Ed Miliband has vowed to “refound Labour”, and launched the “Refounding Labour” project, headed up by National Policy Forum chair Peter Hain.
This new document, and the report that Patrick Wintour has done about it in the Guardian, revives the idea that non-Labour Party members who register themselves as “supporters” could vote in future leadership elections. Hain himself is quoted as saying that this “new category of membership” would get a vote.
This isn’t the part that strikes me as odd. As my former colleague George Eaton over at the NS has pointed out time and time again, the way Labour’s electoral college is formulated at the moment means that in practice, an MP’s vote is worth far more than an ordinary member’s, making a mockery of the idea of ‘one member one vote’.Greater equity in the way political parties elect their leader is no bad thing, and it’s no surprise either that Miliband is making moves in that direction, since the tag ‘red Ed’ he acquired after his own strong support from the unions is likely to follow him around for many years to come.
No, it's the way that Labour has done this that baffles me. Firstly, the consultation document is over 10,000 words long. Labour is never going to develop a reputation as an effective, electable opposition by publishing over-wordy, wonky, inward-looking, navel-gazing texts like this. Party initiates love them. New or potentially new members either ignore them or are put off by them.
Secondly, the phrase ‘refounding Labour’ sounds all too suspiciously like an attempt to achieve the kind of rebranding that New Labour did in the 1990s, but without using the phrase ‘New Labour’. Some of Ed Miliband’s most successful moments in the leadership campaign came through his willingness to draw a line under the Blair-Brown era and admit that mistakes are made. This feels far too much like he’s falling into old habits again.
Finally, this kind of action leaves them far too open to easy criticism from the right that they are fiddling while Rome burns, that is, making minor tweaks to their internal voting system while the coalition is down at the coalface, digging away at fixing the deficit that they never tire of claiming was Labour’s fault in the first place.
So come on, Peter Hain, Ed Miliband and the rest of the Labour party. Use the time you could have spent writing 10,000 word evaluations of the mess you’re in to start fixing things.