' centre-ground, and yet which have the support of broad public majorities - across party, class and income group.

In the YouGov poll, majorities of Conservative and LibDem voters are part of strong public coalitions backing the following policies:

A higher levy on the banks 74% to 9%, with 71-17% of Tories and 73-6% of LibDems joining 87-5% of Labour supporters.

Making people who can afford it pay more in taxation: 66% to 19%, with 53-35% of Conservatives and 76-13% among LibDems, alongside 84-8 Labour support.

Giving more employment rights to temporary workers employed through agencies: 61% to 18% support - support by 51-31% among Conservatives and 68-10% among LibDems, alongside 76-11% among Labour.

Introducing a higher minimum wage: 72% to 15%, with 59% to 30% among Conservative voters, and 68-12% among LibDems.

This does not mean he should or will do everything mildly leftish that sounds right to most of the public. There may be other perfectly sound principled, policy or political strategy reasons not to in any particular case. But their public unpopularity is not in itself the veto point.

But it does looks like it may have to be "Green Ed" rather than "Red Ed" who first says something that a majority of the public do not support.

Milibandite futures

David Miliband made a rational and cogent case for his decision to leave the Shadow Cabinet yesterday. Many Labour members will both understand and regret his decision. His argument that the (word of the week) "psychodrama" could dominate the next year if he had remained on the frontbench certainly looked stronger by last night than it had at the weekend.

David Miliband's dignity in such disappointing and narrow defeat on Saturday and his accomplished speech on Monday were rightly much praised. (Perhaps his acerbic aside to Harriet Harman over Iraq on Tuesday was a subconscious attempt to disrupt the beatification process which the Labour party tends to adopt for election losers. It was a newsworthy scoop, but the rolling maul of flashbulbs and cameras while Ed Miliband was speaking was demonstrated the astonishing level of visual scrutiny we apply - looking for a momentary frown or yawn which might become "the image", even "the story" - even as we loudly demand authenticity and a less buttoned-up politics).

It is good that David Miliband is staying in Parliament. He is clearly going to be very wary of the media, so obsessed with the "gotcha" interview , while his brother is leader. I hope he does find a way to ensure that the quest to find an iota of criticism of his brother will not excessively constrain or muzzle him from contributing to the party's debates long-term political and policy thinking mentioned in his statement.

There will be many ways he might do that: he will not be short of offers. It would not be surprising if David Miliband to go full circle link up in some way with Nick Pearce (director) and James Purnell (chair) at the ippr think-tank, to try to flesh out some important aspects of the pluralist liberal social democracy which is largely common ground between the Miliband brothers. Labour now needs a new political economy after the crash. We need a greener social democracy which provides a route map to making our living in a low carbon world. We are still floundering in the search for an effective and legitimate multilateralism without which power can not be held to account in the global age. Were the elder Miliband's brainpower and strategic thinking applied to these and similar challenges, it could do his party - not least his brother - a great deal of good.

There is one curious aspect of the Miliband v Miliband coverage, as the leadership contest phase finally ends. It is worth remembering that both Miliband brothers chose to run against their brother.

Much coverage seems to imply that Ed Miliband "challenged" his brother, as if the elder Miliband already held the post and was then deposed. There was a vacancy for the leadership: both Milibands chose to stand, aware that their sibling would be in the field. As David Miliband told the conference on Monday, this depended on both being ready to win or to lose.

It had been pretty clear for at least a year that both Milibands had very good chances to win the leadership election, and that any election in which they both stood would be very close.

Certainly, David Miliband was clearly considered the frontrunner in the election, anointed as favourite with the bookmakers and the newspapers. That this frame was consciously reinforced as a central aspect of both campaign strategies was surely a clue against simply taking it at face value. The Ed Miliband camp consciously adopted an "incumbent versus insurgent" frame, seeking to echo the dynamic between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, successfully offering a clear "change versus continuity" frame. The David Miliband camp eagerly accepted the frontrunner mantle, both from genuine confidence and in the hope that an "inevitability" strategy would become a self-fulfillling prophecy, as Labour MPs sought to back the most likely winner. The inevitability strategy would certainly have worked if it had deterred the strongest rival candidate from standing - for family rather than political reasons.

Either might have won the close race - but it was a good moment to own the mantle of "change".

So are elections better than pacts and deals or not?

It has become the orthodoxy that a contested election, not a Coronation, would have been much better for Labour in 2007, and indeed for Gordon Brown himself, since he would almost certainly have defeated any opponent in a Labour election contest at that moment. It is often suggested that the Granita pact was a mistake and, by some, that it might have been healthier for the party to have had a Blair-Brown contest in 1994. (GB and TB had become professional siblings, 1983-1994, but the younger brother had emerged as the favourite). It seems to me very difficult for anybody who holds these views to also argue that there should not have been a Miliband-Miliband contest, preferring a deal instead.

Is the orthodoxy now going to shift on Blair-Brown in 1994? Or has it become a "what if" journalistic trope that everybody tends to agree that the grass is always greener in the parallel political universes we never experience (even if those accounts of Blair-Brown and Miliband-Miliband contradict each other)?

When did a David Miliband leadership candidacy become likely?

The chances of David Miliband running against Gordon Brown in 2007 now tend to be exaggerated, influenced by later events. The opportunity was to run a gallant losing campaign to become "heir apparent" under a Brown premiership. There are so many reasons why David Miliband might have felt that was an offer he could refuse.

I don't recall any point when David Miliband seemed the most likely possible "not Gordon" candidate. Across 2004-2007, speculation focused on Alan Milburn and John Reid, before coalescing around Alan Johnson. (That all three represent three considerably different stripes of so-called "Blairite" to the not-very-Blairite elder Miliband again demonstrates the limitations of this outdated shorthand).

There was an assumption across Westminster after the 2005 general election that the next leadership contest but one would probably involve both David Miliband and Ed Balls. The rest of the field was never clear, and there was a broadly held fear of the inter-generational transmission of the Blair-Brown factions. Neither candidate wished to have their political future defined by those past relationships, yet it was also likely that the media would drag them back into that familiar frame.

However, David Miliband's 2010 bid was damaged by the leadership crises of 2008 and 2009. David Miliband has explained, many times, why he did not force Gordon Brown's resignation when James Purnell resigned in June 2009. His supporters still think it was a mistake. But if Gordon Brown had been deposed, it would have made considerably more sense then for Alan Johnson, not David Miliband, to replace him. There would simply have been no time to set out a Milibandite case in terms the public could understand, while AJ would have offered the clearest possible biographical contrast to David Cameron and the best chance of connecting to an increasingly anti-politics mood.

The earlier summer/Autumn 2008 crisis was less explicable, because it was self-induced. This was Miliband's own internal version of the Gordon Brown "election that never was", though he remained an electable (and very nearly elected) candidate this time.

David Miliband's candidacy was in effect confirmed when he rejected the job of European foreign minister, an offer made by PES chair Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in the green room of a Fabian "global change we need" conference in November 2009.

By then, there was already a strong public push for his brother to stand.

When did an Ed Miliband candidacy become likely?.

That explains why David Miliband told Channel 4 news last night that he had thought it likely, across 2009, that his brother would run for the leadership (also rejecting speculation that MiliE had, on the Brown-Blair model, promised his brother a free run later during the 2008 leadership crisis).

The idea of an Ed Miliband candidacy began to build momentum from his conference speech in Autumn 2008. I blogged that day about how it had lifted the conference mood, providing one of the better moments of a pretty dismal week.

It was partly the Cameronesque style of delivery that made the party sit up and notice. But there was also, bubbling under, an argument which distinguished Ed M from both Gordon Brown and David Miliband. As the conference swirled with media speculation about David Miliband's intentions, the content of a post-Brown "change" agenda remained almost entirely elusive. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was expected to set out - as he had not the previous year - the mission of his premiership.

That was the context in which Ed Miliband argued for Labour to make its case as a social democratic party, committed to more equal life chances as part of the good society. Ed Miliband's speech was an ostensibly loyalist supportive intervention about how Labour could take its case public. Yet it expressed too the younger Miliband's frustration on two fronts: in the long-running argument within the Brown camp about whether social democracy could ever be put on the tin, and also at the lack of content in several calls from the right of the party for a "bold" agenda and "new narratives" without much sense of what they were.

A year later, this blog reported during conference 2009 that shares were again rising in the Ed Miliband, writing of the "swirl of speculation" around a possible future leadership candidacy, while also noting that the catch-all appeal of the Ed Milibandwagon could not survive once the time came for a public contest.

"Shares in Ed Miliband rose once again inside the Westminster-on-sea bubble following his rallying call to the Labour party yesterday ... he is not keen to encourage the swirl of speculation about his prospects in a future leadership contest sometime after the next General Election.

At last night's Fabian Question Time fringe, I noted that Ed Miliband is now reportedly the favoured candidate of both Derek Simpson and Peter Mandelson, which would make writing the campaign platform rather fun.

But the coalition turned out to be broader still. Tory blogger Iain Dale was keen to point out that he had been an early adopter, tipping Ed M for the top in his GQ profile of the Milibands [in the Autumn of 2008].

In November 2009, Jenni Russell's Guardian column made a significant intervention.

Two groups believed that, in the end, Ed Miliband would not run. The strongest supporters of David Miliband tended to significantly underestimate Ed Miliband's chances in an election, and so to conclude his candidacy would serve little purpose, while characterising him as too indecisive to go for it anyway. Both assumptions proved wrong. Yet Ed Miliband's keenest supporters also feared he would choose not to run in the end, for the sole reason that his brother would be in the field too.

This is captured in Russell's column, an (unauthorised) attempt by a close friend to keep an Ed Miliband candidacy alive, immediately after David Miliband's rejection of the European job.

I wrote on LabourList that this reflected that Ed Miliband would be close to 'joint favourite' 'with a run'

Is the wrong Milibandwagon now rolling fast? That is Jenni Russell's concern in her Guardian column, making the case for her friend Ed over his brother David ...

In the personality politics stakes, Ed Miliband had probably the best week of any frontbencher in Brighton, and has impressed many in the party in the run-up to Copenhagen. But Westminster wisdom sees him as the main loser from his brother's decision to turn down the role of EU foreign minister last week, which has been taken as surely confirming that David Miliband intends to be a candidate whenever Labour is next electing a party leader ...

Ed Miliband would be close to joint favourite, and among the leading two or three candidates 'with a run', but his brother's candidacy near the head of the field too would appear to present a significant roadblock to his own prospects ... this all remains very premature [but] when the time comes, the party should indeed want a fraternal and open debate, where it can choose between all of the leading contenders.

The difference between the two Miliband candidacies was primarily that almost nobody could say with any certainty at the time of the May 2010 election that Ed Miliband would run. Even those, like Russell, who were urging him to do so publicly and privately could not accurately predict which way he would jump. That was for the simple reason that he refused to discuss the issue, even in private with MPs seeking to press him to go for it, until after the general election.

Still, the scene had long been set for a likely two Miliband contest. Clearly, either could easily have ended up the victor after a closely-fought campaign. But the brothers were right to think that it was an argument best conducted and settled through the ballot box.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Twigg: PLP will campaign for AV

Stephen Twigg MP has just told the Electoral Reform Society/Fabian/Progress/Compass electoral reform rally that, following Ed Miliband's support for the alternative vote in his speech this afternoon, Labour MPs will now support the cause in next May's referendum.

"Ed's lead today will be very important. There is a significant minority of us in the PLP who are strongly in favour of electoral reform, and there is a vociferous minority who support first past the post. But there is a large group of undecided MPs in the middle.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the majority of Labour MPs will be out with Ed campaigning for this reform"

More women joining Labour

40 per cent of the 35,000 people who have joined the Labour Party since May are women, the Fabian Fringe was told this evening.

Currently, only a third of Labour members are women, the same figure as in parliament. So the current trajectory, revealed by Fabian Women's Network Director Seema Malhotra, represents a significant filip.

Fellow panelist Fiona Mactaggart commented:
"I'm sure the reason more women are joining is because they can see a woman at the top of the Labour Party - and hasn't she done a good job."

Mactaggart and Malhotra were speaking at 'Where did all the women go?" alongside Bonnie Greer, Julie Mellor, Sunder Katwala and Caroline Flint.

Although great strides were made in women's representation during 13 years of Labour Government, Mactaggart said Labour "slid a way that was shocking".
"We made some progress....[but] we have become more conservative in our way of addressing these issues. We are rowing back; we've got to stop rowing back and start rowing forward. We stopped pushing as hard as we previously did."

She criticised a male dominated Labour culture that saw the political correspondents' football match go on the party's conference grid this year but not the Women's Reception: "They don't care about 1500 women" .

The way Labour approached women in its policy making in government has now opened the door for the current government to "oppress women", said Mactaggart.

"We stopped seeing women as women and started only seeing them as mothers and it undermines the cause....Now in the name of being liberal and 'let's all be free', the government is in all sorts of areas pandering to an extreme libertarianism that will opress women."

Flint agreed:
"We need to talk about something other than motherhood. It conforms to a lot of stereotypes...

The coalition policy on anonymity for rape victims is a consequence of the lack of women in senior party positions"

Flint said lack of women in senior positions was clear in the Labour Government too. Responding to a question about her infamous "window-dressing" comments, she said that despite being Europe minister, during the European election campaign she was "never invited to attend cabinet. I didn't feel like I was contributing. We were not a cabinet of equals. I felt it was a superficial representation of women."

Ed Miliband as Labour's RFK

So Ed Miliband is Labour's RFK. This was the speech of the idealistic younger brother as political leader, prepared to gamble on hope. There was the explicit echo of a politics which knows that not everything we value can be measured by GDP, when it comes to community, belonging and identity, but beyond that in an insurgent confidence that he can define himself, even if it sometimes means breaking with the political positioning playbook of the late 1990s. That won't stop others trying, of course, but the conference hall enjoyed most his "come off it" laughing off of the 'Red Ed' tag. He was comfortable in his own skin,

Here are five reflections on aspects of the speech:

1. The audacity of optimism

The "new generation" refrain was framed as being about moving beyond the New Labour era. In fact, it was an audacious challenge to the Cameron-Clegg 'new politics'.

"Mr Cameron, you were an optimist once" riffed off Cameron's first Prime Minister's Questions in which he sought to claim the future from Tony Blair.

Ed Miliband's plan is that, from October 20th, everything changes. The Coalition will be the Establishment, defending its austerity plans on a "there is no alternative" ticket. Were it to come off, the exciting era of "new politics" should be seen as a mere 'May to September' Coalition fling - the hopeful spirit of the Rose Garden extinguished already in an Autumn of austerity, and with Labour no longer primarily focused on defending its past but demanding instead the mantle of change.

2. Has an Opposition leader's conference keynote ever done so little to bash the government?

Many Labour speeches offer little beyond a litany of evil Tory failures. It is probably one reason that people not already onside stopped listening to the party before the election. Labour's task was to make its own pitch, not least to win permission to be heard with its critique of the government.

There was the first shot at reframing the debate about the deficit, insisting that Labour would meet its credibility challenge, seeking to claiming the centre-ground of where public opinion currently is on the deficit and asking whether it was the Coalition which was taking risks with irresponsibility. There was a good line about the depth of public under-investment in schools and hospitals before 1997 - that the Tories never fixed the roof when the sun was shining. And that was about all. Even that was balanced by an offer of bipartisan support on Afghanistan, civil liberties and prison reform.

3. Nick Clegg didn't get a mention - though Keynes, Lloyd George and Beveridge did

There was no LibDem bashing in the speech, but rather an expression of pluralist intent, in Miliband's citing of Liberal heroes who form part of his liberal social democratic intellectual heritage. Ed Miliband intends to create a Labour party with which a much broader progressive movement can feel comfortable - invited to join the party, to campaign alongside it for causes, and (just the smallest hint) perhaps to work alongside him in a future government too.

4. After New Labour: Change - with continuity too

Defining the shift from New Labour as a generational one is smart. New Labour was a revisionist, reforming argument, now in risk of becoming too much a conservative project of consolidation. Yet he was careful to give examples of where New Labour was right to challenge - tough on crime and the causes; not interested in being punitive on tax - which set the boundaries around what would stay.

There were significant symbolic moves on Iraq ("I do believe we were wrong", while respecting those who still disagree in the party"), on civil liberties, and in taking responsibility for the crash having hubristically claimed to end boom and bust. There was a willingness to be more explicit about the gap between rich and poor mattering, "responsible" trade unions being part of civilised society, and the good society being better for us all.

On political economy, the task of creating a new argument which does not hanker for the status quo ante has barely begun.

Elsewhere, there were as many acknowledgements of what not to throw away - public service reform where focused on tackling under-performance. It was not a speech which suggested there will be many major divisions over future policy between the new leader and those who supported his brother on experience and continuity grounds.

5. Using left values to persuade the party to get out of it "comfort zone"

Will Ed Miliband tell his party things they don't want to hear? The commentators claim not. He insisted that he would. The speech showed how one part of the strategy is to tell the party that it must face up to difficult challenges - not to trim on its values for electability, but because doing so is what is demanded by its own principles and values.

Take immigration: he told the party that being deaf to concerns about the social and economic pressures of immigration was to betray its own historic mission. Not to chase headlines in the Mail and the Sun, but to meet the concerns of Mirror readers about the wage pressures of immigration. "Immigration is a class issue" is an argument which combines Labour concerns with anxieties held by a broader public.

On welfare too, the case for insisting that those who can work do is not just because the electorate demands it, but because the values of contribution and responsibility are the defining values of the left's own welfare ideal. The end point is not so different from New Labour rights and responsibilities. The alternative route may see the leader bring a broader coalition with him.

Ed's challenge

Ed Miliband is preparing to give the biggest speech of his life, the standard journalistic cliche that, for once today, happens to be true.

The scale of the audience and the challenge are now on a quite different planet from the last 'biggest speech of his life', speaking to the Fabian Society Next Left conference on Saturday May 15th to launch his leadership campaign.

That was the prelude to an election victory and so the new leader's task today is to begin a conversation with the country to, over time, persuade people that Labour deserves to be returned to power.

To define the shift from New Labour as a necessary generational shift is important.

If the next election is held in 2015, it will be eighteen years after 1997, as distant from New Labour coming to power as the Blair landslide was from James Callaghan's defeat by Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

It is also the natural and inevitable consequence of New Labour's own revisionist argument, that the positions and shibboleths of the party were not always relevant to the challenges it faces in the Britain of the mid-1990s. Again today, Britain is a very different place - because of Labour's successes, its errors and its omissions in office - as well as other sources of political, social and economic change.

There are many lessons from that successful period about how to build a broad majority of support for the centre-left in Britain, in addition to acknowledging how and why Labour's support narrowed significantly after 2001, and then again in its heavy election defeat in May.

That success can be emulated, but it can not be recreated. So Labour's new leader must find and articulate the values-based argument about the nature of British society today which can build the next progressive majority in our country.

* I will be in the conference hall, so will blog some reaction later on. Do share any earlier comments or reactions to the speech here.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Straw challenged over prisons record

Jack Straw faced staunch criticism over his record as Home Secretary at a Fabian Fringe meeting on prisons today. Straw began by arguing that his critics were fundamentally wrong:

“The error some people make is in seeing getting prison numbers down as the objective. No - the objective is to keep crime down and to keep voters with us ... We have to say to offenders that if you carry on offending then we’re sorry but you are going to face prison for quite a long time until you’ve sorted yourself out.”

But Juliet Lyons of the Prison Reform Trust challenged him over this attitude – which she referred to as ‘the Straw-Howard axis’ – and over his and the last Government’s record:

“In 1997 we felt we could look forward to a time of real prison reform and that people would be prepared to take the public health lens to look at crime differently. The numbers were already rising when Labour came to power and it didn’t seem unreasonable that Labour would put a stop to that. Instead what happened was that prison numbers rose from 66000 to a shocking 87000 today and people from other European countries look at us as if we’re mad.

The other thing we could reasonably have expected from Labour was joined-up government across health and education and prisons. Instead we seem to have accepted that prison is just a receptacle for those who have been failed by other public services.”

Straw bridled at this criticism, challenging Juliet Lyons to outline her solutions: “What about the fact that for the first time since the war we’ve got crime down. What’s the answer?”

Pollster Peter Kellner, also on the panel, challenged Straw by arguing that there was more scope among the public for progressive change than politicians seemed to think:

“When we ask straightforward out-of-the-blue questions about crime people’s responses are always very hard line and blunt. But what people say off the top of their head is not necessarily what people say if you explore it more deeply.

What people want are results and if you have the confidence to pursue a policy that delivers results – and then it does – then people will support you. People are much less interested in the policies that get you there. Politicians should do what they think is right and will work and public opinion will not be a barrier to that."

Straw put up a firm defence:

“Let me talk about Labour’s record, Juliet, in response to your emotional disappointment. What we set out in the 1997 manifesto was to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime and we were both. Prisons are completely different now from how they were. My approach was to transform humanity in prisons and to transform education and also drugs policy. BUT we had to take the public with us. The fact is that Ken Clarke was regarded as a failure by any measure you care to use.

I’m not trying to suggest I’m some sort of hard bastard but you have to bring the public with you and we were the first government since the war to get crime down.”

Peter Kellner also opened up the debate on drugs policy:

“I’d even go so far as to say that were you to tell the public that if you decriminalised heroin and cocaine and that therefore there would be less crime, they would, at first, say they didn’t like it – but if it worked there’d be support.”

There was a notable lack of clear disagreement on this from Straw:

“On drugs, up until 1970 heroin was available on the NHS and we had a tiny number of addicts compared to other countries. We just have to think our way through whether it would be safe to decriminalise hard drugs – I’m not on either side of the argument, it’s just about what’s practical.”

However, Fabian General Secretary Sunder Katwala felt it was too complex a political issue to enter into too eagerly: “If you start the drugs debate I think you might crowd out the rest of the debate about prisons.”

Juliet Lyons reflected on why she felt “so cross” with Jack Straw, citing the disappointment of many campaigners about Labour’s record. Closing the debate she said ”People do some very bad things, I don’t think that means there are some very bad people.”

John Leech did not vote for the coalition - but who is the third man?

A world exclusive scoop for the Fabian fringe in Manchester tonight when John Leech MP admitted from the platform that he did not for the coalition government at the Fabian Society and CentreForum fringe meeting on future Lib-Lab relations:

"As one of only three Lib Dem MPs who didn't vote for the coalition, I am absolutely certain that we shouldn't close the door on a coalition with Labour."

Charles Kennedy is already on record as having abstained on the Coalition, so who is the third man (or indeed, woman, though there are only nine of them)?

In conversations with Next Left after the fringe meeting, John Leech refused to reveal this information. The search continues.

Blunkett says Labour should think about how to work with Lib Dems

David Blunkett said tonight that Labour and the Lib Dems need to “work out a way… of how we can work together.” However, his real fear, he said, was of a worst-case scenario with the Tories and the Lib Dems going into the next election with an even closer alliance – and Labour being “caught with its trousers down” again.

Speaking at the Fabian fringe meeting ‘Is Lib-Lab coalition gone forever?’ Blunkett – known for speaking out against a Liberal Labour deal in the aftermath of the general election – said:

“I think we should work out a way – through big politics, big thinking and maturity – of how we can work together. We need to broaden a coalition of progressive values to protect people against the scorched earth policy of the cuts…

I’ve been painted as the person who pulled the plug – with John Reid – on the coalition. At 515 that day I made the point that we didn’t have the arithmetic or the legitimacy. I’d have been in favour of putting together a progressive alliance with the Lib Dems if it had worked, much though it would have pained me…

I think we should think through now how we can coalesce with Lib Dems who want to stay in their party and Greens who want to stay in their party – so you can have major disagreements on some issues and pull together on other issues.”

However, Blunkett said that Labour needed to spend more time focusing on its own problems before thinking about the next election:

“The first thing is to get our own coalition together before we get one with the Lib Dems – and we should get on with that as from now.”

At the fringe meeting – where Mr Blunkett and Fabian General Secretary Sunder Katwala were joined by Lib Dems Dr Evan Harris and John Leech MP – there was some disagreement about how the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition would play out, especially when the next General Election draws nearer. Evan Harris argued, “I think the party will never accept a pact [with the Conservatives] and the leader will therefore never propose a pact.” And John Leech agreed: “I don’t think I can be clearer than saying ‘there will be no pact – there will be no deal.’”

But David Blunkett was not so sure:

“Can you imagine this: the coalition get to the election and then the Lib Dems start campaigning against Tory policies! … My worst scenario is that you won’t end up fracturing towards the end but you will find that Nick will say – and this is where his heart really lies – that we should have a ‘national progressive alliance’ with the Tories. That’s the worst scenario, and in the next four years Ed Miliband and the team need to start working on that and not – as we were on May 6th – be caught with our trousers down.”

Evan Harris countered that Labour had not made it easy:

“Labour found it very difficult to work with the Liberal Democrats on issues we AGREED on …. Language like ‘behaving like every harlot in history’ – ref D. Blunkett – makes us more defensive and protective. We don’t need to be charmed by someone who’s offensive to us. We don’t react well to this – it’s not a productive approach.”

However, the former MP admitted though that the Lib Dems in coalition had sometimes gone too far:

“Many of us do recognise that the most natural coalition is with the Labour Party … I don’t want to see the Huhne-Varsi show again – it looked party political. It should be just as easy for a senior Lib Dem and a senior Labour person to attack the Conservatives.”

Sunder Katwala agreed, saying that “There’s a risk that the Lib Dem leader becomes the chief anti-Labour hit man.”

Mr Blunkett, rising to leave the meeting, left the Liberal Democrats on the platform with a sage piece of advice: “Opposition’s dreadful but being in the position you’re in might actually turn out to be worse.”

Which poverty tests matter most?

The Coalition government was unlikely to meet its commitments to progressive austerity, and ensuring the poor were not hit hardest by spending cuts, given the scale and nature of its deficit and spending plans, said thinkers and campaigners from a range of different political perspectives.

Yet the debate between left and right was between a focus on the Coalition to devise policies which would match the scale of their ambition, and meet the child poverty targets that the government is committed to, and an argument that income inequality and relative poverty should have a less prominent focus in strategies to attack poverty and improve life chances. The fringe debate 'Is the Coalition delivering on fairness?' saw Phillip Blond of ResPublica and Julian Astle of CentreForum, from think-tanks influential with the coalition parties discuss the poverty agenda with Kate Green MP from Labour and Alison Garnham, new chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, in an event cohosted by the Fabians, CentreForum, Respublica, CPAG and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the Labour party fringe in Manchester Town Hall.

Phillip Blond of ResPublica thought there was too much attention paid to the "conventional" distributional analysis represented by the IFS work:

“Welfare isn’t a particularly effective way of challenging poverty. What welfare seems to do is trap people through economic and social means in a type of serfdom”, said Blond.“I am much more interested in asset welfare and trying to capitalise welfare streams, to allow people to bounce themselves out of that situation”

Garnham said she was wedded to the 'old methods' because she wanted to maintain the common ground over the objective of ending child poverty.

“All parties signed up to the Child Poverty Act and the goal of ending child poverty". This had made a difference in policy decisions: "If it wasn’t for the Child Poverty Act, I don’t think we’d have seen a compensataory tax credit", she said. "We are in a very different position to the 1980s when the Conservative government refused to accept that relative poverty existed”.

Yet the analysis showed that the budget had been regressive: double-income childless families had lost least, and had also gained most from the Coalition's tax changes, said Garnham.

Astle said that the government had got itself into the position of accepting targets and definitions of child poverty which it was sceptical about, arguing that the Coalition had accepted the targets "for largely political reasons". He was not questioning the sincerity of ministers in addressing poverty. But what really motivated ministers was the question of intergenerational mobility, he said, rather than the child poverty objectives themselves.

Astle warned the government against a protracted public argument over whether its budget had been progressive:

“I am not sure it is very clever for any government to have a protracted row with a think-tank and the IFS is pretty much universally respected for the work it does and the impartiality of the work it does. But it is also right to say that a snapshot picture of how different people are affected at a particular point in time is always a partial picture”, he said.

Kate Green, elected to Parliament in 2010, wanted to maintain the achievement of a consensus on challenging child poverty, though also seeking one on the means to achieve it.

The new government are now coming to understand – having accepted the target in opposition – but that it is extremely difficult to meet if you are not going to redistribute, and if you are not going to have a progressive fiscal agenda.

This was not simply a question of income redistribution, said Green. She highlighted a number of areas where the government's agenda in its first weeks seemed at odds with its stated aspirations. For example, the government was pro-savings, but had disincentivised savings among low-income households; it was concerned about wealth inequalities, yet had cut the child trust fund. Its proposed benefit changes had in some cases increased marginal tax rates, despite these being a strong focus of political concern.

Astle stressed that it was too early to judge the government's record, but said the early evidence suggested that it would be enormously difficult to deliver a pledge of 'progressive austerity' in terms of regional impact or distribution.

"On fairness between regions, I think the Coalition is really up against it here. The public sector retrenchment is going to hit some regions a lot harder than others. Precisely how the government can help those regions which are most hit is not clear", said Astle, who was sceptical that policy responses, such as tax incentives to businesses in the most affected regions, would match the scale of the impact.

He warned that the scale of the government's commitments on deficit reduction and spending cuts meant it could not expect the Comprehensive Spending Review to meet the commitment to 'progressive austerity' on the distributional 'IFS test'.

“When we see the CSR, it is going to be pretty grisly for a simple reason: if you are going to cut public expenditure on the scale that the government is going to, it is going to inevitably hit hardest those who depend most on public spending, and that is the poorest”, said Astle.

Blond worried about the lack of innovation in the Coalition's approach to deficit reduction:“What worries me about the austerity agenda is, where is the innovation? Where are, running alongside the welfare cuts, genuinely innovative approaches to mutualism and assets. We risk getting cuts to create a smaller state which does the same things. That would be the worst of all worlds", he said, while also criticising a focus on traditional redistribution.

“All the stuff about lifting families out of poverty: I doubt that those families feel that they have been lifted out of poverty. I doubt £10 or £15 a week extra really makes a transformative difference. I completely want a pro-poor political economy. But nothing we are talking about here is going to produce long-term transformation of the type we need”, said Blond, while stressing that he wanted

Kate Green disagreed, describing Blond’s argument as “harsh ... visionary but harsh”, arguing that her experience of constituents would £10 or £15 a week in tax credits could make a significant difference to whether mothers felt it was worth working, while arguing that the task of poverty campaigners and egalitarians was to rebuild support for redistribution.

How we re-engage a public that became very sceptical or disregarding of the way in which Labour was redistributing, in a way which was positive for a majority of families, rather than what came to be seen by many people as a way in which we were giving money to a few at the bottom who did not want to work

Astle said he was “always nervous about saying that money doesn’t make a difference to those living on low incomes: £10 or £15 a week can make a huge difference”, a point also made by Alison Garnham.

But Astle agreed that moving people across the poverty line was not ambitious enough. So Astle’s own idea for a more visionary agenda would involve taxing unearned wealth more vigorously – looking at a land tax, and considering property and wealth taxes, such as the mansion tax which “If you can generate significant additional revenues in these ways – into the billions – it allows you to reduce income taxes, increase incentives at the bottom end, and properly fund pre-school and education. The links between poverty and educational achievement are much much stronger in Britain than in other European countries and it doesn't have to be like this”.

Blond also suggested more radical approaches to wealth taxation, particularly highlighting the way in which gains made by landlords from social housing benefitted neither the government nor tenants.


At a CentreForum/Fabian/ResPublica/CPAG debate on the same theme at the Liberal Democrat fringe the previous week, Sarah Teather had also spoken about the limits of focusing on moving people across a relative poverty line. But at the same time she stressed that the government was absolutely committed to meeting the goals in the Child Poverty Act, and that she would be coming forward with a child poverty strategy which would deliver these goals, working closely with child poverty advocacy campaigners.

To AV or not to AV

The question of what Labour does about the forthcoming referendum on electoral reform hits the Fabian fringe over the next couple of days.

A similar gathering of the reform tribes took place at last year's conference in Brighton, directly after Gordon Brown's announcement that there would be a manifesto commitment to support AV. The atmosphere was febrile to say the least, with many PR supporters crying sell out. Now Labour reformers are more reconciled to and united behind AV, but the party at large is not - witness the Guardian's report of Emily Thornberry and Sunder's exchange at the Fabian/Observer Question Time last night.

I have a piece in the new Fabian Review investigating the 'yes' campaign, and whether the argument for reform can be won - both in the party and in the country. I spoke to both Labour and non-Labour reformers and found that the politics were beginning to get torturously difficult.

Read it in full here.

Without a full-throated Labour campaign in favour, its very difficult to see how the 'yes' campaign can prevail. Ed Miliband's speech tomorrow will be something of a crunch time: if he does not make campaigning for AV a clear part of his platform for the next year, it will be very difficult to persuade sceptical Labour supporters of the merits of campaigning for the change.

* Today 6pm: Ken Livingstone, David Blunkett and Evan Harris debate whether the Lib/Lab coalition has "gone forever".

* Tomorrow 8pm: Fabian/Compass/Electoral Reform Society/Progress rally "YES to reform - Winning the battle".

How the Fabians voted for leader

The affiiates section does not, contrary to perceptions, only contain trade unionists. These were the first preferences of Fabian members in the leadership ballot.

David Miliband 1461 (39.6%)
Ed Miliband 1321 (35.9%)
Ed Balls 313 (8.5%)
Diane Abbott 308 (8.4%)
Andy Burnham 281 (6.4%)

The Fabian ballot is pretty close to being representative that of all party members, with David Miliband marginally down by 2% on his party membership share of first preferences, and Ed Miliband 6% up.

It would have been almost neck-and-neck among the Milibands after transfers, with Ed Miliband probably having a very small lead (of less than 50 votes), on a projection based on the rates of transfer from the other candidates among party members.

There were 369 spoilt ballots out of 4053 votes returned, leaving 3684 valid Fabian votes.

There was a 61.4% turnout, considerably higher than union turnout which averaged 8%.

For example, there were more than 50 times as many Usdaw ballot papers as Fabian ballots, but these only recorded four times as many votes. Only the five large unions cast considerably larger numbers of votes than the Fabians, with UCATT and ASLEF returning a handful more votes than our members, and five of the smaller unions returning fewer ballots than the engaged Fabians.

I am told that people overlooking or ignoring the need to tick the declaration explains the high number of spoilt votes across the affiliated section. (I received a photocopy from one Fabian member who had numbered all five candidates, but then spoilt the ballot, partly because having paid attended our hustings and read all of the Fabian essays, he did not feel any of them had quite met the threshold to get his Fabian vote. I doubt that was typical).

Sunday, 26 September 2010

We need an English Labour identity, argue Cruddas and Denham

"We have a Welsh Labour, we have a Scottish Labour, we don't have an English Labour, yet with devolution that will be a crunch question for us", said Jon Cruddas, responding to a similar call from John Denham for Labour to develop a confidence that it can have an English identity in England at a Fabian fringe on the topic 'Can Labour speak to England'.

Cruddas feared that the party had not connected to "visceral" issues of "sentiment, belonging and identity, nationhood and loss" - and that it would not do simply by addressing policy concerns, such as around housing or agency workers, without a richer account of its political identity and mission.

"At times, the Labour leadership contest this summer - equality and fairness sounded like one long John Rawls lecture. All of the hopey change stuff is very good but it isn't enough", said Cruddas. If the left could not find a popular and radical response to issues of identity and belonging it would fail to counter a visceral politics "which is creating in England an embryonic tea party from a populist nationalist right. If we don't do this, we will find that growing populist response to a profound sense of economic and social rupture, with deep cuts coming", he said.

Cruddas' comments won praise from the fringe floor in Manchester Town Hall from Red Tory Phillip Blond, who said it was the first "properly visionary" account of Labour's challenge to reconnect to people's sense of group identity in rebuilding a sense of political mission.

Denham said that debates over values and identity had lacked context, giving the example of how discussion of Britishness had alighted on tolerance, democracy and the rule of law - which were not distinctive - but it had lacked a sense of being rooted in the specific context of 'who we are' and how, historically, those values came to embedded in our society: "We need to ask too: why has that, in our context, produced our sense of fairness and our way of looking at the world?", said Denham.

Both Denham and Yvette Cooper argued that Labour should be confident that its values around fairness were more deeply connected to a British sense of fairness than those of any party, but Denham argued that there had been a failure to locate and root these in an progressive account of identity and history.

John Denham, developing the themes of his Fabian on England lecture this summer, also warned that reconnecting Labour to lost voters couldn't be done by studying micro-psephological trends:

"We can not do it by targetting selected groups of voters. The voters we lost are different. It would be a fatal flaw to over-analyse swing groups of voters and pitch a particular appeal to them".

Only an approach based on a broad appeal to values which speaks to the whole country would work, he said.

That needed to understand that Labour had lost touch with voters who found that its approach to the economy and the labour market had ended up breaching the central New Labour promise that those who played by the rules would get on.

"The political economy we had as New Labour needs to change", said Denham. "It was a labour market which offered few rewards and little fairness for many of those in work", stressing again that "people in the south, as elsewhere in the country, believe in fairness - but it is a tough, reciprocal sense of fairness: what you get out reflects what you put in".

Yvette Cooper said that it would be a mistake to think these were southern issues, or that the south was different. There was a bigger swing against Labour in Yorkshire and Humberside, where many of the same challenges applied.

"Labour's political identity in Yorkshire may well be stronger than in the south-east. It is more part of the cultural politics - and so the issues of identity are different in different regions and places".

"The real challenge for us is a psychological shift for us - to believe that we are of the south, that we belong in the south, that we can win in the south. We will not win in the south because the Coalition becomes unpopular. I am convinced of that. We will only win if people want to vote for us. If we do not as a party aspire to be the party that is the first party in the south, then we will not win anything, and we will gradually lose our ability to appeal across the country, as the whole country is tending to become more like the south", said Denham, speaking to the 'southern discomfort' challenge.

"what does a contributory welfare system look like for the 21st century; we can't just write it out because its too difficult".

Denham also said that an important and difficult issue of the balance of regional spending and taxation The three areas where Labour did worse have the lowest public spending per head of population, while it had done well in London where spending was higher.

"These are difficult questions and I don't pretend to have all the answers. But the gap between tax raised and money spent was greatest in the areas that Labour did worse".

Cruddas also said he had been reading Tony Blair's early 1994 speeches and that they were rich, engaging with "identity, community and belonging".

"By 2005, it had become a dystopian worldview of individual acquisition where you sink or swim. I think we shifted away from hope over that arc and journey of eleve years".

Mail launches personal family attack on Ed M

I thought it was quietly almost noticeable how little notice was given to the question of Ed Miliband's marital status during the Labour leadership campaign.

Decca Aitkenhead asked him about it briefly for her Guardian G2 series of interview/profiles - "He describes Justine as "brilliant", but feels no personal or political need to marry. "We'll get round to it at some point, but I don't think people would mind if we didn't." As party leader, he would guard his family life less ferociously than Brown, but more privately than Tony Blair, and "under no circumstances" will his sons go to private school - but that was about it.

But the explanation seemed straightforward.

In 2010, the type of newspapers which might think about going for personalised attacks on politicians involving their children would probably realise this would be rather more likely to backfire badly with their readers than to fire them up.

But no, the Mail on Sunday has decided to immediately get stuck in to Ed Miliband after all - "Ed Miliband becomes first British political leader of a major party to be living with his family out of wedlock" reads the headline online on its reporter Glen Owen's so-called news story.

You know, I suspect it will backfire rather badly with their readers.


Now Ms Thornton will feel the full glare of media interest in her style, behaviour and pronouncements.

adds the paper, slightly menacingly.

Well if the Mall is going to offer "the full glare of media interest in ... style, behaviour and pronouncements", perhaps we might gently reciprocate and inquire whether the newspaper has any plans to ditch the "Dacre Rules" over what women can and can't wear if being photographed in the paper, a Taliban-lite tendency entertainingly dissected by Rachel Johnson several years back.

"No black," she pronounced. "Dacre Rules. Sorry. Can you put on something else?" I scurried upstairs obediently to change. Emptying my wardrobe on to the bed, I settled on some jeans and a Cacharel shirt with a strawberry print. The photographer frowned as I came back down into the kitchen.

"No jeans," she said. "No black. No trousers. Paul Dacre only wants women to appear wearing dresses. If skirts, only to the knee."


But perhaps it is just a sign that Mail editorial overlord Paul Dacre is losing his appetite for British politics.

His dislike of David Cameron has rarely been carefully disguised. The Mail's risibly absurd class and foreigner attacks on Nick Clegg during the election campaign often simply brought mockery to the Mail, and now he has to deal with this Coalition nonsense.

And Dacre didn't even have the option of preferring the elder Milband to win the Labour leadership. It has been reported by Kevin Maguire that relations there were rather tense once the Mail decided it would be newsworthy (and no doubt enormously relevant to their political coverage) to try to buy the stories of the birth-mothers of David Miliband's adopted children.

Ah, the defence of "family values" ... I suppose that could be one word for it.

Why Ed Miliband's core instinct is to battle for the middle ground

Most discussion of Ed Miliband's leadership campaign has been about three questions: the psychodrama of his decision to stand against his brother; the vague and usually unsubstantiated claims that he was lurching ultra-leftwards (please answer Next Left's Red Ed challenge if you wish to propagate this), and, in the last fortnight, whether he could really win the horse race.

Ed Miliband's political and policy agenda will surprise those who project a caricature on to him. Since this focuses strongly on how Labour values can connect to majority concerns, it is no surprise to see that he begins with a pitch to the "squeezed middle" in the Sunday Telegraph. Read Ed Miliband's piece here.

That is not about positioning as centrist. This is at the core of his thinking about what Labour is for, for similar reasons as those set out by John Healey last week.

There will be no abandoning of "mainstream" opinion - but there will be a focus on trying to make sure that the idea of Middle Britain does not exclude those who really live there, such as those on the median income of £21,000 in prosperous southern towns like Reading, in seeking to build the broadest possible coalitions around insecurity and aspiration.

If Ed Miliband were simply a "soft left" "heart over head" candidate interested in talking to the party and not the country, then why on earth did he ask John Denham MP to lead on long-term policy work for his leadership campaign? Denham, the hard-headed Southampton MP is respected across the party, and has had most to say about Labour's "southern discomfort" and English identity challenges over several years.

Sure, Denham did resign from the government over Iraq, also winning respect for the way he worked his way back to ministerial office including as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. His primary domestic focus has been on how Labour ensures that its arguments on inequality understand and connect with a robust public "fairness code" which sees reciprocity and contribution as central to the deal.

Ed Miliband spoke from the start of the campaign about "a welfare state based not just on need but on contribution", and has been influenced by the Fabian Society's work on public attitudes to fairness and inequality (including the potential tensions berween them), and our advocacy in The Solidarity Society about the need for contribution and reciprocity to be central to any inequality agenda which hopes to take the public with it.

* John Denham will join Jon Cruddas, Gisela Stuart, Yvette Cooper and Kwame-Kwei Armeh to debate Can Labour speak to England in Manchester Town Hall on Sunday night at 6pm on the Fabian fringe.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Could it just have been YouGov wot lost it for David Miliband?

The Labour leadership was perhaps the least polled recent party leadership contest, but projections that the race looked neck-and-neck, and that Ed Miliband might just prevail were borne out in the result.

However, analysis of the final results (full details) present the intriguing theory - an unprovable hypothesis perhaps - that Parliamentary reactions to the YouGov polling of the race might just have had a decisive influence on the knife-edge outcome.

Ed Balls MPs' split Ed Miliband 26 (60%), David Miliband 15 (35%), with Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper abstaining. That lead of 11 in Parliamentary Ed Balls transfers were in themselves exactly enough to just decide the result: David Miliband would have won the electoral college if they had split 20 all. While Ed Balls chose not to be a "kingmaker" in the election, nor to cast his own second preference vote, his Parliamentary supporters in effect made enough of a difference to change the result.

David Miliband lost all MP transfers 38 (56%) to 29 (44%) after the first round, with Ed Balls transfers were decisive in his being unable to achieve a 50-50 split to maintain the scale of his first preferences lead in that section. He ended 53.5% to 46.5% - a seven point lead - having led by 10 points (41.7% to 31.5%) on the opening round. That failure to quite match his rival in attracting further support cost him a decisive single point in the electoral college.

David Miliband's support did appear to slip slightly in Parliament after the September YouGov poll suggesting a neck-and-neck race with Ed Miliband possibly edging it.

In fact the elder Miliband did six points better (44%) among party members in the election itself than his 38% in that final poll. It projected Ed Miliband at 31%, very close to his 30% share but overstated Diane Abbott with 11%, when she got 7.5% in the ballot. In the end, David Miliband won party members by nine points rather than losing them by 4 points (48-52) as in the final poll.

Had that early September survey found similar shares to the actual members' vote, it would have projected - overall - a very narrow David Miliband victory in the electoral college, again by a 51-49 margin the other way.

Might the Parliamentary votes have then ended up marginally different enough to make all the difference?

The poll shook-up the media coverage and political debate, eventually led to Ed Miliband becoming favourite after voting closed. It is unlikely that it had a dramatic effect on member or trade union voting at that late stage.

Given how few MPs votes would have swung the result, the hypothesis that YouGov helped to lose it for David is at least worth entertaining in the annals of "what if?" political leadership election history.

Where the transfers went

The most impressive achievement of David Miliband's campaign was to win 44% of party members votes on the first round, with Ed Miliband on 30%. That 14% lead closed to 9% by the final round, with the elder Miliband leading 54-45% on the final ballot, because the supporters of each of the other three candidates broke more for Ed than David Miliband.

Ed Balls party member support split 9295 (60%) to 6439 (40%) for Ed Miliband in the final ballot, 15734. (However, that was after 13% of his 18,114 votes and transfers did not express a preference between Milibands).

That 3:2 transfer rate was precisely that which underpinned Next Left's analysis of whether second preferences would decide the election. And so our results day prediction that afour point electoral college lead would probably not be enough was borne out as David Miliband's 3.5% first round lead was overhauled on the final round of Balls' transfers, pretty much as described. This outcome was also correctly called in real-time on twitter by Left Foot Forward's Will Straw, while the BBC's Nick Robinson had the opposite hunch, apparently through going more on instinct than the numbers.

Interestingly, Balls union supporters split by a slightly narrower margin: 16253 (55%) to Ed Miliband and 13377 (45%) to David.

Earlier, Andy Burnham's 24 MPs split 14 to David Miliband (58%), 8 to Ed Miliband (33%) and 2 to Ed Balls. But his member supporters preferred Ed Miliband, with 4521 (40%), and Ed Balls (31.5%) with 3604 to David Miliband 3247 (28.5%).

And Ed Balls won more union transfers from Burnham than either Miliband with just over 9000, compared to 7500 to Ed Miliband and 5500 for David Miliband, reflecting that Burnham won union votes in the north and from the left of the party.

Diane Abbott got only 7 MPs votes in the first round. 2 (Abbott herself and John McDonnell) did not vote for any other candidate, the others splitting Ed Miliband 4 and Ed Balls 1.

Congratulations Ed Miliband

Congratulations to Ed Miliband on being elected Labour leader, his brother David Miliband who came so close to being elected, and to the other candidates who fought a fraternal and important contest for the party.

The split electoral college - with David Miliband winning more votes among party members as well as MPs - places an even greater emphasis on party unity.

It is also the case that Ed Miliband will have been first or second choice of about 66% of party members - as he was the second choice of 40% of those who voted for his brother, though those votes obviously did not count for him.

I discussed this scenario in detail and this Left Foot Forward commentary at the start of September:

Ed Miliband would face hostile media attention if he were to trail his brother among MPs (45-55) and party members (49-51) yet still get elected Labour leader as the strong choice of trade union levy payers and other affiliates – say 58-42.

That would be enough to give him the electoral college 50.6 to 49.4 – along with a headache with the newspapers and the Tory party, who would challenge the legitimacy of a Labour leader elected primarily on union votes. While not impossible, such scenarios are rather unlikely. Any split decision winner is likely to have 45%+ in every section, demonstrating a breadth of support.

What to watch for on the leadership scoreboard

Very few people, beyond the candidates, will know for sure who has been elected Labour leader before the announcement. (If Sky News are going to risk a punt before the declaration, let's hope they have learnt from their mistake of calling the deputy leadership for Alan Johnson with a few minutes to go).

Even when the first round results are declared, most of the audience in the hall may still not be able to tell who will win (assuming the candidate's body language does not reveal the outcome). That was certainly the case in 2007 when, even with only the final three three candidates left standing, I had no idea whether Alan Johnson or Harriet Harman had won.

It will take up to five minutes to go through the process of declaring each round, eliminating each candidate, and reprojecting the electoral college. But the first round result which will contain some important clues as to whether supporters of any candidate can expect to be jubiliant or dejected three minutes later.

If you need to know what to look for. Here's Next Left's guide.

* The projected shares will be the electoral college totals

It is worth noting that the projected shares on the first round will refer to the entire electoral college.

So first, it is worth looking at the 2007 deputy leadership first round to get a feel for what it will look like.

All of the numbers will look very low, perhaps leading even some D and E Miliband supporters to panic, until they see what the other candidates have!

Every number will be one-third of the percentage share that candidate has of that section. So a candidate winning 50% of party members (or any section) would appear as 16.67, while a candidate with one-third of a section will put 11% on the scoreboard. If a candidate has 3% of MPs, that will come up as just 1% on the board.


As a benchmark of who is doing enough to win, if the YouGov/Left Foot Forward first round figures were exactly right, these would be the figures on the screen on the first round for the leading two. (You can divide any other numbers by three for yourself!)

David Miliband: 13.67% PLP, 12.67% members, 9.67% affiliates.

total: 36%

Ed Miliband: 10.00% PLP, 10.33% members, 12% affiliates.

total: 32%

Remember, David Miliband must do better than that projection where he lost the electoral college 49-51%. But he can do so either by outperforming these first round shares, or by doing better on transfers than he did in that poll. If Ed Miliband is ahead of those YouGov shares, he would seem unlikely to lose (though again this depends on maintaining a very strong transfer performance from each of the other three candidates).

If there is a magic number in the first round, it is the difference between 40% of the party members vote and the 38% David Miliband got in the final poll. If David Miliband has 13.33% on the CLP section, he is probably going to win the party members section. At 12.67%, YouGov him on track to lose it. The arithmetical gap between triumph and disaster is narrow indeed.

Overall, Four points is probably not enough. But remember, it is much harder to get a 5% of 6% electoral college lead than in a conventional poll or election. That requires an average lead of that scale across all three sections. Being 5% ahead among party members is worth a 1.67% lead in the college. So 5% college lead means being ahead of another candidate by 15 MPs, and 7500 party members, and 37500 affiliate voters, or the equivalent in other sections.

* If Ed Miliband takes the lead on any round, he has very likely won. (A mild caveat: maybe not if Andy Burnham finishes third and so is the final eliminated candidate. His MPs would probably break for David Miliband, though YouGov's last poll found Burnham member and union supporters breaking 3:2 to Ed).

* If Ed Miliband were to win narrowly, he would probably not go ahead until the fourth and final count, particularly if Abbott or Balls were to finish third.

* How large a first round lead is needed?

David Miliband lost the electoral college 49-51 based on a 36-32 lead in the final YouGov poll.
In early September, Next Left estimated that David Miliband might need a 6+ point first round lead to stay ahead if losing transfers 2:3. The second YouGov poll showed a poorer transfer performance, with David losing the members 48-52 on a seven point (38-31) first round membership lead. An electoral college lead of five or six points is in the zone of uncertainty, where either candidate could win, while four points is unlikely to be enough, unless the transfers fall better for David.

The penultimate round lead needed is smaller, but perhaps not by much, especially if it does turn out that Ed Balls is eliminated last. (David Miliband will do relatively better on transfers if and when Andy Burnham is eliminated; he was doing worst with Abbott voters, though can mitigate this if Abbott voters prove somewhat less likely to express further preference than those of other eliminated candidates).

For example, if Balls were third on the penultimate round with 20% of the electoral college, we might anticipate that 90-95% of those votes will transfer (with all existing votes mildly increased in value as some votes - like Balls own PLP vote worth 0.1% of the electoral college - are exhausted). If the split were 3:2 (12:8), then Ed Miliband might go up by around 11% and David Miliband by about 7%: David Miliband would just then hold on if he had a 42-38% lead going into the final round of the electoral college. (But a 2:1 transfer split might close a 6 point lead even at that stage).

If Balls had 15% of the college, a 3 point David lead would be enough to survive a 3:2 (9:6) split, while a 5 point lead on the penultimate round would hold out while losing Balls' transfers by 10:5.


Please remember, the strength of vote transfers can go up as well as down in any candidate's direction, so we take no responsibility for any joy or angst created by these rules of thumb.

In short, nobody can know for certain until you hear the winner's name announced.

If you want to learn from Tony, don’t listen to him now

Labour’s new leader could learn rather more from Tony Blair’s success in opposition and his strong first term in office than what he now writes about it with hindsight. This is my opening editorial in the Fabian Review conference special, along with our cartoonist Teal's inimitable take on the Blair memoir. (Image used by permission of Adrian Teal: please respect copyright; for permissions, please contact The full Fabian Review issue can be read online and we look forward to seeing members and Next Left readers during our fringe programme at Manchester Town Hall from Sunday.


Tony Blair was Labour’s most electorally successful leader because he knew that it takes a broad electoral coalition to govern Britain. That ‘big tent’ contained multitudes; his talent for creative alliances eventually stretching beyond rational comprehension. How strange then that the ex-Prime Ministerial memoir now takes such pride in shrinking it almost to a defiant minority of one.

Tony wanted Paddy’s Lib Dems in his government; now he fears their “old Labour” instincts, suggesting the Coalition may be boldest and best when the Tories get their way. Jon Cruddas, a Downing Street staffer in Blair’s first term, offers a beguiling “reheated Bennism”. Even Alastair Campbell is “old Labour on policy”, especially education. At this rate, Blair may prove to be the man to find a winning coalition for old Labour after all.

Blair’s advice to “move not a millimetre from New Labour” is a ‘stop all the clocks’ political recipe which the early moderniser himself would have rejected. New Labour won two landslides, before squeaking home a third time thanks to Michael Howard’s unelectability. In 2010, we ran as New Labour and we lost as New Labour, as Peter Mandelson could testify.

Labour’s new leader could learn rather more from Blair’s success in opposition and his strong first term in office than what he writes about it with hindsight.

The original New Labour coalition united most Labour opinion and reached beyond it. Though very cautious, Labour ’97 did not run from popular causes when these might sound leftish. Being emphatically pro-business did not stop New Labour voicing much greater anger about unearned rewards from ‘fat cat’ pay in privatised utilities than could be heard over the financial crash a decade later. Nor about putting a windfall tax on privatised utilities, or facing down vociferous political, press and business opposition to the minimum wage; or, at least once, making a transparent case that more NHS spending had to be paid for from tax. Establishment opinion opposed devolution and freedom of information. Each of those fights did shift the political centre leftwards, in ways which endure in 2010, even as other issues shift right.

These reflected an argument about what was wrong with Britain: too divided, not enough responsibility (including at the top), too little sense of what we shared in common. It was (all too quickly) after 1997 that values-based arguments took second place to a narrower appeal to specific electoral segments, where mythologised caricatures of Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman represented life in the ‘middle’.

Labour’s new leader would do well to look at how Blair – just as Cameron has – introduced himself to the public in broad brushstrokes, resisting demands to flesh out policy detail too early. (It is necessary later, as Cameron rather neglected.) Gordon Brown’s speeches were always ‘policy rich’ from his first days yet never articulated what his overall argument for ‘change’ was about. This lesson applies now to deficit reduction as much as any other area: Labour must first argue why it would make different choices, then present credible alternatives. That requires signposts and symbolic examples, but not a shadow spending review.

The new leader must now address the country – yet must act urgently in the party too. David Miliband has argued that “party reform stopped on May 2nd 1997”. Labour needs a deep cultural overhaul of how we do politics if members and supporters are to again believe their voices count, and be mobilised as a campaigning force. If that doesn’t happen before 12 months are up, it will never happen at all.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A Labour "gap year": go back to your constituencies and prepare to organise

The new Labour leader will need to speak to and connect with the country. Yet every leadership contender has talked about the need to change the party's culture, if members are to believe their voices and views count again, and to make the party part of a broader movement for change.

But how to go get there?

Stella Creasy MP, elected for Walthamstow as part of Labour's class of 201, says it will take more than incremental change. In a new essay for the Fabian Society and a piece for LabourList, she argues for a "gap year" moratorium on formal meetings, replaced by a year of reflection on how Labour reconnects, and of action on political mobilisation.

Labour should introduce a moratorium on all formal meetings for a single calendar year. Instead of branches, policy forums, ECs, LGCs, CLPs and regional conferences, our party would make a commitment to run a programme of activities designed to explore how we can connect with every existing and potential member in Britain.

Would that help to create the change Labour needs?

New Fabian Review now available online!

We’ve made the whole of the new Fabian Review available online - read it here.

We normally do this a few months in arrears – and you can read back issues here – but as Labour gets a new leader we want everyone to be able to read our guide to his tricky year ahead.

If you like what you read, you can join the Fabians and get the magazine and our agenda-setting political pamphlets delivered straight to your door.

Labour has "crippling weakness" in the south

Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice have an essay in the Fabian Review conference special that outlines "the steep electoral mountain" Labour has to climb , particularly in southern England:
"In the south and the Midlands, where British general elections are determined, Labour holds just 49 out of 302 seats, and the swing against it was over 9 per cent in many seats. We need to understand why the party performed so disastrously, and why the 1997 coalition unravelled in such spectacular fashion."
The essay and its new polling were reported in the Independent today, as well as analysis over on Left Foot Forward. The authors also wrote a comment piece for the Financial Times (registration required).

You can read the whole thing on the Fabian Society website.

Can you take the "Red Ed" challenge?

He has been declared "Red Ed" Miliband by the silly end of a media and political blogosphere which this week lost credibility in seeming to struggle to spot the difference between "Red" Vince Cable and Bob Crow.

But what counts as a revolutionary platform in these post-ideological days?

Next Left is naturally keen to find out, even if some of those laying the charge are not always totally sure what the ammunition is, as the FT's Jim Pickard noted.

Another hack told me weeks ago that Ed had tacked wildly to the left with his socialist policy agenda. Such as what, I asked? “Well, I don’t really know,” he admitted. “Does it matter?” Such is the reality of the Westminster village.

Fortunately, one of our top Tory bloggers is now going to come to the rescue. The great Tory Bear, having tweeted "Red Ken, Red Ed, Reds in opposistion for a decade" has now accepted Next Left's Red Ed challenge.

Please name 3 "Red Ed" policies not supported by either a governing Coalition party or David Miliband.

Ed M is being excessively centrist in not backing his brother (and Vince Cable) on a mansion tax, and nor does he support Ed Balls on starting the 50% top rate at a lower amount. (Supporting the current tax rate kept by the Cameron, Osborne and Clegg govenment is not a leftwards lunge, nor is calling for it to be "permanent" a real policy difference if neither his brother nor the LibDems support calls to repeal it).

He has some way to go to match the popular leftist windfall tax and minimum wage in the Blair-Brown 1997 New Labour manifesto.

We'll soon find out whether there is enough to keep the Red Ed flag flying.

No 2nd pref: Ed Balls stays neutral between Milibands

Ed Balls chose not to cast a second preference in the Labour leadership election, in a move likely to strengthen the mood among party members that nobody will be able to confidently predict the result for certain until it is announced on Saturday afternoon.

He reveals the decision publicly in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, who have rather tucked away the revelation, which gets a brief mention near the end of the interview with Mary Riddell and Andrew Porter, on page 18 of Friday's print edition, and not yet online. [UPDATE: Read the full Telegraph interview].

By a stange irony, his closest contender may be his wife. Yvette Cooper, who declined to stand for the leadership because the timing was too difficult, is now her husband's "best supporter and toughest critic".

We ask if it is true that the couple had struck a Granita-style deal allowing him a free run at becoming Shadow Chancellor. 'No, of course not. We haven't talked about it. The one thing you can absolutely guarantee is that Yvette will do very well in the Shadow cabinet elections.

A second rumour claims that friends say he would rather serve under Ed Miliband than his brother, in order to avoid risking a reprise of the Blair/Brown wars. Is that true? Mr Balls replies that no one else speaks for him.

Any such statements are "utter fabricated garbage" and anyway [such sources] are obviously not my friends. They''d know better. The answer is: No, I think that's rubbish."

His ballot paper carries no second preference: "I'm going to support whoever wins"

He also says, of the Shadow Chancellor's post:

"I want Labour to win again. I will back the leader 100 per cent. They'll make their decisions and that is fine by me. I am going to be loyal".

He believes the leader must "pick the best people for the best jobs - the ones for which they are most suited", citing disunity and not winning the economic argument as the reasons why Labour has lost previous elections.

Balls is not preparing for victory. He also tells the Telegraph that he has not written a leadership acceptance speech: "If I need one, I'll have to scramble it", he says ... It was always frustrating that people wanted to make it a two-horse race ... If you're still two goals down in the 85th minute, you don't say 'Hang on, can we not make the match 120 minutes?' You play by the rules. "If I'm not winning at full time, then I haven't won and that's just the way it is".

Balls believes that casting no further preferences, after voting for himself as leader, was the best approach, given that he will want to support whoever is elected. It also reflects a view that the Miliband brothers each have different strengths, and confirms his earlier statements that he would not seek to direct his supporters to act as a block in the election, and that they should think carefully and make up their own minds.

Others who nominated Balls can be found supporting both Milibands with transfers: Geoffrey Robinson, Chris Leslie and Tom Blenkinsop have plumped for David Miliband, while John Healey has joined Tom Watson, Eric Joyce and Teresa Pearce in casting a second preference for Ed Miliband.

This is one final post-campaign nail in the coffin for the theory that Balls would choose to seek to be a "king-maker" in this election. (This blog was sceptical, noting that "the powers of a king-maker are easily exaggerated. Perhaps Ed Balls is not going to put them to the test", though the David Miliband campaign had appeared confident of a "deal" to secure Balls' backing in early September).

Next Left believes that Balls' decision will leave the Miliband brothers with two second preferences each among the five leadership contenders (though their own fraternal transfers are unlikely to be counted in the ballot) when the details MPs' votes are published in full next Wednesday.

Balls' own vote is worth a not neglible 0.33% of the Parliamentary section of the electoral college. If he does not make the final round of the last two candidates himself, this will marginally inflate the value of all other Parliamentary votes. Harriet Harman is also reported to have chosen not to vote, as acting leader. It is widely thought that Gordon Brown will cast a vote, most probably for Ed Miliband rather than Ed Balls, but this has not been publicly confirmed.

Another possible final round abstainer might be Yvette Cooper. Next Left asked the Balls campaign yesterday whether Cooper, who had nominated her husband for leader, had also chosen not to cast a second preference for leader. Laudably, the Balls campaign didn't know, which is probably as it should be. As one the strongest rival contenders for the post of Shadow Chancellor, under either Miliband, Cooper too will have had to decide over the last week whether or not expressing a further leadership preference would make sense for her personally.

Balls' interview today remarks in the Telegraph interview reflect that he can legitimately take the view that any so-called friend who told the New Statesman that making him Shadow Chancellor under David Miliband would repeat the Blair-Brown wars wants shooting).

Friday's Guardian sees Balls himself minimising deficit differences with both Milibands.

Balls, the shadow children's secretary and a strong contender for the shadow chancellorship, insisted that his call to slow the Labour deficit programme "does not put me in a different place to either David or Ed Miliband". He said: "My Bloomberg speech [last month] has been praised by both Milibands and no one thinks we have to stick by the position adopted two years ago. The world has changed and moved on. The American downturn and the European crisis have changed things. I find it bizarre that Nick Clegg argues the crisis makes the case for cuts. It is nonsense and I think he has been very badly advised."

Similarly, Balls tells The Telegraph "Both Milibands have cited the Bloomberg speech as something which really socked it to George Osborne. So in the big fundamental analysis, we're all in the same place. People will want to find divisions but we're smarter than that and we understand the history, and we have gone through this [contest] on a comradely way".


No full tally of MPs' transfer preferences is likely before Saturday's result, though the Left Foot Forward website have continued to monitor developments most closely.

There have been at least some late changes of allegiance. Austin Mitchell, who helped put Andy Burnham in the race wiht a nomination, finally decided on the final day to vote for Ed Miliband. (Declaring this behind the Times paywall on Thursday as the campaigns wrapped up means the blogs and tweeters mostly missed it). Beneath the media radar, Ed Balls' campaign has demonstrated its characteristic stamina in this long campaign, successfully secured two MPs' first preferences - one each from public supporters of Ed and David Miliband - in the last couple of days before voting closed. Their identities are not being publicly revealed until the votes are counted. (The switcher from Ed Miliband, for example, wished to express support particularly for Balls' economic arguments in his Bloomberg speech without intending this to be a public criticism of the leadership credentials of Ed Miliband, who continued to have his second preference, and of whom he has been a vocal public advocate).

I would gauge that this increases the chances of Diane Abbott being eliminated first - unless she can establish a strong advantage over Balls or Burnham among party members or trade unionists - and also of Ed Balls winning what looks a tight race for third place.

So it may be that Ed Balls supporters' transfers which finally determine who crosses the finishing post - though only if and where they have decided to express a preference between Milibands, unlike the man himself.