By Mark Ferguson and Marcus Roberts
2012 was the year that Ed Miliband secured his leadership of the party and began to define himself and his philosophy. 2013 though will be a much harder year for the party and the leader – because now he needs to put in place the building blocks of a political and organisational strategy that can win an election.
Here are 5 ways he can do that:
1) County council elections – this year will see Ed Miliband’s most difficult electoral test yet in the County Council elections. How well Labour performs in England (outside of London and especially in the South and East) will set the battlelines of 2015. The 2009 County Council election results were a nadir for Labour – and for most Labour activists it was the point we knew for certain that the 2010 election was lost. The 2013 election could be the point at which Labour activists really start to believe that winning in 2015 is not just possible, but probable. We need to win seats in places like Essex and make inroads across the South if Labour is to have a working majority. As the pre-1997 Southern attack strategy Operation Toehold proved, winning council seats now will help us win Parliamentary seats later.
2) One Nation – 2012 was the year that Ed Miliband gave his brand a name. 2013 needs to be the year that he – along with Jon Cruddas and others – put meat on those bare bones. Anthony Painter asked a few weeks ago if One Nation Labour could survive clarification – now is the time to find out. Miliband has already promised “concrete” ideas this year on business, welfare and education – but we’d add to that something unashamedly populist – common ownership of the railways. (Perhaps not rentionalisation per se, but certainly deprivatisation). Housing too would be a way of showing that Labour is willing to make big calls on the major issues of the day, and that the party is listening to members, which brings us to…
3) Activists – we’re at the halfway point in the Parliament, and the Labour Party still has the same major disadvantage that it had in 2010 (ie the Tories have way more money). The only way to get around this is to ensure that you have an active and engaged membership and supporter base who will be your evangelists and activists in communities. So far, despite Refounding Labour and many positive noises, the average experience of most party members is the same now as it was in 2005. That’s not good enough – members need to be respected, empowered and included. If Labour is to mount a 2015 ground war against the Tories, 2013 must become the year of the activist, so that the troops are ready for the upcoming battle. 2014 would be far too late.
4) Candidates/organisers – similarly to the last point, elections are won on the ground when a party is organised. Miliband/McNicol pledged to have 100 candidates and 200 organisers in place by 2014. That job was stalled by the coalition’s fortunate spat over boundary changes, but must continue apace in 2013. There are still hyper-marginal seats without either a candidate or an organiser – which is unacceptable as we hit the second half of the parliamentary fixed term. In short, all 100 target seats for Labour should be filled by Summer 2013. However, as LabourList has argued repeatedly, Labour Party selections must be far more open and transparent, rather than the status quo – a set of opaque and confusing internal rows that look like stitch ups.
5) Strategy not tactics – the final point is organisational too, but in a political sense. In this middle year of the Parliament, Miliband needs to avoid easy opportunism (except where it corresponds to his core narrative – vested interests, the squeezed middle and responsibility at the top and bottom of society). He needs to hold his nerve, and focus on putting strategy over the day to day knockabout of political tactics. That’s something that the Labour leader can certainly learn from the New Labour years. Pick your issues, grid the year and stick to your plan – don’t be so easily buffeted by the winds of news and political trivia. Because you can’t define the debate that way, and Miliband’s entire strategy is based around changing the political discourse.
Marcus Roberts is the Deputy Director of the Fabian Society. Mark Ferguson is the Editor of LabourList.
Yesterday Marcus and Mark outlined the 5 biggest events for Labour in 2012. You can see that post here.