Arnie Graf presents a challenge to both party fixers and party stalwarts alike

November 22, 2012 6:20 pm

There’s a fantastic piece by Rowenna Davis in the Guardian today on Arnie Graf “The man Ed Miliband asked to rebuild Labour”. Graf is certainly an interesting character, and on the few times I’ve met him I’ve been hugely impressed by his calm demeanour and vast experience. (And also by the fact that he looks at least ten years younger than his 68 years.)

But what’s most impressive is his vision for Labour. The kind of party that Graf seems to be striving towards – one that’s more open, relational and transparent – is hugely appealing, and if handled correctly offers a potential template for both electoral success, and transformational Labour-lead change in communities across the country.

I’m particularly drawn to Graf’s assertion that attempts to stitch up decisions in the party may be part of the reason Labour has experienced failures in the past. As I noted just last week, even the perception of a stitch up is toxic. Sadly, there are a not insignificant number of people in the party who seem to think winning internal battles/selections is more important than ether changing the country or winning elections. A different (yet similar) group believe that the procedure of internal party meetings is more important than the outcome, and how many people turn up next time.

Graf has been particularly scathing about the party’s meeting culture, saying :

“At the end of meetings I’d rather chew off my arm with my own teeth than go back. I thought the smartest people are the ones who didn’t come. “

I can honestly say that’s an accurate appraisal of the vast majority of party meetings I’ve attended. But for some they seem to be considered delightful social occasions to be repeated an extended indefinitely. I’ve never quite understood that…

At times it can feel like these people – the fixers and the meetings for meetings sake mob – have the party in an apathy chokehold, seeking to win ever more battles by hoping that everyone else simply gives up and stops caring.

And all too often that’s exactly what happens.

But if Graf’s vision of a radically different Labour presents challenges for the party’s more difficult souls, it also presents challenges for many other Labour Party members and activists too. His approach is more about community campaigning politics than voter ID. His desire for openness in terms of selections (perhaps going as far as primaries) may jar with the way many members view party membership.

In short – he wants to see a kind of social democratic community based political party in Britain that is quite alien to the Labour Party that most of us know and (sometimes begrudgingly) love.

That’s quite a lofty ambition, and it will be made all the more difficult by the fact that the party fixers and the meeting-loving stalwarts will be united against him. But the prize – a bigger, more engaged party that can be a genuine force in communities AND Westminster – seems more than worth the hassle.

  • MarkHoulbrook

    Good Article Mark. On reading both articles it is very clear there is a spot of de ja vu in there somewhere. I wonder where some members of the NEC, Ed Miliband et al have heard all this before…and even you Mark. One thing is for sure it was not from a secret report.

  • Daniel Speight

    Step by step. Return power from the London leadership to the CLPs first.

  • AlanGiles

    It is quite incredible – Cameron appoints Australian Lynton Crosby to take care of business and so Miliband feels he has to import the man from Chicago. So it seems nobody from our own country has the talent of gumption to solve the problems of the British.

    I know that will sound insular and parochial to some, but it is indicative of this “us, too” philosophy that pervades British politics today. One side follows the other.

    Will it work?. Well, at the 2015 election if Lord Mandy has another pal like Jonathan Reynolds or Tristram Hunt he wants parachuted into a safe seat (let’s say for example Blair junior) will he get his way, or will he just shrug and let Joe or Joanne Bloggs a local person get the nomination?.

    Trust has to be earned – and it isn’t earned by importing overseas “thinkers” (and Mr Graf is so knowledgable he asked “who is Ed Miliband?”).

    But here is the biggest joke of the lot: the man imported to make Labour transparent?. What does that newspaper article say? “Graf’s report was never published, and he remains influential but near invisible to those outside Labour’s inner circle.”

    Yes, VERY transparent.

    • http://www.labourlist.org/mark_ferguson Mark Ferguson

      Graf has been around for nearly two years, Crosby hasn’t even been hired yet. And their roles are completely different. Ever the cynic eh Alan?

    • AlanGiles

      “Mark Ferguson: Graf has been around for nearly two years, Crosby hasn’t”

      Crosby was “helping” Michael Howard back in 2005 (“are you thinking what we’re thinking?” – remember) and I don’t suppose it impossible that he met up with Cameron et al while he was more recently working for Johnson in London).

      But the point remains, a bloke from Chicago (or Australia) is more likely to have his finger on the pulse of the nation than somebody in and from the UK?. Doesn’t say much for us, does it, jointly and severally?

  • https://mikestallard.virtualgallery.com/ Mike Stallard

    Meanwhile the party faithful are departing from all political parties in droves and the party income, in all parties, comes from either the TUs or else private donors.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Eeek. It’s a funny old world. The only people claiming to have a clue as per what to do about anything these days are unelected advisers or think-tank drones often not even members of the political parties they advise; without such characters our elected politicians would apparently be clueless and have to be led around the universe of political discourse like wide-eyed children! Personally I’d much prefer politicians to have their own ideas, convictions, stand for something, and act under their own volition, rather than coached and controlled by others, like ventriloquist dummies, having most of the words they speak put in their mouths by unelected ambiguous characters like Arnie Graf, Graeme Cooke, Alastair Campbell, Andy Coulson, Steve Hilton and creeps like David Freud (which charlatan determined the disastrous welfare policies of both the Labour AND Conservative Parties so committed was he to a political cause). Eeek. I have an idea! Why not save a lot of time and money and just let MPs nominate people like this as their champions, abrogate responsibility, stand back, and give let the SpAds fight their political battles for them in proxy? Cut out the middle man and all that. You know it makes sense. Eeek.

    • alfred

      I’m a Labour Party member in my mid seventies. Been a member over 50 years. Unfortunately, Arnie Graf describes my local party

  • Pingback: What You Can Get Away With (Nick Barlow's blog) » Blog Archive » If Labour won’t listen to Arnie Graf, should the Liberal Democrats?

Latest

  • Featured Scotland “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win”: Jim Murphy joins Scottish Labour leadership race

    “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win”: Jim Murphy joins Scottish Labour leadership race

    We now have three candidates for Scottish Labour leader, as Jim Murphy’s long-awaited candidacy has been confirmed. The Shadow International Development Secretary and former Scotland Secretary released a statement this evening, saying that his intention is to be Scottish Labour leader and First Minister: “I’m standing for First Minister of Scotland and I intend to win. I want to bring Scotland back together after the referendum. There is so much to be proud of in Scotland but so much we […]

    Read more →
  • Comment I’m not upset about Cameron’s refusal to wear a t-shirt – it’s everything else that gets me

    I’m not upset about Cameron’s refusal to wear a t-shirt – it’s everything else that gets me

    On Monday the news broke that David Cameron has repeatedly refused a request by Elle magazine to be photographed wearing a t-shirt. Why? Because on it, the t-shirt says “This is what a feminist looks like”. There have been a catalogue of ideas floated since about why he might not have done it – “It’s only a mag campaign” or “You shouldn’t dress up the Prime Minister”, say. But really, it’s not important that it was a request from a […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Anas Sarwar: We shouldn’t allow the SNP to “talk left and act right”

    Anas Sarwar: We shouldn’t allow the SNP to “talk left and act right”

    Interim Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar may have formally declared that he will not be entering the race to succeed Johann Lamont, but that has not stopped him analysing where Labour have failed in Scotland over the past few years. In an interview the the Huffington Post, Sarwar identifies the perception that the SNP are more left wing as a problem – even if that belief is misplaced. He said: “The SNP have been allowed to wear our clothes and talk left […]

    Read more →
  • Comment PMQs verdict: What have we learned? That Westminster has tried and failed to control immigration?

    PMQs verdict: What have we learned? That Westminster has tried and failed to control immigration?

    You could tell early on that PMQs was going to be…different, this week. The Prime Minister was sat in his seat like a coiled spring. On the Labour benches opposite, Harriet Harman was wearing a t-shirt reading “This is what a feminist looks like”. Cameron had refused five times to be photographed wearing the same t-shirt, so it was clearly intended to rile him. In reality it simply looked like a stunt, and appeared to have no impact on the […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scotland Neil Findlay confirms he is standing for Scottish Labour leader

    Neil Findlay confirms he is standing for Scottish Labour leader

    Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary in the Scottish Parliament, Neil Findlay, has announced his intention to run for leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Findlay’s name has been among the list of potential candidates since Johann Lamont stood down on Friday. There were rumours this morning that Findlay was reconsidering whether to stand following the surprise declaration of Sarah Boyack yesterday. In a statement this lunchtime, however, Findlay says Gordon Brown was the candidate he would not have wanted to run […]

    Read more →