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Wanted: A (new) Labour General Secretary

Labour’s new leader has been in office barely two months, yet this hasn’t stopped a motley collection of ex Ministers, frustrated David Miliband supporters and it would seem some party officials, from moaning in the ear of one Dan Hodges, who last week launched into print in the New Statesman, giving vent to their – and I suspect – his, litany of woes. Hodges article was titled ‘Fear and loathing in the Labour Party’, but here is the curious thing, since Ed Miliband was elected Labour leader the quotient of ‘fear and loathing’ seems to have abated – except amongst those John Prescott refers to as the ‘Bitterites’.

Much of the moaning and chest beating came from – and how delightful to describe them as such – the ‘usual suspects’. Once again we had the bruised ego of Peter Mandelson and the fulminations of Messrs Clarke and Milburn. We had the shock revelation that former Ministers, Ben Bradshaw, Hazel Blears and Pat McFadden had turned down positions in the Shadow Cabinet, presumably hoping that by sitting it out, the bus will come round again at some point in the future. We were led to believe that Messrs Balls and Cooper are busy plotting, which sounds far fetched, and was denied by Yvette Cooper. Meanwhile, Alan Johnson, was busy making headlines raking over the coals of Labour’s leadership election by banging on about the union vote, and absurdly running into direct conflict with Ed Miliband over the top rate of tax. He shouldn’t surely need reminding that as a former union leader, he, Alan Johnson would still be rattling around on his bike delivering the post if it had not been for union votes. In any event, is the public remotely interested in such navel gazing? And as for his pronouncements on the 50% tax rate, even George Osborne disagrees with him. Mr Johnson last week only succeeded in making Labour look divided – and even more dangerous, irrelevant to that vast majority who not only will never earn enough to pay the top rate of tax, but who are realistic enough about their own aspirations to know that have more chance of winning the lottery than doing so.

All of this was taking place as Labour moved to a five point lead in the opinion polls, and made some fairly spectacular local council gains. It also happened while Ed Miliband was on paternity leave. It reminded me of the failed attempted coups that used to take place when various African leaders were away at Commonwealth or UN conferences. Except this one was highly exaggerated, and blown out of proportion to help people notice both the New Statesman and Dan Hodges.

To accentuate the positive; Ed Miliband has asked Peter Hain to oversee Labour’s future policy review and top down, command and control party structure; Ray Collins, whose tenure as General Secretary has coincided with some appalling abuses of party democracy, is off to the House of Lords, and Ed Miliband has returned sharp, and fresh to give David Cameron a good needling in the Commons.

But of course much, much more is needed. While Harriet Harman and Ed Balls have sparkled in Opposition, the party as whole has still not found its voice or sense of urgency. It risks being driven by events, rather than driving events, because each notch it marks that is vaguely to the left of the old Blairite norm is pilloried as a ‘lurch’. Ed Miliband doesn’t need to set out concrete policies – it would be good if the Labour movement is given a real opportunity now to help draw up that political alternative, but the party desperately needs a narrative and to be seen identifying with working and middle class voters who now find themselves at the sharp end.

Voters won’t forgive Labour, still less be vaguely interested, if the party now spends the next period examining how it elects its leaders and defending the policies and practices of the Blair era. Ed Miliband needs all of the support he can get, while he needs to make it clear to unrepentant Blairites that they no longer call the shots. For good measure he needs to move as swiftly as Tony Blair did when he replaced Larry Whitty with Tom Sawyer and ensure that he has a key ally, and an upstanding one at that, as the new General Secretary of the Labour Party. From that, much else will flow.

6 Comments

  1. Steve Kelly says:

    Ed should simply give the Blairites a choice. Shut up, stop sniping from the sidelines or leave and let the rest of us fight this shower of a government.

  2. Steve Kelly says:

    Can Ed influence the reselection process in some way? Just a thought.

  3. J.A.M. says:

    Activists get pissed off when grown ups cannot accept that the deed is done & Ed Miliband is the Leader of the Labour Party. So please unite together to fight the forces of evil messers Cameron & Clegg.

  4. Mark Seddon says:

    Perhaps contributors to Left Futures might have some ideas/suggestions about the next General Secretary, and what qualities are essential in that person?

  5. Jon Lansman says:

    Qualities essential in the next general secretary:

    1. a commitment to ensure all party officials observe the civil service principles of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.
    2. a commitment to operate within the rule book and interpret rules reasonably, rather than to make the rules up as s/he goes along.
    3. An understanding of, and commitment to, the values of the Labour movement.

  6. Mick Williams says:

    I think the last thing needed is a “NEW” Labour General Secretary.

    But then, I voted for ‘Hary Perkins’ in the recent leadership election ….

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