Ed needs to develop a taste for ripping up the old rules

by Josie Cluer

Ed’s speech outlined his ambition to “rip up the old rules so that the country works for you”. To succeed, he’ll also need to rip up the old rules of Labour politics, so that the system works for him. From top to bottom, we need to move on from our old ways of doing things, to run a party fit to fight an election in 2015. So what are some of the “rules” he needs to rip up?

1. If you disagree with someone in another camp, brief against them. First, there should be no “camps”: every ounce of our energy should be spent rebuilding the party and fighting for the election of a Labour government. Anyone who thinks that there’s time to concentrate on anything else is deluded, and Ed should stamp out any such behaviour. But that is not to say disagreement should be stifled. The advent of coalition politics has enabled the Tories and Lib Dems to agree on the ends but disagree on the means in public. Labour must see robust public debate within the party as healthy and positive. And those participating in the debate should enter into it in those terms.

1. To get on in frontline politics, you need to work for the party. It is a well-trodden path: parliamentary researcher, job at the party, special adviser, MP, cabinet minister. It’s not that those who follow this path are bad politicians. In fact, quite the opposite; some of the very best of the 2010 intake have been special advisers (think John Woodcock and Emma Reynolds – fantastic spads, fantastic MPs). But the balance is wrong. A more diverse PLP, drawing on a broader set of experiences and expertise, would be able to engage with the public better, and ultimately forge a stronger government.

2. You’re either with us or you’re against us. In the couple of years leading up to the election, the party retreated into itself. If an organisation or lobby group disagreed with a policy pronouncement, they were no longer friends of the party. In the same way that we are starting to build a supporters network, we need to create Labour-friendly (though not explicitly “Labour”) spaces for people to debate policy ideas. We don’t have the capacity to think up all the answers ourselves. Let’s talk to businesses, the third sector and public servants and see what they would do to make Britain better. Similarly, we can support a campaign run by an organisation with whom we do not agree on every issue.

3. Local politics is about leaflets. CLPs and branches need a revolution. Instead of spending long evenings debating the finer points of a constitutional nicety, local parties should be the driving force making real change happen for their communities. Whether it’s a campaign for more street-lighting, helping out a family with complex needs, or simply organising a street party for local residents, we will attract more support and enthusiasm if people see us as a route to “getting things done around here”. And again, you shouldn’t have to be a Labour party member to help a local Labour campaign.

4. Success is measured by the ten past eight. Those in the Westminster bubble are obsessed by the Today programme and who has the misfortune of being interrupted by John Humphreys at ten past eight. Of course, it helps set the political weather in Westminster, but to most voters, who listen to their local radio station and get their news online or through lifestyle magazines, it is utterly immaterial. To engage with the people who matter, Ed and his team should refocus their energies on local news outlets, social networks and lifestyle magazines.

Josie Cluer is a former Labour special adviser.

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7 Responses to “Ed needs to develop a taste for ripping up the old rules”

  1. swatantra says:

    Too many spads in elected positions. Lets have quotas.
    A fixed number of lawyers business men women BAME trade unionists, managers and Public and private sector workers etc. The Party is not as diverse as it claims itself to be.
    But I agree the Party has to be built from the bottom up.

  2. Huw Clayton says:

    ‘Success is measured by the ten past eight.’

    So is failure defined by an inability to count to five correctly? Or is it in fact a success, and Josie Cluer is auditioning to be the next Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer with a radical new way of approaching our deficits using advanced mathematics to cut them by 20% in the blink of an eye?

  3. Mick Williams says:

    Sorry, Josie, the system is already working for Ed Miliband – the ‘unwritten’ rules saw to that when he became a ‘special adviser’ at the age of 23 (a similar age to Benjamin Wegg-Prosser when he became the same for Mandelson …).

    And as regards him in ripping up Party Rules thid wo0uld be pointless since these are routinely ignored by paid officials and the leadership’s ‘gatekeepers’. Even when rules are systematically and comprehensively broken by the apparatchiki, and proper formal complaints are laid, these are shunted round between departments until they are conveiently ‘lost’. (I have been waitintg for a reply to a formal complaint now for 18 months.)

    I do agree with ‘swatantra’ that the Party has become almost completely unrepresentative of the people it claims to represent. This is shockingly illustrated by the fact that only 9% of Labour MPs can be described as ‘working class’ – and no less than 15% have been educated at public schools (Tory public school MPs are 68% of their total, but that’s what would be expected).

    This quotation of James Connolly in 1908 seems appropriate:

    “The working class contains all the material necessary for its own emancipation and the position of any other class in our movement is a subordinate one. To put someone not of our class in a position of Leadership is an admission of the inferiority of our class and a perpetual source of danger.”

    My own ‘Nenagh James Connolly Branch’ of the North Tipperary (Irish) Labour Party understand this particularly well but their counterparts in the UK seem to have given up the fight in this respect.

  4. Rob Marchant says:

    Josie, your second point is quite right. But the only way I can see you can get real diversity is “ripping up” the contorted system of quotas we have. It’s getting impossible to get a genuinely broad cross-section of people, we are moving towards a system where you have to be one of a list of distinct segments within the party.

  5. amarjit says:

    Which Idiot leader lets some members boo our former leader. All the more reason to not renew my labour party membership after 15yrs.

  6. Roger says:

    One slight problem with ‘local politics is about leaflets’.

    The Refounding Labour proposals nodded through conference with barely a pretence at a debate leaves the average CLP an income of just £450 p.a. (the previous income even after deductions for election insurance, the euro election levy etc was three or four times that).

    There simply is no money to print leaflets anymore – and what little there is will have to be held back for electioneering expenses.

  7. Roger says:


    How can any leader stop a few excitable people from booing? (and if they were booing a statement that actually went ‘I am not Tony Blair’ mightn’t that signify disappointment that Ed Miliband is indeed no Tony Blair?).

    Labour conference always used to be a tough audience until Tony Blair and obsessive quota-filling turned it into a mere pep rally for sycophants.

    A few unscripted boos and cheers may just possibly be a sign that democratic life is returning.

    And FWIW I (and I suspect a not insignificant number of others) left the party when Blair became leader and rejoined when he resigned – so we’d presumably balance each other out if you left….

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