Ed Miliband is changing the way the Labour Party thinks about its very purpose - its ends as well as its means. Such a profound shift makes him a candidate for left-wing thinker of the year.
When ‘Red Ed’ won the leadership a year ago voices from the Tory press to the Labour right predicted a return to socialist policies that made the state the be-all and end-all of Labour politics.
But Ed in office has proven very different. The infamous “blank page” proved to be filled up not so much by state solutions to national problems as by an intellectual debate of every hue. Purple and Red books have competed with Blue Labour to influence the party’s fundamental reassessment of the state and its approach to power.
For far from being a traditional parliamentary socialist Ed has proven to be a convener of ideas and forces, a facilitator of movements that make their impact not so much by legislation as by community politics.
From his support of 38 Degrees’ forests campaign to his championing of the struggle against Murdoch, Ed has taken a campaigning approach to policy which draws on the talents of others to achieve change – even in opposition.
Not for Ed the politics of New Labour central diktat, but rather an approach that eclectically draws from such influences as Marc Stears and Maurice Glasman in arguing for a Labour movement based more on personal relationships than the pursuit of public policy targets.
His willingness to build coalitions on an issue-by-issue basis has displeased each of the groups competing over Labour’s future at least once. From backing progressives in the yes to AV campaign to his contined trust in the work of the Fabians, Ed draws on the strengths of all strands of thinking in the party while being dependent on none.
However, Ed’s greatest achievements of change from opposition have given Labour the opportunity to both lead, and give voice to, campaigning forces and individuals in wider society.
Refounding Labour is a case in point. The flagship change of Clause I moves the purpose of the party from an organisation designed exclusively for the capture of parliamentary power to a movement that wields power at all levels to deliver change for communities and individuals alike.
Equally, Ed’s experiment with a reformed Movement for Change and counsel on party reform from leading US community organiser Arne Graff and party trailblazer Caroline Badley is testament to how bold a break with Labour’s centralising instincts Ed’s leadership represents.
What’s more, the election of radical reforming General Secretary Iain McNicol now provides Ed with the organisational firepower to see his vision made real.
The challenge for Ed now is to shape a new political agenda using the tools of both parliamentary power and the energies of grassroots activism. If he fufils this mission he will not only have changed Britain while in opposition but will have returned Labour to government.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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