Saturday 21 May 2011

Weekend reading: On Ed Miliband, Progress, Blue Labour and the Wombles

I spent most of last week away from both the office and the blog (and even, for two rather refreshing days, having any internet connection at all), moving house and celebrating my youngest son’s second birthday on Thursday. There has been plenty going on politically so, to catch up, here’s a brief round-up of a few things that have caught my eye.

The big political event of the day on the centre-left is the Progress Annual Conference. There is a packed Progress conference schedule, and there should be plenty of tweeting at #pac11.

Labour party leader Ed Miliband gives the keynote speech, a role played last year by his elder brother David as the Labour leadership contest got underway.

Ed Miliband again demonstrates his instinct to be a collegiate and pluralist leader, as he seeks to build bridges to the right-wing of the party.

He will also want to convince his audience that the party must change to win. And there is a gentle rebuke to some on the Progress wing of the party in Miliband's Guardian commentary today, where he rejects the proposition that Labour "could just fight on his [David Cameron's] ground and accept the terms of debate set by him", as an approach which would fail".

(This is a rejection of the argument put by voices such as former party general secretary Peter Watt who argued this week that Labour should support the Coalition government's spending cuts. But most on the Progress right of the party do share a version of the 'too much, too fast' critique, while favouring Labour being more candid in identifying some of the cuts it would support within a more moderate strategy for deficit reduction, consistent with that of Alastair Darling).


How the party needs to change is also the theme of the Refounding Labour project, being led by Peter Hain, on which Hain spoke at last weekend’s Fabian post-election conference.

Give your views on what you love and what you would change about the Labour party before 24th June.


Ed Miliband also last week offered a warm welcome to the ‘conservative left’ of Blue Labour, writing the foreword to an engaging e-book collection 'The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox'. The full book (PDF) can be downloaded from the Soundings website.

This draws on a series of Oxford-London seminars, with essays from Maurice Glasman on blue Labour, Marc Stears on leadership and party politics, and Jonathan Rutherford on a left conservatism, with Stuart White of Oxford University (and a contributor here on Next Left) among a wide range of political and academic respondents. The Fabian Society, Progress, Compass, Soundings and the Christian Socialist Movement are among those associated with the collection, in order to promote debate across the party.

The collection goes some way to answering some of the questions as to what the Blue Labour project is all about (which is something Alex Canfor-Dumas was wondering about on LabourList this week, while David Lammy set out why he believes blue Labour voices an important part of Labour's plural tradition.

Reform or die?

Progress also published a couple of pieces about the Fabians this month, triggered by our search for a new General Secretary. (Applications close this Thursday, for any of you still pondering whether to throw your hat into the ring. (PDF) Having called for a Fabian "Clause Four moment” in their magazine’s think-tank column, they followed this up by issuing David Chaplin’s “reform or die” call for greater Fabian transparency and member involvement .

In writing my weekly post for Labour Uncut, I issued a reciprocal challenge arguing that the 15-year old post-Blairite group should now be ready to think about when to have a clause four moment of its own. Having platformed Chaplin’s call for think-tank transparency and internal democracy, Progress will surely want to practice what they preach. Emulating the Fabians’ democratic structures could give Progress’ own members some voice and power in the organisation. Progress would not tell me how many members they have; and reporting that for the first time would be an obvious, if rather overdue, small first step.


The AV inquest

There have been several more reflections on the lessons of the AV referendum. Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome has a useful round-up of Yes inquests, as well as his and Dan Hodges' reviews of how the No campaign won.

Anthony Barnett published an important post on OpenDemocracy on Tuesday, drawing on some of the published accounts of the campaign to call on the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust – a major funder of the Yes campaign and, with the Electoral Reform Society, the group which was most closely involved in its organisation, staffing and strategic direction – to conduct a transparent inquiry into the campaign’s defeat and the lessons to be learnt from it.

He is right to highlight the extremely important role which the JRRT has played in supporting pro-democracy and civil liberties campaigning in recent decades. That makes it all the more important that the JRRT should respond to his call. He is among those to note that the one success of the Yes campaign was to engage and mobilise a new generation of democracy activists on the ground, and that there is an important principle of accountability, and indeed an enlightened self-interest case too for a powerful body championing reform, to ensure those efforts are properly valued and respected in the aftermath. A willingness to openly discuss and to learn the lessons must be central to that.

Anthony has probably unmatched credentials as a committed democratic reformer to lead that constructive call for transparency in pursuit of democracy. As with much of the pluralist wing of the Labour party, I was much influenced by his successful mobilisation of Charter 88 in the late Thatcher era, which did a great deal to open up what was the most important period of democratic reform since 1911. The AV referendum reverse looks like the book-end of that era, which naturally leads to a focus on the limits of reform. Nevertheless, several of the piecemeal changes – particularly devolution, as well as freedom of information and human rights legislation – will have enduring impacts.


Best of the blogs

Graeme Archer won the Orwell prize for blogging.

It is a very well deserved award for his beautifully written and often off-piste personal take on politics for ConservativeHome. You can read his winning blog-posts here.

One of the attractions of Graeme's writing is that he doesn't seem to have quite the same sense of raging ego as some others on the blogosphere. Perhaps this prestigious prize might yet change that!

The other shortlisted and longlisted posts (including mine!) can be read at the Orwell prize website.

Jenni Russell won the journalism prize, and the book prize was awarded posthumously to Tom Bingham for The Rule of Law.

How the Arab Spring came to Washington

President Obama's speech on the middle east was the big foreign affairs event of the week. There was a superb long backgrounder on the debates within the Obama administration by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, which set out some of the thinking behind the speech, and indeed explains some of the gaps left in it too.


Match of the day

On the football field, thoughts turn to Premiership relegation and how to avoid it tomorrow, an occasion (like the Championship play-off) in which commentators and reporters too often quantify what is at stake in financial terms, instead of footballing pride.

But the match of the weekend is definitely AFC Wimbledon versus Luton Town this afternoon for a place in the Football League.

Both clubs have endured so much trauma since they contested an FA Cup semi-final 22 years ago. So today’s game is not just another nail biting play-off match at the end of the season, but is above all a brilliant celebration of the commitment of grassroot’s football supprters to what they believe in.

When I was a teenager, Luton Town were once right up there with Liverpool and Manchester United as one of my least favourite football clubs, thanks to their plastic pitch, ban on away fans and their appalling Thatcherite ‘nasty party’ chairman David Evans MP. But, like Wimbledon and Watford, they were also a club who, on the field, showed that the natural order could be upset. Today’s game at the Manchester City’s new stadium also evokes memories of David Pleat’s crazy dance down the touchline as they escaped relegation at Maine Road to send once-mighty City down.

Wimbledon were not always the most popular of giantkillers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as their immense achievement in climbing the entire football ladder had only a nodding acquaintance with the principles of the beautiful game. I can’t say that I remember a great deal about the occasions on which I saw my team, Everton, scrap in the mud at ramshackle Plough Lane.

The condition of being a football fan often involves taking vicarious pleasure, as a spectator, in what our heroes do or don’t achieve on our behalf. What the fans of AFC Wimbledon have done in refusing to let their club be killed off is an inspirational achievement, whether they win or lose. That's the Good Society in action. So let’s hope it is rewarded with promotion in Manchester today.


Do please let me know what you're reading and about other blog posts you’ve found most interesting.


Alex C-D said...

Thanks for linking to my post Sunder - but the link actually takes you to ConHome...


Sunder Katwala said...

Alex ... Thanks for spotting that. Now fixed

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding like a smart alec, could I ask whether you mean "collegial" rather than "collegiate" wrt Ed Miliband ? I'm guessing you did, but am wondering if "collegiate" might have a different meaning in this context.