No doubt experts elsewhere in this month’s Progress are cogently analysing the consequences of the riots, explaining their social significance, and what policy initiatives should be embraced to ensure we never again confront such terrible scenes. But we at the Insider are a low-minded lot, and so we wonder what the impact on politics will be.
At Labour HQ there is barely disguised despair at the performance of Ken Livingstone in the immediate aftermath of the riots. The inspirational, uniting figure of the 7/7 bombings was gone, replaced by a crotchety, bitter man, casting around for reasons to blame the Conservatives in general and Boris Johnson in particular.
Of course, Johnson’s inattention to detail, incompetence and laughable stunt-making were real issues in the management of the riot response, but by focusing on matters as marginal to public disorder as cuts to the education maintenance allowance, Livingstone ran straight into a beartrap of his own making.
As a result, Labour’s message about police cuts got lost, and Johnson was able to gin up a synthetic row with the government on police funding to help him get out of jail. All of which makes some in the hierarchy wonder why we chose our candidate so early. One thing that the London riots made clear was that the London Labour party contains a pretty deep talent pool. MPs like Chuka Umunna, Sadiq Khan, Stella Creasy, Meg Hillier and David Lammy showed they were connected with their communities, spoke up for ordinary families, and criticised the mayor, and even the behaviour of the police, without falling into the trap Livingstone did.
Party apparatchiks say the polling for Livingstone remains poor. While he outperformed Labour in the last mayoral election he now runs behind Ed Miliband’s new generation. Tory strategists are gleeful. One well-connected Tory told your Insider that the anti-Livingstone stockpile is overflowing, but is not to be deployed until much closer to the election. After all, why risk taking him out now?
All this will be dismissed by Camp Ken as the embittered carping of the Labour ultra-right. Too right. But fear not, comrade, there are no plots afoot to remove you.
What does Labour propose to do about his stuttering candidacy? Nothing. The London Labour staff is completely invested in Livingstone. None of the alternatives see any benefit in being imposed as candidate in 2012 when they can run free in 2016, while the leader’s office are publicly and privately loyal to him (but also point out that they did not approve or authorise the process that selected him).
So Livingstone is being left to get on with it. If he wins, it will be a Labour victory. If he loses, the blame will be his alone. As a political manoeuvre it suits everyone involved. Except the people of London, who may get to enjoy another four years of the broom-wielding blond buffoon.
Cast your mind back to editions of Insider past and you will recall that this column was an early voice suggesting that GMB political officer Iain McNicol was perhaps the leading candidate to be the Labour general secretary. And, lo, it came to pass, with McNicol eventually emerging victorious at the National Executive Committee over deputy general secretary Chris Lennie by 17 votes to 14.
McNicol will be a superlative general secretary. Despite that, there is no doubt his victory was hard won. The leader’s office were squarely behind Lennie.
The crucial moment was when a cleverly timed article on Labour Uncut revealed the leader’s office were trying to manipulate the shortlist, creating a backlash among Labour’s blog intelligentsia which made it impossible for the leader’s team to do anything of the sort. Once shortlisted, McNicol built an alliance of CLP reps and union votes strong enough to overcome the leader’s vote.
For Miliband, the most distressing implication is not that he has the ‘wrong’ general secretary (everyone involved is a grown-up, and they will be able to work together) but that the NEC does not fear the wrath of the leader. Since Miliband wants to remake party structures, that is a bigger problem than it looks.
NEC members may be confused about what he wants from them. Pluralism and an end to central control were qualities Miliband identified his leadership campaign with. Now he is leader, those values sometimes conflict with his desire to get things done.
In the aftermath of the general secretary vote, NEC members thought to be close to Miliband received text messages expressing disappointment in their choice. But none of them believe they put their political career at risk by crossing the leader. Stone-cold political assassins do not send texts saying how disappointed they are.
So perhaps it is not surprising that several centrist NEC members went straight from disagreeing with the leader’s choice to expressing doubts about the leadership’s interpretation of Refounding Labour. Many of them are keen on things members have demanded, but much less enamoured of what Team Miliband have inserted, on things like diluting the union vote.
The smart money says that Miliband will water his Refounding Labour plans
down to get them through September’s NEC and conference on a straight up-or-down vote, or will defer the controversial bits until next year in order to build up momentum. Either way, it is another sign that the NEC is not being pliable.
Perhaps Team Miliband should take a lesson from imperial Rome on how to deal with unruly senators. ‘Oderint, dum metuant’. Or, in English: ‘Let them hate, so long as they fear.’
Image: Adrian Teal
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