Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The end of the beginning?

Well that was a rubbish week, wasn’t it? We Labour activists seem to have had quite a few rubbish weeks since 2005. This one struck particularly close to home as two of the star players contributing to Labour’s woes were fellow members of the Hackney Labour party Diane Abbott and Lord Glasman, and the medium leading to two of the woeful episodes was Twitter, of which I consider myself something of an aficionado.

But on the plus side a week of dreadful headlines still left us level-pegging on the polls (40 per cent Con, 40 per cent Lab, 10 per cent LD according to YouGov).

The really sad bit about last week is that a run of political car crashes meant there wasn’t good coverage for some very sensible interventions on policy from three of the stars of the shadow cabinet, Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy and Stephen Twigg.

Anyway, the Labour party (or at least its online manifestation, which is probably a bit more flighty and easy to panic than the older generation of activists who are less likely to use social media) did what in recent years it has most loved doing, and indulged in a bout of self-harming leadership speculation.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s speech by Ed Miliband.

It wasn’t delivered perfectly. Wherever the fluent, charismatic, barnstorming speaker called Ed Miliband is who I saw speak without notes at Labour’s spring conference in 2008 and decided I wanted to support for leader, please can he come back? He’s in there somewhere and is an election winner.

There was still too much theoretical, sociological language. I am not convinced most voters know what the word ‘capitalism’ means so we need to stop using it and maybe say ‘big business’ instead.

There was still a bit too much of the abstract and not enough policy meat for the practical-minded battlers of England’s marginal seats.

To my tastes, still not enough red-blooded attack on the Tories.

But in terms of the party’s positioning on the economy, and nailing the lie that we are not serious about deficit reduction, Ed did exactly what he needed to at a moment of crisis, and in doing so stabilised his position.

It ought not to have been a surprise that he did so. All the key themes in the speech about how we make social democracy work in an era when there is no cash were not new ones for Ed to articulate. They are exactly what he has been saying for months, including in his conference speech and his speech in the autumn to the Social Market Foundation.

Ed has ‘got’ the reality of the economic scenario and what it means for a future Labour government for a long time. Fairness during times of austerity, tackling the unfair excesses of big business (see I managed to avoid saying ‘capitalism’ – it is possible!) and the unfair low pay of the working poor, regrowing our economy through high-skilled manufacturing jobs not service drudgery or casino-style speculative bubbles. None of this was new for Ed to say, but at last people are paying attention instead of lazily projecting their hopes or fears onto Ed. They’ve started to actually listen to him and have stopped labelling him as ‘left’. I understand why people did this: my opponents on the left of the party wanted to kid themselves that they had voted for someone who was economically irresponsible; many of my friends and allies on the right of the party understandably wanted the satisfaction of believing they had done the right thing not voting for him.

It’s odd that it took a crisis and this make-or-break speech for Labour activists to actually listen to what Ed is saying about the economy. It’s certainly a different position to the one we had as New Labour in government. Sadly the money isn’t there for a rerun of those years any time soon. But it certainly isn’t a leftwards move to acknowledge that, say we will be fiscally prudent, and instead look for other policy tools for advancing our social democratic values.

Now, he’s addressed the big question of our economic stance, or rather addressed it again while he had our attention, to the satisfaction of what polls say public opinion is, and of those bits of our party who are actually interested in winning elections. In return we need to give him the space, time, constructive advice and support to consistently be the really impressive politician and potential PM that he is capable of being.


Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here, and blogs here

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Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • Charismatic, forceful, authoritative, are not what you become. They are what you are.

    And Ed isn’t.

  • Liberanos, you seem to have forgotten when Tony Blair became leader, the media nicknamed him Bambi! Charismatic, forceful, authoritative? They thought not.

  • I am prepared to carry on giving Ed Miliband a chance. He is a great man but I am beginning to lose faith. I want him to succeed as Labour Leader but I want Labour to become the next government and kick out these lousy Conservative-Liberal Democrats. But we should not blinded by loyalty to Ed to the extent that we forget the need to fight for fairness IN government. I want to see a Labour Party taking over seats like Leeds North West, Bristol Wesat, Reading East and Redditch – rather than the marginals that we need to win to become the “largest party”. Labour needs to win 2015, and if there isd no sign of progress under Ed, then we will have to give up. Activists are losing faith in him, it is time he starts leading.

  • I am prepared to carry on giving Ed Miliband a chance. He is a great man but I am beginning to lose faith. I want him to succeed as Labour Leader but I want Labour to become the next government and kick out these lousy Conservative-Liberal Democrats. But we should not blinded by loyalty to Ed to the extent that we forget the need to fight for fairness IN government. I want to see a Labour Party taking over seats like Leeds North West, Bristol Wesat, Reading East and Redditch – rather than the marginals that we need to win to become the “largest party”. Labour needs to win 2015, and if there isd no sign of progress under Ed, then we will have to give up. Activists are losing faith in him, it is time he starts leading.

  • Ed is very weak leader; he couldn’t sort out the mess in Tower Hamlets yet he wants to tackle national problems, any good leader would sort out the political problem before they visit the angry territory. I am quite surprise he visited the Academy with Labour group leader and local MP whom doesn’t know what they are doing, they forgot their group positions on this, they forgot that the chair of Tower Hamlets Labour Party resigned because of the pressure from the community, really shame! The white working class people, Bangladeshi and Somali communities are very angry because of the injustice and Islam phobic action during Mayoral selection, it is pretty sure that Labour will loose two seats in next general election. I am sure it would have been a different scenario if the leader was his brother. Ed had so much support from those who are currently very angry with him. I totally agree that activists are losing faith in him; it is about the time he wakes up starts leading and fixing the political problems.

  • Luke,

    Sorry fella but you are as guilty of talking to yourself while Ed talks to nobody with his weird attempts to emulate a more successful predecessor and not be himself , not sure what is worse, when he is the shallow empty soul he is or when he tries to play at being someone else…..

    The good news is that the Labour leadership as a group, if not the whole PlP are best kept away from power for as long as possible and if Ed achieves this you’ll all have something to be proud of and the country will be in your debt.

  • Oh and one final thought Luke. (Being an Independent I am allowed to think, ask questions etc lol)

    You see the only way for you all now is down. I told a Labour Party Councillor you would decline in the polls last September and true to form you have all delivered the goods and ironically the denial, excuses, and total lack of rational reasoning all led to this point. This point for a special reasoning because the events of the last week are more important in politics than even Cameron’s Euro event. I have to hand it to Ed Milliband when he delivers he does so with gargantuan incompetence along with the people he surrounds himself with and of course the PLP.

    You see we can look at the blogs over the past year, examine the Westminster bubble and the Labour party Leadership bubble and then compare it with the reality of the doorstep (for those of us who listen and hear rather than preach) and recognize the massive difference. The weird theories of the “thinkers”, the bizarre conversations about such incredibly basic principles that most ordinary well adjusted members of the public take for granted Labour could never conceive of or struggles to grasp. Basics like Freedom of Speech, Equality under the Law, Democracy, Due process, the need for more than just a service economy, the limits upon a society that lacks investment, on infrastructure and resources made more difficult by too much Immigration. Basic things. Normative behavior does not exist in the world of the unelites.

    Unelite is the correct word, for the Labour Party Leadership and their lackeys there is no other.

    The weird comments of Tristram Hunt a man who is supposed to be a historian on the Daily Politics talking as though the Parliamentary Labour Party had nothing to do with the banking crises on the basis that the causality was not limited to the UK. No person of rational mind, in a time of fear where politics actually does matter would consider that a sane position. It’s not stupidity, foolishness, it’s a total failure to grasp reality.

    This is clearly the kind of rubbish that is being passed around Westminster to try and escape the culpability of De-regulation along with the policy in the USA on Wall Street. Labour trying to pretend the last 13 years did not happen.

    But it’s a lot more than this. Any person not blinded by Labour Party Membership loyalty trying to perceive what they want/hope the Party to be and refusing to see reality, will take one look at Ed Milliband and see the symptom of an utter failure in politics. It would have been the same with his equally ambitious and vacant brother.

    Don’t blame the media, they are simply reacting in the way any rational person would to the reckless madness that is presenting itself. The Labour PLP are now being truly understood by the public. They have become a circus freak show. The more of these people the public see, the Eagle Sisters, Ed Balls, Millibands, Harman and her husband, etc the more unhappy they will be after all this preaching about “Equality”, “Fairness”. With each passing day the rabble in Westminster highlight how completely insane the Party has become. It makes the Royal Family TV program appear enlightened.

    People are terribly afraid for their jobs, some even their very lives and it is Labour’s fault, but that’s Ok Ed is still working on changing his speech style for the media…..and still comes across as someone who has no grasp of who he is and how he comes across. An under-developed person who has escaped an enclosure preaching to a more experienced, wise and mature public without any real in depth qualification with all the blatant and clumsy hypocrisy around him.

    Is that what it means to be politically “elite”?

    Attlee was clearly not an Elite then, he was a pragmatist, he lived in the real world not some weird delusion. I have no doubt he would have given his life rather than see the country go to the dogs through reckless political De-regulation to placate bankers. But the modern PLP? They cannot even accept they did it. Is it guilt or insanity? I can at least understand guilt and denial. Salmond is a pragmatist and that is why he is a challenge for you all and why you lost Scotland.

    What a thoroughly bankrupt lot you have all become on every level, so blinded by self-interest as to place the UK in danger. To become a liability to democracy itself, leaving behind a legacy of the Far Right, economic decline, and historical political disgrace. Has a political Party in the UK ever left behind so great a mess? No sense of morality or commitment to duty and responsible legal behavior, just contempt to having to work, having to answer to the people and the press all to feel important and use the system to abuse it.

    How can a small group of regressive incestuous nepotistic under-developed cronies at the head of the PLP preach to anyone about any matter at all?

  • The sad reality about Ed is that he fails to enthuse most of the electorate on both policy and charisma grounds. Ask the ‘average voter’ (but NOT via opinion polls) what they think of Ed Miliband and the response will probably be along the lines of “he attacks past Labour policies but has no concrete policies of his own. Also, his public performances are weak and lack leadership qualities.”
    The worst of all political strategies is to define your identity by slagging off your own predecessors. At best it provides free ammunition for Cameron to shoot down Labour. At worst it undermines general Labour support (“why did I loyally vote Labour at the past four elections if their policies were wrong?”) and antagonizes voters. There will never be political gain in indulging in self-flagellation. No party other than Labour wastes energy on regicide and immolation: they realise how crippling these actions are.
    Sooner rather than later the party have to decide if investing support in Ed (and most of the shadow cabinet) will improve our image with the public. Personally, I would give him till May to turn our fortunes around and sack him if we were not well ahead in the polls.

  • I wish people would STOP assuming the media speak for everyone when in reality they only expound their own bigoted beliefs (almost entirely Tory) – have you been listening to the scum of our Press at Leveson? Three general elections proved the media wrong and Blair and the voters right.

  • People seem to have unrealistic expectations of where we could be so soon after a catastrophic election result (disguised slightly by the Tories own poor showing). We are 10-11 points ahead of our election performance – pretty good historically by any reasonable comparison. Blair achieved his huge poll leads against an exhausted a and demoralised Tory government.

  • Bad week for Hackney. Fortunately most people know that Diane Abbott only says something irrelevant every so often even if she is one of the Health Team. I wish she would be a bit more relevant very often on what for those of us in local governmetn is a very big issue namely public helath. Maurice Glassman is of no relevance – who is he!

    Ed’s speech was weak, lacking a dynamic approach and too esoteric rather than ordinary language. Seemed as if he woke up from Xmas and the New Year whilst the rest of us had hit the ground running some time ago.2012 is important for us all – not just 2015.

    A week is a long time in politics but 18 months even more so.

  • who do think you are L I B E R A N O S , Confucius or something ? “what you ARE ” blah blah , very Zen !
    He’s not a flippin guru he’s the spokesperson for the collectively formulated Labour Policy , not a phoney baloney personality cult .Cameron was chosen for his pink faced clean cut look but believe me there’s a portrait in the attic mate !

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