Why Ed should, and will, welcome The Purple Book

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 15 September 2011 in Diary
Ignore the talk of 'reheated Blairism' and infighting. The Purple Book is a solid contribution to Labour's future, especially on the economy

Have you got your copy of The Purple Book yet? No? What do you mean, you aren't that bothered about yet another colour-coded attempt by a political party to analyse itself and project its future?

The Guardian has a handy guide here to what it's calling the "multicoloured political swap shop" - essential reading if you need to bluff your way through conference season on the difference between Blue Labour and Red Toryism.

But back to The Purple Book. It's been suggested that it is penned by a group of David Miliband-supporting Blairite revivalists, who are using it as a way of undermining the other Miliband, who also happens to be the current leader of their party. It's true that its contributors do number many who haven't always been among Ed's closest allies - Douglas Alexander, Peter Mandelson, Frank Field and Andrew Adonis among them. In his report, Patrick Wintour confides that "the book tries to avoid reheated Blairism", a phrase that succeeds in implying that it doesn't quite manage this feat, and should thus be read as a Blairite 2.0 tract. The Observer last weekend even carried reports of "splits" and "Damian McBride-style briefing" over the contents of the book, fuelling the claim that The Purple Book is a tacit challenge to Ed's leadership, and that his camp are seeking to quash it.

The 'Labour are fighting among themselves' narrative is a convenient one to trot out just before the conferences get underway, but unfortunately, the evidence in this book isn't quite as supportive of this line as is being suggested.

Naturally, one of the major topics for many of the contributors is the economy, and how Labour can be both constructive on the deficit while successfully opposing the government. As Tristram Hunt says in his chapter, the party faces a tough situation:

"Our starting point must be the acceptance of this uncomfortable political reality that the public has accepted the [coalition] government's explanation of the financial crisis."

With this in mind, they propose a new path for Labour on the economy, moving away from what Douglas Alexander terms New Labour's "an apparently uncritical account of globalisation". The implication is, whether it is Mandelson arguing for lower taxes, Hunt urging a new age of co-operatives or Frank Field on an insurance model for welfare provision, that Labour can no longer be uncritical of market forces, and can gain ground by showing that the Conservatives are.

This isn't so very far away from Ed Miliband's own view. In his preface to a Blue Labour ebook earlier in the summer, he wrote that "our excessive dependence on financial services, and the broader historical dominance of the City of London in our economy, needs to be challenged". Miliband's line to Cameron from PMQs yesterday that “for him, unemployment is a price worth paying” hints that his own course of action, were he PM, would protect from what he was painting as a sacrifice to market forces.

After the rather unfortunate demise of Blue Labour over the toxic issue of immigration the Purple Book-ers (if I might term them such) are making a decent fist of rejuvenating the debate about Labour's future. The official policy review appears to grow bigger and more complicated by the day - this book is a more immediate, and more accessible, way of getting on with the process of determining the party's new direction.

Also, a lot of the 'splits talk' fails to mention that among the contributors are also John Woodcock, Liam Byrne and Rachel Reeves, who could hardly be said to be in their leader's bad books. Oh, and Miliband himself has written the preface to the book. In it, he says "you may not agree with all the views expressed in this book. Nor do I". Not a full endorsement, to be sure, but hardly the words of a leader who's censoring a text in which he's put his own name.

There's a lot in this book that Ed and the leadership will welcome. The talk of 'reheated Blairism' and party splits is lazy. The Purple Book might not be essential reading for everyone, but it's a bit more than just the expression of post-Blair factionalism.

The Purple Book is available from next week, published by Biteback, priced £9.99. You can pre-order it  from Progress here

Tags: Blairites, David Miliband, Douglas alexander, Ed Miliband, Labour, The Purple Book, Tristram Hunt

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