By Marcus Roberts and Mark Ferguson
The conventional wisdom is that 2012 ends much as it began: government infighting, questions over Labour policy, weak economy etc. but that argument misses something important: it is these very factors which at mid-term are deepening the doom that Tories face even as they strengthen Ed Miliband’s hand for the Parliament’s second half.
With this in mind, here’s our list of the top five moments for Labour in 2012 and why we think their impact will last:
5) Jon Cruddas. If 2011 was Tom Watson’s year as Labour’s surprise Shadow Cabinet superstar, 2012 belonged to Cruddas. Cruddas took charge of the policy review amalgamating its myriad groups and subgroups into three simple themes (rebuilding the economy, rebuilding society and rebuilding politics) to provide clarity and definition to Labour’s thinking about government. And this wasn’t just an internal game: Angela Eagle’s launch of YourBritain site showed the Party was ready to begin listening to members on their policy priorities – something Cruddas and Eagle have both sworn to ensure. But the last thing to remember about the lasting significance of Cruddas’ return to frontline Labour politics is that his commitment to a big radical policy offer from Labour in the next manifesto is matched by his deep knowledge and experience of fighting tough elections. Cruddas gets the need for Labour to do politics differently which has in turn aided Labour’s own change.
4) Labour reorganises. It wasn’t easy (personnel overhauls of long established bureaucracies and power bases never are) but Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol’s overhaul of Party structures and staff is the kind of underestimated but genuinely essential change that helps win elections. Spring announcements of Labour’s intention to recruit 200 organisers and 100 new candidates by 2014 showed a level of aggression and organisation seldom found in fresh oppositions. Again though, Labour’s change wasn’t just an internal process. Just as important as the arrival of Miliband’s Chief of Staff Tim Livesey and the appointment of the Party’s Executive Directors was the embrace of activism that goes beyond leafleting. Simply put, Labour is now putting a lot more emphasis on community campaigning on local issues combined with canvassing that stresses longer conversations with voters and a lot more listening. Labour’s embrace of the ideas of Arnie Graf, it’s switch-to-save scheme and Miliband’s commitment to ”the largest voter registration drive for a generation” have shown that the Labour leader believes that being out of office doesn’t mean being out of power.
3) The LibDems and UKIP vie for 3rd party status. In polling terms, the Lib Dems now seem to operate in the 8-11% range whilst UKIP are in the 8-14% range. If these numbers are anywhere near reflective of 2015 then with Labour winning a clear majority of ex-LibDems and UKIP winning an overwhelming majority of ex-Tories, an electoral disaster could be on the cards for Cameron. Labour needs to ensure it holds onto its new Lib Dem supporters whilst trying to restrain its glee at the prospect of the Tories continuing to lurch Right in an attempt to win back UKIPers.
2) Ed’s speech. In politics, authenticity sells and this was the real Ed: Clever, risky, funny, geeky and audacious. Ed gave a speech that laid bare Cameron’s divisive politics and claimed the mantle of ‘One Nation Britain’ for Labour. With bolstered leadership ratings, a united party and even newfound respect from lobby journalists Miliband goes into 2013 knowing that he can trust his own judgement more and fear his critics less. After all, from Murdoch to banking to the decision to run for the leadership in the first place, whenever Ed has bet big, he’s won.
1) The budget. Unquestionably the game changer of 2012. It retoxified the Tories, locked up anti-coalition Lib Dems for Labour and proved that when it came to the crunch Osborne would prioritise millionaire tax cuts not just over the squeezed middle but even over the prize of one term deficit reduction. Between the granny tax hitting traditionally Tory voting pensioners, the pasty tax symbolising Cameron’s contempt for small business and latterly the welfare cuts that hurt the income of in-work “strivers”, Tory economic policy has opened up a wealth of policy and electoral opportunities for Labour between now and 2015.
Marcus Roberts is the Deputy Director of the Fabian Society. Mark Ferguson is the Editor of LabourList.
Tomorrow Mark and Marcus will be taking a look at the 5 key aims for Labour in 2013…