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The real divisions in the Labour Party and what Ed should do about it

Most Labour party members are, above all, loyal to their party. They have a strong inclination to back their leaders, even when they disagree with what they’ve said or done. And disagree they did, by and large, when Ed Balls announced that “the starting point….is we’re going to have to keep all these cuts” and accept real-term cuts in public sector pay. And if they didn’t then, like Eoin Clarke at the Green Benches, they did as soon as they saw Labour’s support slide in the polls.

And so it was, at yesterday’s meeting of Labour’s national executive, elected to represent the views of the party and its affiliates, that only one voice was raised in support of the change in Labour’s policy – that of Luke Akehurst., who has since published his views. Although NEC members are tight-lipped about their private discussion, that has been confirmed by a number present at the meeting. Ed Miliband was subjected to the strong views of most others present, both about the lack of consultation and the political mis-judgement.

Contrast that with Monday’s parliamentary party meeting, the best attended for sometime:  just one voice was raised against the policy, that of Michael Meacher who has always been and remains a supporter of Ed Miliband’s leadership, and whose views were greeted with silence. No doubt there were silent critics, including a number now holding front bench positions and therefore unable to speak. However, the contrast is stark. And the difference is a political chasm that divides not Left and Right but the party from its parliamentary representatives.

The  composition of the parliamentary party reflects the years of New Labour command and control where every rule was bent or broken to rig selections and ensure the compliance of Labour MPs. Even the minority of MPs who backed Ed against his brother include many whose views are unreconstructed New Labour. The closer you get to the Shadow Cabinet, the worse it gets. And, unfortunately, the same is true in the Leader’s warring and ineffective private office.

The result is that Ed Miliband is all-too isolated at Westminster. He failed to crack down on the almost daily barrage of attacks from Blairites which started on Boxing day and stopped only when Ed Balls made his Fabian speeech and gave the associated interviews. That surprised both sides: Ed Miliband, because, almost unbelievably, he had not had sight of Ed Ball’s words, and the Blairites because they were ecstatic though they remain unwilling to budge in their continuing animosity to both Eds.

There is no doubt that Ed Balls went very much further in his Fabian speech than was justified by the Shadow Cabinet discussion earlier that week about the need to demonstrate “fiscal credibility”. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it was an attempt to re-position himself (and Yvette) to benefit from any Blairite coup though, no doubt, he also feels sore at Tory taunts about his alleged lack of fiscal credibility given how hard his pre-Keynesian self worked to establish that reputation for Gordon Brown.

There are also differing views on why Ed Miliband did not have advance warning of what he would say — whether it was because that is what Ed Balls intended, or because of incompetence within his office. Either way, the upshot was that the leader, always keen to maintain party unity, faced with the Blairite onslaught and the at least partial defection of his shadow chancellor, had to join the bandwagon.

Ironically, one of Ed Miliband’s great qualities is that, unlike the vast majority of politicians who have the time horizons of goldfish, he is un-phased by today’s headlines – an attribute often mistaken for a thick skin. Unfortunately, his desire to avoid the re-emergence of the factionalism that characterised the New Labour era, means that his far-sightedness has not lead him to allow the development of any group of Ed Miliband supporters. There are no Ed-istas, neither in parliament nor outside, the campaign team that won him the leadership having been de-mobbed at the moment of victory (unlike his brother’s).

In the absence of Ed-istas, there will only be one way to respond. To cave in to every Blairite attack. But it won’t stop the attacks coming. They are happy to wait. Until after the next election. They think there are advantages to allowing the Tories to do the dirty work. And they will not be satisfied until one of their own is leader.

The party has a very different view. It wants to stop the cuts as soon as possible, to see an alternative strategy put in place, not just an alternative government. To achieve that, the Ed-istas need to speak out and organise, in support of the alternative and in support of Ed. Ed should, in the party’s interests allow that to happen. But happen it must. With or without the support of Ed.


  1. Chris says:

    Well, the Blairites, like most “moderates” are basically hard right, Mont Pelerin Society type conservatives, aren’t they? Ed Miliband, to his credit, is perhaps a little to the left of that, but we don’t really need “Edistas”, we need people committed to reversing Thatcherism and who will support Ed Miliband as a tactical necessity.

  2. Phil C. says:

    Cleavages can be either reinforcing or cross-cutting.
    Within the broad Labour movement, I’d say the present cleavages are of the reinforcing type.

    a) on economic grounds, the cleavage is between the neoliberals and the rest
    b) on political grounds, the cleavage is between the autocratic Progress-Blairite faction and the democratic rest.
    c) on social grounds, the current cleavage would probably be between those who would dismantle and privatise the welfare state and those who would retain and protect the publicly-owned welfare state.
    d) on ethical grounds, the cleavage would be between those who would mimic the Tories in an attempt to “win the next election” and those who would hold fast to social democratic or socialist principles and values.

    This all suggests, for me, that there is one likely fault line within the Labour party, IF a break were to happen.
    Chaotic fragmentation into myriad pieces is unlikely. But clear leadership would be required, and a desire for as much solidarity as possible.

    In light of the above, it could be argued that the so-called Blue Labour project was doomed to go nowhere because it attempted to straddle the fault line.
    Ed M will also find that straddling this fault line is a deeply uncomfortable experience. Appeasement of the Blairites will only encourage them to hold fast and press for more of what they want.

    In my sincere opinion, the Progress-Blairite faction regard Socialists & Leftists as the enemy
    and regard the Conservatives as their competitors to be the managerial neoliberal party of government.

  3. Jon

    I haven’t “published my views” – all the remarks reported in my NEC report are things Ed Miliband said, not what I said.

    My personal views had already been published in my labourlist and Progress columns last week.


    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Thanks, Luke. I accept that I misinterpreted some of what was indirectly reported speech as your views. I have corrected this although I do note from the references you quote that your views are in agreement with what you reported Ed Miliband as saying.

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