Senior Labour figures should stop blaming Ed Miliband’s reforms to the leadership election for the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and instead look at how they can use the system to enthuse new supporters, one of the former leader’s closest advisers has said.
Tom Baldwin, who was a senior adviser to Miliband between 2011 and 2015, said it was the wrong response to complain about the changes to the rules, which allow people to sign up as registered supporters for £3. This has led to a near-tripling in the number of those eligible to vote, to about 554,000, apparently driven by a surge in support for Corbyn’s straight-talking manner and anti-austerity brand of politics.
Baldwin’s intervention is an implied rebuke to senior figures Lord Mandelson, who this week argued that “recovering control of our party will mean tightening those rules again” to exclude supporters of other parties.
Andy Burnham’s campaign manager Michael Dugher has raised formal concerns about the process over worries about Conservatives having signed up to try to influence the vote in favour of Corbyn.
In an article for the Guardian, Baldwin said the Labour party needed to think about how to galvanise new supporters instead of trying to exclude people.
“Even with the election lost and the leadership contest under way, it has been cringeworthy to see how young people joining the party or signing up as supporters have been greeted with suspicion by almost everybody except the Corbyn campaign,” he said.
“Senior figures who should know better, having seen their candidates struggle in the face of Corbyn’s authentic wrongheadedness, have now resorted to making threats of legal action, calling for the reforms to be scrapped, or hinting they could break away from the party all together.”
Baldwin said that if Corbyn did win the leadership, it should still be possible to mourn the result, envy his achievement in recruiting new support and celebrate the way half a million people were given an equal say in the choice.
“Those in despair about this process must learn how to galvanise more of those millions of voters who desperately need Labour to be a party of government again, just as much as Corbyn has inspired those who fancy another five years of protest,” he said.
“Any fightback to reclaim Labour must begin by reaching people outside the party and bringing them in – just as Blair did 20 years ago – rather than looking for someone else to blame.”
Miliband has not commented on the Labour leadership election, despite pressure from some MPs hostile to Corbyn for him to intervene.
However, Baldwin dismissed any suggestion that the former leader should be held responsible for what has happened, saying it was “faintly quaint to see some still sticking with the strategy which has sustained them through recent years: if something goes wrong, then blame Ed Miliband”.
“The... Labour party is understandably in despair and justifiably suspicious at the prospect of being led by someone who rebelled against the last government more than any other MP but now proclaims ‘unity is our watchword’,” he said. “But blame for this mess – and Corbyn’s success – does not lie with Miliband or the reforms of last year. After all, moderate Labour MPs could have halted his candidacy at a nomination stage designed to eliminate fringe candidates if they had not chosen to help him over the hurdle on the deeply patronising grounds that he would make the hustings more interesting.”
He argued that the old system for electing a leader was a “Bennite-era relic” in which an MP’s vote was worth a thousand times more than those of ordinary members and pointed out that the reforms were enthusiastically backed by modernisers at the time.
While Corbyn is the frontrunner, Yvette Cooper and Burnham are now vying to be seen as candidate best-placed to beat him.
A new pamphlet published by Progress, the centre-left group within Labour, discusses why the party needs to be thinking now about the possible Conservative leaders who will fight the 2020 election, naming them as George Osborne, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd or even David Cameron again.
It argues that, with 40% of Labour party members still to vote, people should remember that the Labour party could face a formidable opponent and that they still have “time in which to pick a leader who will cause the Conservatives problems, rather than the other way round”.
It concludes: “Labour now faces the tactical disadvantage of having to reveal its leadership hand long before the Conservatives need seriously consider their own. If and when Labour gets back on its feet it should plan the rest of the time up until 2020 very carefully.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 28th August 2015 18.58 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010