Sunday, 8 January 2012

The last thing Labour needs to do is replace Red Ed with Blair 2.0.

Ed Milliband has shown himself to have ‘no strategy and little energy’ in his role as leader of the Labour Party. A par for the course insult if thrown at him by a Tory hack; a pretty hard punch below the belt if thrown by someone who is supposed to be on his side; the comments were made in an article written for the New Statesman by Maurice Glasman one of his former advisors.

Among the criticisms aimed at Ed Milliband by Lord Glasman are that too many ‘old faces from the Brown era still dominate the shadow cabinet and they seem to be stuck in defending Labour’s record in all the wrong ways.’ As a result the party ‘has not won and shows no signs of winning the economic argument’ and in general Labour have failed to ‘articulate a constructive narrative’ about its policies that takes ‘the argument to the coalition.’

The party, Lord Glasman says, show ‘no relish for reconfiguring the relationship, between the market and society. The world is on the turn, yet we do not seem equal to the challenge.’

He concedes that Ed Milliband has done well when it comes to holding the party together after a crushing defeat in the 2010 general election, but that as leader of the opposition he has failed to ‘break through’ and has ‘flickered rather than shone and nudged not led’; Red Ed has, he concludes ‘not exerted his power. It is time that he did so.’

There are a number of ways to interpret Lord Glasman’s comments all of which are, to some extent correct.

This could, for example, be one of those acts of staggering ingratitude that are such a prominent feature of political life. Ed Milliband elevated an obscure academic to the lords on his election as parry leader only for the peer formerly known as Maurice Glasman to turn on his benefactor when he was at his lowest political ebb and, having first covered him with BBQ sauce, begin waving his arms to alert the vultures circling over his leadership that a free buffet has just opened in their neighbourhood.

There is also the small matter of Lord Glasman having a ‘theory’ to peddle; he is the leading light of the annoyingly named ‘Blue Labour’ movement. A project that seeks to revive the party’s flagging fortunes by returning it to a sepia toned, and not at all accurate I should think, version of the past when a quiescent membership allowed an intellectual elite to decide what sort of Jerusalem should be built on England’s green and pleasant land. His star waned more than a little when he made some ill thought out comments on immigration and all of a sudden the guru started to sound more like just another saloon bar grump. Attacking an already damaged party leader might then present an opportunity to move the debate on to less embarrassing territory.

The sad, but unavoidable, truth is that Ed Milliband has proved to be a dud as party leader. He landed a few good punches over the phone hacking scandal and Labour have won by-elections under his leadership, but overall he has presented himself as out of touch, hesitant and not up to the challenge.

The danger though lies in the dissatisfaction articulated by Lord Glasman and felt by many Labour MPs with the current leadership translating into a campaign to replace him with the wrong sort of leader. A sort of Blair 2.0, maybe in the shape of Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna with rising star Rachel Reeves thrown into the mix as a wildcard, who will somehow persuade the public that Labour cuts are kinder than Tory ones and that the atomisation of society is nothing to worry about.

It won’t work; in fact it could push Labour even further into the political wilderness. Lord Glasman is right the world has turned and the Labour Party has failed to notice; so, for that matter has almost everyone else in the political mainstream. The public have grown tired of the old top down politics, the stale arguments between parties that have long ago become brands and feel deeply cynical about everything connected to politics.

What they want isn’t a more photogenic person to lead the opposition, they want a new sort of politics where power flows upwards from the grassroots. Where the interdependence of groups with different starting points but shared values matters more than conforming to the ‘vision’ of a remote party hierarchy.

Responding to the criticisms in an interview given to the Guardian Ed Milliband said that he was a ‘man of real steel’ and that he was determined to fight to hold onto his post. I’m not sure that whether he survives as leader or not what the Labour Party needs is someone who shows ‘real steel’. What they need their leader to be is a man or woman with the humility to recognise that having a strong, active and engaged grassroots movement matters more than who holds the top job.

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