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

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