We need to build a party ready to win, argues David Miliband

Labour has a responsibility to win again.

John Prescott, who epitomises the permanent campaign, wrote here that the correct response to the anger we feel is to get organised. I could not agree more and agree strongly with the ideas he set out. The Labour leadership election will rightly focus on the policy lessons we need to learn from our defeat – and there are many – but when the debate is over, Labour will have to re-emerge as movement with both the right ideas and organisation to win again.

We should recognise the remarkable lengths that party activists go to. Their hard work saved Labour from catastrophe and meant that we got a 1992 result on a 1983 share of the vote. But despite their commitment, and this hasn’t been said enough in our contest, we lost badly. We won just 12 seats in the Southern regions of England. 4 million Labour voters and 180 Labour seats have been lost since 1997.

The seeds of our defeat were sewn long in ago in the loss of council seats, activists, members and supporters across the country. The leadership of our party invested too little in organisation. We lost the link between the voices and experiences of local members and the policies we campaigned on nationally.

Labour’s new leader will have just over 200 days to get machine and movement ready for the Welsh, Scottish and local elections. If I was that leader I would put us on a war-footing from day one. This coalition seems cosy but I suspect some Liberals are already looking for an escape route. I don’t want us to be caught napping by a surprise election or for us to still be selecting candidates with a few weeks to go before an election. We need good people in place as quickly as possible, especially in those Lib Dem seats which have become competitive again after their decision to join the Tories. The Liberals, for so long the party of relentless opposition campaigning, should now reap what they have sown.

This disaffection with the Liberals has brought people to Labour but that isn’t enough to keep them with us. John was right to argue that we need to give the tens of thousands of new party members ways to transform their energy and idealism into real change. That is why I have put training people in community organiser skills at the heart of my campaign. The College of Community Organising (the people behind living wage campaigns) have a team of people working full time within my campaign. I hope that I win – but whether I do or not these 1000 organisers will be a long term legacy from my campaign. People join the Labour party to change the world – we need to equip them with the tools to do that.

The issue of fundraising has become toxic in recent years. I am determined to build a funding base for the party so we can fight the Tories properly. As leadership candidates we cannot just talk about change because we want votes, we need to make it happen – and that takes money. Speak to any party activist in a marginal constituency who was swimming against the tide of Ashcroft’s millions: they are desperate for the resources which will give their local campaigns a fighting chance.

However the most important thing a leader can offer is a commitment to involve people in our politics. Campaigns cannot be something a leader does for his or her followers, it has to something he does with them.  Labour’s political and organisational purposes must be united. This takes a leader who leads campaigns. However the old top-down approach just won’t work anymore. The creation by Tony Blair of the position of Party Chair as a voice for the party and for campaigning in the cabinet was good – but it was an appointed position too often seen as the Cabinet’s man in the party, not the party’s man in the Cabinet. I have said I would throw open this position to election by party members.

Despite the liberal window-dressing there is little doubt that we now live under a government which is every bit as ruthless and right wing as any of Thatcher’s. Labour is now the last hope for millions of people. If Labour does not organise and stand up for those under attack from this government, no-one will.

The Rt Hon David Miliband is MP for South Shields and shadow foreign secretary

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6 Responses to “We need to build a party ready to win, argues David Miliband”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jessica Asato, Ben Cooper and Jason Keen, Labour Uncut. Labour Uncut said: EXCLUSIVE: We need to build a party ready to win, writes David Miliband http://bit.ly/d9nj5z #labour #labourleadership […]

  2. Joe Caluori says:

    It’s impossible to disagree with anything here, but we’ve all heard the analysis ad infinitum – what we need is the prescription – specifics – and an elected Chair won’t cut it. We already have an elected Leader and Deputy Leader. Fine, elect a Chair too, but we are going to need much more than that!

  3. Duncan Anderson says:

    We don’t need to Leader to tell us to do what we already know we have to do; namely fight, fight, fight.
    Put the government under as much pressure as possible, from as many sides as possible and they will start to crack.
    The cracks are already appearing, we have to widen them to make them obvious to the voting public.
    Remember, Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them.
    We have to make the existing Con-Dem collaboration appear to the voting public as being unfit to govern. Or rather they will do that by breaking rank – as is happening – and we do that by keeping them under continuous pressure.
    Fight, Fight, Fight.

  4. Alexandra MacKay Binnie says:

    I feel we didn’t win in the South because that their weren’t any people working for us. I tried to donate money but offices were not manned or for very short periods. I asked three MP’s if I could help in their campaign and received no replies.

    No leafletting at all in my area and when I asked to have a line diverted to one of mine so that I could fundraise and ask people to vote, no one bothered to use my proffered help.

    We cannot assume any seat is naturally Tory, with great effort we have the ability to change things.

  5. All platitudes, but all correct.

    Equally important, however, is making sure that those who’ve migrated to us still feel we’re worth supporting.

    The Liberals have been all things to all men for so long that we can’t assume national figures are accurate in local terms. That means we need former Lib Dems who are now supporting us to be genuinely enthused about Labour.

    Which means you should probably tell all your supporters on Uncut to stop trying to drag this party to the right of Genghis Khan. In 2015 our coalition may be slightly different, but in 2011 we’ll win by uniting our core support, those badly affected by the cuts and ‘soggy social liberals’.

    Obviously we need a sensible answer to Tory attacks on us based on charges of fiscal irresponsibility. But we don’t need to try to outflank the Tories on the right as some are suggesting.

  6. Robert says:

    sadly four weeks ago I joined the Welsh Plaid party, after 47 years in labour, since becoming disabled it’s been very difficult for me to find a reason to carry on within the party.

    After all I’m one of the work shy scroungers who inhabit this country now and i think we are being blamed for the financial crises, or I suspect brown will say in his new book.

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