The keynote speech at Saturday’s Progreess conference was a clear and concise offer from David Miliband, a message centred around ‘building a movement’.
The keynote speech at Saturday’s Progreess conference was a clear and concise offer from leadership favourite David Miliband, a message centred around ‘building a movement’; over the last two weeks, many have seen his brother Ed – recently endorsed by Lord Kinnock – talk of building a ‘grassroots movement’.
The shadow foreign secretary started by acknowledging that the party had gone wrong in many different areas and lost touch with its base:
“Firstly, I think the public want to know whether the new generation of Labour leaders gets it about modern Britain. The truth about the General Election is that there was a nagging feeling amongst the public that we were no longer the party of the future. It’s a question of policy and politics.”
He then spoke about the expenses scandal, civil liberties erosion (swimming pool politics), the need to rebuild a social welfare contract on need and contribution, and the need to tackle community cohesion problems head on:
“These issues are a new threshold for modern political leadership. Get it and you are in the game; don’t get it and you won’t be heard.”
Acknowledging the huge inequality in the current cabinet towards both women and ethnic minorities, he seemed to offer hope that if “a third of the party is made up of women, then why shouldn’t we aim for our cabinet to be so too”. This tied nicely into a fundamental aim to replenish at the base that leads directly to the top.
Speaking confidently on how he saw communities and society, he said a country should be judged by the weak not the strong:
“The 1980s helped us realise that parties require dialogue not civil war and I do not see us going back there. But we need to be a movement, which we weren’t in 2010 and if we are honest we lost our way.
“The strengths of the 1990s and 2000s became a problem. We won election on May 1 1997; we stopped party renewal on May 2 1997.”
He later said:
“By 2010 we were left with an old model of party organisation out of touch with the modern needs for transparency, openness, pluralism, and dialogue. We were disconnected from our voters but also from our members. And this is what has to change in a fundamental way. It is what I mean by a movement for change.”
Specific instruments to be used during this time included a fair and free Labour party membership experiment, a carbon neutral election campaign, a need to be pluralistic in our organisation around the country via group meetings, engaging with the wider labour family, reinvigorating trade unions and grassroots campaigns, he added.
Asked directly what his big idea was, he said there was no single silver bullet that would make Labour change to be back in government again; the challenge for Labour is not as simple as one idea, it is many, he explained, stretched far and wide, a challenge both Milibands have asked Labour Party members to fight for.
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“We need to campaign how we want to lead the party, and rule the party the way we want to do for the country… I ask you to join me, modernising the Labour Party is not a job for one person and I need your help.”