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.