Ed Miliband’s three pillars for Labour: can they carry the party?


4:56 pm - May 22nd 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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It’s important to understand the context of Ed Miliband’s speech yesterday at Progress: it wasn’t to lay out policies or even reach out to the public. It was instead to signal to party members his direction of travel and explain why it would win Labour the next election.

He is trying hard to carry Labour members with his agenda before reaching out to the public. At Progress, he walked into the lion’s den (they mostly supported David Miliband) and walk out with their support.

So what did he say and how will it play out?

There were three themes that Ed M said he would push. These will shape the narrative for as long as he is Labour leader

1) A new national mission
This was the central theme for yesterday. Ed is aware that the party cannot just talk about the cuts until 2015. Opposing the cuts will tell voters what the party doesn’t want, but not what they would get if they voted Labour at the next election.

As was said repeatedly yesterday, Cameron failed to get his majority because while people were tired of Gordon Brown, they weren’t sure what Cameron’s agenda was other than the badly defined ‘big society’.

The ‘national mission’ agenda is to say that the Tory agenda on cutting investment into education, sciences, local industry, is leading us into national decline. Labour has a plan to reverse this, do the Tories? Labour will also say that Tories are just interested in helping banks and re-inflating the finance sector to grow the economy, which won’t reverse the national decline.

Shadow ministers such as John Denham (giving a speech at Ippr North on 26th on this) will talk about how the national decline can be only be reversed with a proper industrial policy, and a focus on regenerating other parts of the country than just the south.

2) Growing inequality
Several times yesterday Ed Miliband and other shadow ministers (including Angela Eagle) said Labour did not do enough to reduce inequality during their time. This should be welcomed.

This part is captured by the ‘squeezed middle’ talk, though Ed M yesterday also focused on people on lower incomes yesterday.

Over the next few years people are going to see their real incomes shrink and feel that while a small segment of society (the super-rich) are doing well, the rest aren’t. The growing inequality talk will seek to tap into that deep feeling of unease over where our society is going.

This will be coupled with criticising Tory cuts.

3) Ties that bind us together
This was the most vague part of the speech. Labour needs to find a language that taps into people’s feeling that a sense of solidarity, patriotism and cohesion is lacking.

He said Blue Labour was about how the Labour party related to people not a nostalgic view of the past:

It starts from what we see in our country. A sense of people being buffeted by storm winds blowing through their lives. A fear of being overpowered by commercial and bureaucratic forces beyond our control. And a yearning for the institutions and relationships we cherish most to be respected and protected.

You see it in the concerns people have about what is happening to their local high street, post office and pub. The sense of loss in Birmingham from the takeover of Cadbury’s. The football supporters fed up with billionaires who see their clubs simply as financial assets.

Ed M does not buy all of the ‘Blue Labour’ agenda, so the chances of him embracing Faith, Family and Flag whole-heartedly are remote (especially since many people around Ed don’t buy it either).

Expect this to be partly about Movement 4 Change, and partly about Labour championing British institutions that personify the ‘national mission’.

Other observations
– Progressive majority: Ed Miliband does not accept the dismissal of this by some in Labour. He said yesterday:

There is a prevailing idea that this is a Conservative country. That there is little we can do apart from accommodate to that fact. I think the people who believe that are wrong. Not just because the majority of people at the last election voted for parties other than the Conservative party. But because I know that voters want something more than this government can provide.

Agreed (more on what PM means). Labour should be unashamedly progressive and forward-looking than trying to placate conservative sentiments all the time.

– Libdems: They were completely ignored yesterday. All the fire was on the Conservatives.

– Cuts: Ed M explicitly rejected the view, in response to a question by one Progress member, that Labour should stop talking about the cuts. The party will oppose some (tho not all) cuts, but will do so in a broader context about what society we want Britain to be.

– Feminism: One member said she wanted Ed M to explain why Labour should be a feminist party. Ed didn’t seem to know how to respond to this immediately, so just mentioned he wanted equality and had set a target for a 50% shadow cabinet of women. This bit needs firming up.

All things to all people?: One prominent Progress member told me after the speech was all things to all people, and so wouldn’t face much internal criticism. This is perhaps true: the real battle will come once Ed starts putting the meat on the bones. But building the skeleton is important too and there is much to debate on that front.

– Lord Ashcroft: Ed M’s team have also been pouring over Lord Ashcroft’s polling like hawks. He is even name-checked in the speech!

Overall, as you may expect, I’m pleased with the direction of travel and the main themes Ed M is pushing. I do have quibbles but they don’t relate to this speech. More on that soon.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. the a&e charge nurse

“A new, new national mission” ………. shudders.

John Denham: “A coherent active industrial policy involves a great deal more than public finance. Without a coherent strategy for each key growth sector, public investment is unlikely to bring the fullest returns. But the case for additional strategic investment is and will remain powerful.”

Wonderful stuff. And we can sure that the next Labour government also will be resolute in its commitment to all things virtuous too.

Perhaps someone could remind us: what exactly will this “coherent active industrial policy” do?

This is the best he can come up with after a year? Heard it all before ad nauseaum. It’ll be four years of dithering, sucking up to the greed of the rich, buying the votes of the insecure middle class and pandering to the bigotry of the thick culminating in another term of Tory government

Have Labour given up on the environment and social liberal values? Rich pickings for the Greens if so.

If Denham hasn’t matured sufficiently to realise that he is just regurgitating leftist platitudes and clichés then Labour really is doomed.

Have Labour given up on the environment and social liberal values?

huh? As I said above, this is about the broad themes not specific policies. EdM is good on the environment, as even Caroline Lucas knows. So I doubt they’ll be able to get much traction on that.

Since when have Labour been “good” on the environment, Sunny? Their record since 1997 has been somewhat mediocre, as Caroline Lucas has said in passing every time she’s been asked about Cameron’s claim to be making the coalition the “greenest government ever”.

Ed may well be better on the issue than Blair and Brown were, but I’ve not seen any evidence that Labour’s environmental policies have moved forward over the last year. I’d like to be proved wrong, though.

8. paul barker

The “3 Pillars” look like internal triangulation to me, the classic managerialist approach to a divided Party.
For the Purple Bookers/Blairites a National Mission & nostalgia for the 1990s,
for the “Left” Anti-Cuts rhetoric & nostalgia for the 1970s
& for Blue Labour “Community” & nostalgia for the 1940s.

Roll on 2014.

I remember the days when we used to get a better class of right-wing trolls.

GC – I didn’t say Labour’s record on the environment was good – it clearly wasn’t. I said EdM was good on the issue. Its just that he was hampered by a PM and a cabinet that didn’t care much for the issue at the time.

It really is high time these arrogant, so called ‘Progress’ elitists dropped this idea that David Milliband is the Messiah. He isn’t – and if he cared about the future of Labour and its chances for being re-elected – he would make it clear that he disassociated himself with this damaging and divisive ‘King over the water’ nonsense. This is the sort of potential split in Labours ranks that the Tory media delight in exploiting.

Do the Blairite / David Milliband faction really believe that ensuring another term in office for this appalling Tory government is a sacrifice worth foisting on the country to achieve their undemocratic agenda? Do they really believe this country – let alone Labour – needs another Blair? They must live in Clegg-Cuckoo land.

It is fairly easy to be cynical about bigger picture stuff like this but as a fairly mainstream soft left Labour member, I think that Ed is on the right lines. It would be nice to see a bit of urgency on some of the specifics, especially around key issues like the economy but we’re getting there. Its also very refreshing to hear some of this sort of language (tackling inequalities etc) since the worst of the Blair years.

12. the a&e charge nurse

[11] “It is fairly easy to be cynical about bigger picture stuff like this” – yes, a decade of Blair & NuLab spin does that to you.

And do we need another PPE graduate from Oxford following the production line of other career politicians – apparently nobody who is working class is good enough to lead the party.

“And do we need another PPE graduate from Oxford following the production line of other career politicians – apparently nobody who is working class is good enough to lead the party.”

Kinnock had a 2ii from Cardiff.

I’m certainly starting to see where ‘Blue Labour’ fits in. Although the proof of the pudding will be in policy, not rhetoric, I think it makes good sense to tap into the sort of ‘patriotism’ and ‘conservatism’ that makes people uncomfortable with the sale of the forests, for instance. There’s no ‘pandering to the right’ there; if anything these are left-wing instincts.

15. the a&e charge nurse

[14] “The difference between David Cameron and Tony Blair is that Blair was better at disguising his intentions. He would never have announced, for example, the sale of public forests. Instead he might have promised “a world-class forest estate” in which “walker-led beacon foundation woodlands” would be managed through “partnerships with a plurality of recreational providers”. Ten years later we would discover that our forests had mysteriously fallen into the hands of timber companies and were being felled in the name of customer choice”.
http://www.monbiot.com/2011/05/16/a-death-foretold/

Sadly, labour’s left wing traditions have been hopelessly comprised by a generation of politicians who have placed power and self aggrandisement above any socialist principles that I recognise.

16. the a&e charge nurse

[15] comprised!! – of course should say compromised.

I think electors are going to need a lot of convincing that another working class Labour leader like Ramsay MacDonald is just what we need to see us through. Is it mere coincidence that his schooling, like that of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was in Scotland?

18. Dick the Prick

Someone compared Ed as Labour’s Iain Duncan Smith – quite accurate.

19. Shatterface

The fact that Labour has to explain to its own members – including female ones – why it should be a feminist party isn’t encouraging.

A ‘national mission’.

Presumably this will be like our ‘British identity’, i.e. wholly undefined and left as a politically useful Nice Thing occasionally mentioned in speeches. This is the political equivalent of being a dreadful hussy: telling the electorate that you have a National Mission just waiting for them, but you don’t want to give it away yet, you naughty voters.

This strange coquettishness is carried out by Denham too – one gets the impression that he finds an industrial policy something dreadfully naughty that if he revealed all at once would scare people off.

“Broad Themes” is wussy talk for “We can’t make any real decisions”.

21. Ben Singleton

@ 2 & 5

On the contrary, Denham is spot on. An active industrial policy was the most obvious absence in Labour’s economic policies whilst it was in power.

It is clear we need some strategic thought and investment in key industries in order to develop them and become competitive in them. This will reduce our reliance on financial services and better spread jobs and wealth across the country.

Otherwise, your argument seems to be ‘leave it to the market’. I think we have seen how that fares when it comes to an economic strategy for growth. We can argue until the cows come home about the rights and wrongs about higher or lower public spending on public services (and I take a more leftist stance as it happens), but that totally avoids the discussion on wealth generation itself – as much as the political right try and overly conflate the two. The fact of the matter is that public spending on investment in new industries is so vital, you would be a moron to oppose it whatever your ideological position.

22. Ben Singleton

@18

Except Labour’s ahead in the polls under EdM – something that the Tories didn’t manage for about 10 years under any leader.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ed Miliband's three pillars for Labour: can they carry the party? http://bit.ly/kwd1xL

  2. sunny hundal

    My thoughts on @Ed_Miliband's speech to @progressonline yesterday & Labour three new pillars http://bit.ly/kwd1xL can he carry the party?

  3. Phil Taylor

    My thoughts on @Ed_Miliband's speech to @progressonline yesterday & Labour three new pillars http://bit.ly/kwd1xL can he carry the party?

  4. Itsmotherswork

    “@libcon: Ed Miliband's three pillars for Labour: can they carry the party? http://t.co/V1SgJxA”

  5. andrew

    Ed Miliband's three pillars for Labour: can … – Liberal Conspiracy: damon posted on Watch: 'sorry you can't cr… http://bit.ly/lptJs2

  6. ANDREW JENNINGS

    My thoughts on @Ed_Miliband's speech to @progressonline yesterday & Labour three new pillars http://bit.ly/kwd1xL can he carry the party?

  7. The Oracle

    Ed Miliband's three pillars for Labour: can … – Liberal Conspiracy: damon posted on Watch: 'sorry you can't cr… http://bit.ly/kj3AlX

  8. Lindsay Ciani

    http://bit.ly/iJFT6f Ed Miliband's three pillars for Labour: can they carry the party …

  9. sunny hundal

    Tomorrow Ed Mili will make first of three key public-facing speeches. As I said earlier (http://bit.ly/kwd1xL) Saturday focused on the party

  10. Watching You

    Tomorrow Ed Mili will make first of three key public-facing speeches. As I said earlier (http://bit.ly/kwd1xL) Saturday focused on the party

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