The grassroots’ choice? I’m not convinced yet

25th July, 2010 2:56 pm

grassrootsBy Mark Ferguson / @markfergusonuk

For a few days now I’ve been meaning to write about the “bloggers’ briefing” held by the David Miliband campaign on Thursday, where Douglas Alexander sought to explain how the campaign feel they’re doing – and hit us with some key lines that they clearly want to push. Douglas’ article for LabourList on Friday focussed on the line they’re going to be pushing hardest – that David Miliband is the “grassroots choice”.

This morning we’ve seen a further attempt to push that line, as the David Miliband campaign announces the support of over half of the Labour council leaders and Labour group leaders in the country, both on David’s website and in the News of the World (of all places). I must admit that what the headline says, and what the article reveals, are two fundamentally different things. When I saw that grassroots supporters had come out in favour of David, I didn’t expect to see a list of names headed by Sir Jeremy Beecham. I’ll be honest, former leader of the LGA Labour group doesn’t scream “grassroots” at me.

The fact is that coming out and saying that many Labour councils and Labour group leaders are supporting you is a good enough piece of press on it’s own. It shows that people who have won elections – and want a strong Labour Party so that they can win again – support David because they think he’s the person to do that. That’s a strong line. So why go further? Why try to spin (and I’m sorry to use that word, but it really does strike me as spin) that support from council leaders means your candidate is the “grassroots’ choice”?

Council leaders, with the greatest of respect to them, are by definition not grassroots. They’re no more grassroots supporters than MPs are. They are a form of Labour establishment, with staff, offices and the trappings of power. The decisions they make as professional politicians (for that is what they are) impact on the lives of voters. They’re really not grassroots, and trying to use their support to push the “grassroots candidate” line only serves to weaken it.

The other string to the “grassroots” bow is the number of CLP nominations the David Miliband campaign has. It would seem that David’s campaign are on firm ground here: with 157 CLP nominations as I write this, compared to 145 for brother Ed, he’s clearly in the lead, if by a whisker. I’m not convinced it’s as simple as that though – or that CLP nominations are that good a representation of where the grassroots’ support is. CLP nominations are a reflection of quality of organisation, sure – but when CLPs vary in size so greatly, how can we really be sure that David is ahead of his brother at all? How do we know that he has recieved the most votes across CLP meetings, which differ in how they select their nominations, or that one of the other candidates is not hoovering up the largest CLPs? I don’t for a second believe that what CLP nominations show (the Milibrothers miles ahead, and the other candidates shades of nowhere) is an accurate representation of how first preferences will break in the members’ section.

When equivalence is given between CLPs of fifty people and a thousand people alike, then we have to accept (much as it pains me, when so much of my time is spent cataloguing them) that CLP nominations are an indicator, nothing more. You would need to be streets ahead on CLP nominations to say that you are clearly the members’ choice. So far I’m only willing to say that the two Milibands are more popular than the other three candidates. With variations in size and voting method across CLPs, that’s all I can say with any level of accuracy.

David Miliband may well be the choice of the Labour grassroots. He’s got every chance of doing well in the members section and could top the poll. He’s got excellent name recognition, and the greatest organisational capacity. But would I say he’s the grassroots candidate? Not yet – I’ll believe it when I see the vote announced on September 25th.

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