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Ed goes for broke, and quite right

One’s first reaction to Ed Miliband’s abolition of shadow cabinet elections is that this is a step away from party democracy.   But on closer reflection this is a shrewd, and radical, break with tradition which makes a lot of sense in current circumstances.   Ed is faced with a shadow cabinet in which only 4 of its 19 members voted for him in the leadership election 9 months ago and which has shown itself signally unwilling to accept the message of that leadership campaign that the party wanted a change of direction.   A leader voted in on that mandate can be expected to take the necessary steps to deliver what he promised.    But there’s more to this than meets the eye.

From year zero in 1994, as Blair and his followers then saw it, the Blairite political machine immediately set about transforming the composition of the PLP into an impregnable stronghold which would support its leader in all circumstances.    They succeeded spectacularly.   Preferred candidates for the Blairite New Labour faction were given a head start in all parliamentary selections via the network of regional officers, which the machine dominated.   They were given advance access to membership lists (the electoral college), they were strongly promoted behind the scenes by discreedt pressure from the regional office, they were protected against rival candidates at the shortlisting, and the handling of postal votes often turned out to their advantage.

As a result, of the 350 Labour MPs elected in 1997, perhaps 250 could be broadly described as New Labour devotees.   By 2010 that number was reduced to around 150 out of a total of 250.   New Labour was greatly attenuated both numerically and ideologically, but crucially still clung on as a bloc able to thwart any significant shift away from the Blairite adherence to privatisation, deregulation, unfettered markets, corporate interests, and inequality.   Any leader committed to change course from the disastrous policies that lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 would have no alternative but to break with this cycle of decline.   That is exactly what Ed is now doing.

Contrary to the usual media-driven drivel, Ed Miliband is not a proto-leftist nor a Red Ed caricature.   He’s a thoroughly decent man with genuinely radical instincts who wants to lead Britain out of the dead-end into which its’s beeing driven by Osborne stagnation and Cameron market obsession.   He has a readiness to listen, a tolerance of factions within the party which he dearly wants to heal, but if need be a steely ruthlessness to cut through blockages which frustrate the party’s advance, as he is now displaying.

The party desperately needs refreshing both structurally – to restore its suppressed internal democracy – and ideologically, both to set out the clear alternative vision to the broken neoliberal capitalism as well as to appeal emotionally and practically to the squeezed middle and abandoned working class base.   That is no easy task which cannot be rushed, but EM remains by far the party’s best hope to secure this objective and this latest move will bring it a lot closer.

4 Comments

  1. Duncan says:

    Michael, I’m sorry but this is just nonsense. Deluded nonsense at that.

    I am not inclined to oppose Ed Miliband: I expended a good deal of effort defending him against the ultra-Blairite nonsense abounding a few weeks ago, and I don’t regret that. However, he then went on to make a stupid and appallingly spun speech ceding uneccessary ground to the right (which some on this site decided to defend) and now wants to get rid of the little bit of party democracy at the top of the PLP, and again we see the defences.

    There is no point defending Ed Miliband when he is right if we also defend him when he is palpably wrong. It makes for a hollow and unconvincing defence; a desperate attempt to be Ed’s friend in the hope of a few crumbs somewhere down the line. Who will take seriously your logical defences of Miliband if you follow them up with irrational nonsense?

    The PLP is massively dominant in the election of the Party Leader; Ed Miliband was not the PLP’s first choice, but it was clearly very happy and relaxed with the choice. There is a bigger principle at stake than whether the PLP currently has a “Blairite” or “New Labour” dominance. If we are concerned about that then we should be doing something about selections and future PLPs. Are we so close to surrender that we abandon any hope of a future PLP that might elect a good Shadow Cabinet? If so, that is a very sorry state of affairs indeed.

    I literally cannot comprehend where this is coming from: it is irrational and depressing.

  2. Labourvoter says:

    Duncan, you cannot be serious! There is nothing deluded, irrational, wrong or depressing about Michael’s defence of the move to abolish shadow cabinet elections, as you claim.

    Ed’s initiative is very appropriate in the present context. The demand of the moment is that we ensure Labour is in opposition for the shortest possible period. This requires effective opposition, not delaying all effort and progress in the hope that eventually there may be “… a future PLP that might elect a good Shadow Cabinet.”

    For crying out loud!

  3. Duncan says:

    I am entirely serious!

    The elected Shadow Cabinet is a good thing; it is an advantage we have over the other parties.

    The leader still has enormous powers of patronage in relation to the Shadow Cabinet: he can choose what roles they perform, and he can bring anybody else that he wants to. If he wanted to bring a “class of 2010” MP – he can. If he wanted to move an underperforming shadow minister from one brief to another – he can.

    All he CAN’T do is sack somebody from his Shadow Cabinet (although, people can still resign from the Shadow Cabinet so even this is not really true – as if Miliband wanted rid of somebody I am sure he could get their resignation.

    So this is meaningless in terms of what it gains for Miliband; but it is hugely meaningful in terms of what it loses for party democracy.

    For crying out loud!

  4. Duncan says:

    To clarify – this move will have no impact (for good or ill) on our ability to win a general election. It will have little or no impact on the team Ed wants to build around himself – I suspect he would have had most of these people given a free choice, and the ones he might not have had are not necessarily the ones people posting here would be keenest to see jettisoned.

    What is deluded is any notion that Ed Miliand would be a great, direct, left social democrat were it not for the burden of a Blairite shadow cabinet; this is a myth and an illusion.

    We have the leader and leadership team we have got; I think the leader is preferable to most of the alternatives. Let’s, indeed, get on with beating the tories, not trying to make headlines with these sorts of procedural changes.

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