Ed Miliband’s policy team became embroiled in an explosive row over Labour’s election manifesto when a new first page pledging a “budget responsibility lock” was inserted at the last minute without the knowledge of some key advisers or having been through the party’s official approval process.
People involved in the dispute have revealed that some of Miliband’s campaign strategists pushed to add the new first page – intended to emphasise fiscal discipline – after the manifesto had already been officially signed off at the “Clause V” meeting of the most senior people in the party.
The insertion of the page was significant because Miliband’s promise of a budget responsibility lock became the main story of the manifesto launch, with the leader’s fiscal position running on the front pages of national newspapers from the Telegraph to the Guardian.
Those kept out of the loop included Jon Trickett, deputy party chair and the shadow minister without portfolio; Jon Cruddas, Miliband’s policy chief; and Angela Eagle, the shadow leader of the House of Commons. Together they had formed Miliband’s manifesto steering group responsible for engaging MPs, party officials and unions in the policy process.
Trickett, who is still in the shadow cabinet, said he was unhappy with the manner of the change. “What happened was pretty shocking, given the months of hard work which had been put into trying to engage the whole party.”
The deputy party chair also said he was unhappy with the resulting emphasis on austerity. “It changed the whole character of the manifesto. The document itself was about transforming Britain while also having a deficit reduction strategy. In the end, the document was subordinated to a statement about a programme of austerity,” he added.
One Labour source said Miliband and the then shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, both wanted the page to be put in and were not concerned about the insertion because it did not include any new policy detail.
According to those who were there, the Labour manifesto approval process, known in the party as a Clause V meeting, was held in the afternoon of Thursday 9 April at Church House in the heart of Westminster. This “parliament of Labour” involving around 60 people takes place only once before the election to sign off the manifesto and includes the shadow cabinet, the national executive committee and other senior stakeholders.
At that point, the draft document for approval contained no reference to a budget responsibility lock, although later in the manifesto there were promises that the party would cut the deficit every year and balance the books as soon as possible in the coming parliament.
Discussions continued late into the night over whether the new first page would be inserted. A new document headed “Updated Master” was then circulated by email to other strategists at 1.12am by Torsten Henricson-Bell, the director of Miliband’s office.
The revelation of the manifesto row comes after the Guardian published an exclusive account of Labour’s election defeat, based on extensive interviews with many of Miliband’s closest advisers.
It revealed how the Labour leader was advised on more than one occasion to change course, by making tougher pledges on the economy, but that one crunch meeting in June 2014 failed after Miliband got wind of what was proposed.
Asked for his perspective on the row, Cruddas said: “I am not going to comment on whether or not there was an attempt to circumvent the democratic architecture of the party or suggest there was a late move to sabotage the manifesto. The manifesto contained many strong policies and offers this side of the election a chance for Labour to renew over the coming years.”
The foreword to the manifesto as set out to the meeting began with a note from Miliband saying: “We are a great country. With great people. In the last five years I have heard your stories, your hopes and your dreams. And I have heard too your frustrations ... This manifesto is inspired by you.”
At some point later in the day, there was a change of heart. The proposed new first page, which ran before the forward, read: “Our manifesto begins with the Budget Responsibility Lock we offer the British people. It is the basis for all our plans in this manifesto because it is by securing our national finances that we are able to secure the family finances of the working people of Britain.”
By the time Trickett, Cruddas and Eagle found out about the budget responsibility lock the next day, the document had already been sent to the printers. When others in the party hierarchy then also discovered the insertion, there was at least one threat to resign over the lack of wider consultation and perceived change in the agreed tone of the whole manifesto.
Some of Miliband’s advisers feared what happened would become public when the BBC journalist Allegra Stratton tweeted that she had heard the budget responsibility lock was part of a late overhaul. According to one worried email exchange seen by the Guardian, senior Labour advisers then discussed the need to keep it quiet and how to brush off potential inquiries by journalists, which did not materialise.
Some of those who supported the insertion of the budget responsibility lock utterly dismiss the idea there was any kind of conspiracy to circumvent the party’s manifesto approval process, saying it was just the kind of thing that happened in the course of a campaign. They also say that Labour’s internal focus groups showed the day of the manifesto launch was one of the most successful in the campaign.
However, on the other side, one senior party insider said he regarded it as “nothing short of a coup against the democracy of the Labour party”.
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