Ed. Please listen. This is a matter of life and death. Your life and death, in fact, as Leader of the party. You had a bad conference. Not “a grotesque, cataclysm” of a conference, as Dan Hodges howled and many of your shadow cabinet whispered. But a conference in which your actions, in spite of your good intentions, simultaneously succeeded in fuelling the Blairite determination to get rid of you and in further eroding your support in the party whilst failing to reassure the public about your leadership capabilities.
You are currently putting together a shadow cabinet reshuffle. We understand your caution — it is difficult to operate in a parliamentary party so much of which is hostile to your objectives without public division — but you must also be bold. You took the power to reshape your team and we backed you, in spite of our commitment to shadow cabinet elections, because we recognised you needed a loyal team committed to the changes you want to make, to the party and in government. Now you must use that power. Your enemies are circling and your friends cannot wait forever.
You must be in no doubt not only about the determination of the Blairites to get rid of you but also that they are already organising. Their omni-presence at conference, in spite of under-whelming attendances, was for a reason. Over the Autumn, Progress is mounting meetings in Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Leicester, Medway, Birmingham, Liverpool, Oxford and Glasgow. There will be more — they have the money. Their programme is designed to cement their relationships, grow their contacts, promote their candidates, prepare the ground for their strike. They will not attack you directly — they cannot afford to alienate the middle ground. They will bide their time. But strike they certainly will.
And what of your base? After all, you did win last year? Where is that keen and energetic “next generation” now? What happened to your insurgency?
They have dissipated. Disappointed. They expected more change, faster change. You allowed that to happen. Too many concessions to the Blairites. Too many attempts to publicly distance yourself from the unions who backed you. Disappointment at what you said about public sector pensions, anti-union legislation, council house sales, to name but three.
We know there have been good things too. The content of your speech last week about producers and predators and breaking with the market consensus. Your commitment to democratise the party. We still recognise in you our own values. You can still enable us to recreate and re-energise that base. But you have to act now.
The 19 members elected last year elected to the shadow cabinet included ten who voted for your brother. One left (Alan Johnson). One (Angela Eagle) has transferred her loyalty to you, is effective, and you will no doubt promote her. Half of the rest deserve to go and go now. Meg Hillier has been inactive and invisible. Tessa Jowell is overdue for retirement and you do not need an Olympics shadow at the top table. Ivan Lewis has been utterly ineffective, leaving you and Tom Watson to pick up the pieces over Murdoch. Caroline Flint has willfully failed to oppose the government’s attack on local government funding, on the housing crisis, and on the proposed destruction of planning, but will be the first to attack you. Nor would Shaun Woodward whom you appointed be missed.
All those whom you appoint must be people who can be relied upon to support you. Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Helen Goodman would all do so and would make a significantly better job of opposition. You are rumoured to be considering appointing Rachel Reeves. She is able and she voted for you, but don’t count on her support — she is too close to Progress for comfort.
Other Blairites are in the wrong positions. Liam Byrne should never have been given responsibility for the policy review — which has been an elaborate fiasco whch has, fortunately gone largely unnoticed — and should certainly not have kept it once he got a shadowing role. There is a strong case for combining it with Peter Hain’s current role — after all the national policy forum is supposed to have a central role in the process. And whoever speaks on pensions and benefits must be someone who shares your core values. Liam might do well in Ireland.
It’s urgent, Ed. The left will back you for as long as we can. Not uncritically, but with all our power. But if you fail to act, if the Blairites strike, if you look like you are going to lose, we cannot back a loser until the end. We did that for Gordon Brown and there is no appetite to repeat it.