A statue of Peter Hain?

by Dan Hodges

Can’t we just build Peter Hain a statue? Whack up a giant bronze monument to him slap bang in the centre of Neath and be done with it.

Refounding Labour started life as a good old fashioned vanity project. Peter’s reward for services rendered to Ed Miliband during the Labour leadership campaign. No more, no less.

Fair enough. Such baubles are handed out regularly. Part of the currency of politics.

But then things started to get out of hand. First the process, which was supposedly being driven by Labour party members, was outsourced to private contractors. Then some strange rumors began to circulate about what was emerging behind the closed doors of this open and inclusive consultation.

Non party members were to be given some say in superficial areas of the party’s activity. Like deciding its leader and its policies. At the same time, the role of the trade unions was going to be diluted.  The collegiate nature of this part of the  conversation was underlined by the “insider” who told the papers, “the union leaders are playing hard ball but they need to wake up”.

Members of the PLP were informed that plans for an elected party chair had been dumped. Calls for the refounding Labour submissions to be published were, in keeping with the transparency of the exercise, repeatedly rebuffed. It emerged that party conference was going to be ordered to either endorse the recommendations in their entirety, or reject them.

Then on Monday, via that traditional form of internal communication  – a leak to the Guardian – Labour members learned how they’re planning to transform their own movement. According to the report, the  party’s traditional aim, “to maintain elected office”, is now deemed outdated. Instead Clause 1 of the constitution will be re-written to “explicitly put the principles of community organising at its heart”.  An army of 2,000 “community organisers are to be recruited before the next election, and movement for change affiliated as a socialist society. At the heart of all this is the radical idea of “making formal [the Labour party’s desire] to be attractive to a far greater range of people”.

The revelation that refounding Labour had identified a need for the party to make itself attractive to people caused considerable excitement. “The Labour party will be transformed”, gushed Sunny Hundal, breathlessly anticipating how, “complaints by traditional party members and union leaders who want to maintain their privileged positions as power brokers will be swept aside”. Damn right Sunny. God forbid that traditional party members or trade unionists get any say in how their party’s run.

“By and large, the changes are positive”, wrote Mark Ferguson on Labour List, conveniently ignoring both his own query from a month before “What on earth is going on with refounding Labour?”  and his demand “That’s a question that needs to be answered – starting with publishing as many submissions as possible – and soon”.

Refounding Labour will not transform the Labour party. Nor is it proving to be a broadly positive process. It is a mess. A bog standard Labour balls up.

Ever since Ed Miliband obliquely declared, “Our task is nothing less than the refoundation of the Labour party”, the whole exercise has been a shambles. The golden rule in any program of internal renewal is to ensure that you manage the process rather than allow the process to start managing you. But that is precisely the situation in which Ed Miliband  and Peter Hain now find themselves. Rather than use Refounding Labour as a way of re-structuring and re-defining the Labour party, they are now scrabbling around trying to find something, anything, to give refounding Labour definition of its own, and demonstrate that the whole thing hasn’t been a colossal waste of time. And they’re failing.

In the beginning, refounding Labour was supposedly about binding ordinary people to the party. Last November, the Sunday Telegraph was briefed, “Labour is to become the first major political party in Britain to open up its leadership elections to members of the public…It is likely that Labour’s electoral “college”, which currently gives a third of votes to MPs and MEPs, a third to union levy payers and a third to party members, will in future include a fourth section”. This proposal is now merely going to be the subject of “further consultation”.

We were then told that refounding Labour was going to be used by Ed Miliband to demonstrate his independence from the unions. “Ed Miliband plans to curb union hold over Labour”, reported the Guardian last month, “Discussions about the proposals, part of the Refounding Labour project, will come to a head in the next month before the annual party conference opens in Liverpool on 25 September”. Apparently, these plans have also now been shelved, “We’re not going to let conference degenerate into a stereotypical confrontation between ourselves and the unions”, one Labour insider told me yesterday, “this is a long process, we’re not looking to change things overnight”.

Which leaves us with what? Ed Miliband’s Clause 1 moment?  “This is a much bigger task than simply amending clauses in our constitution”, wrote Peter Hain in his own forward to the refounding Labour consultation document. Really Peter? Not according to your briefing to the Guardian.

What is there of substance in these plans? Movement for change? Seriously? The meetings, the submissions, the reports, the consultations, the debates within the NEC, the handbags with the unions. At the end of all this the best we can come up with is a proposal that was the brainchild of the guy we didn’t elect as leader?

“But the process”, people say, “the process. People have been engaged, they have been enthused. Energised”. Really? You want to know about the process?

For some reason, this nugget tucked away in Monday’s Guardian passed without comment. A “Miliband source” said, “We want to give more influence to party members if they open up”.

Refounding Labour does not represent a new politics. It is not about empowerment or transparency or pluralism. It may have been, once upon a time. The road to hell and all that.

But now it’s running on well worn rails. A good, old fashioned opaque, tightly managed consultation is going to be followed by a good, old fashioned NEC stitch up and a good, old fashioned, our-way-or-the-highway resolution to party conference. Say what you like about Tony Blair, but at least he did these things with a touch more finesse.

And the debate will go on. We’ll convince ourselves that there is substance to the superficiality. That we are witness to seminal events, rather than just another routine exercise in  party management. Take comfort in our ”refoundation” passing off smoothly.

In the meantime, I’m going to start a collection for that statue. All donations gratefully received.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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7 Responses to “A statue of Peter Hain?”

  1. Nick says:

    God forbid that traditional party members or trade unionists get any say in how their party’s run.


    God forbid that the general public get a say in anything. After all why should the plebs get a say?

    So much for democracy from Labour.

  2. swatantra says:

    It seems that control freakery is still alive and well in the Party.
    Pity about plans for an elected Party Chair being dropped because that would be the one giant step for the Party, to have a peoples powerbase to keep the Leadership on track feet on the ground and living in the real world.

  3. Dan Hodges says:


    I hope you’re sitting down, but I agree with you.

  4. Too far, too fast says:

    Instead of going to the expense of making the bronze statue, Mr Hain could just stand still.

  5. swatantra says:

    Nice one! Too Fast!

  6. Les Abbey says:

    Dan Hodges makes some good points.

    Now I’m going to look for pigs in the sky and strangely coloured elephants.

  7. the man on the street says:

    Nick, the public do get a say – its called a general election!

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