Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game


by Sunny
22nd November, 2010 at 10:00 am    

Lots of lefties are rather annoyed and frustrated that Labour ministers aren’t doing more to attack the Coalition cuts and undermine the Coalition.

They’ll be more frustrated after Ed Miliband’s announcement, in the Guardian today, that he is playing the long game, and will look at overhauling party policy and thinking. But we have to take on the Coalition now to protect families, lots of lefties will say. They’re not wrong.

But there are a few points to make.

First, Labour needs a deep re-think of policy, ideas and structure. This is the right time to do it, rather than two – four years down the line closer to the election.

Second, the media isn’t paying much attention to Labour anyway. So even though Ed Balls, Ken Livingstone et al are doing their best to attack their government (believe me, I get the press releases) – the media isn’t that interested. Labour isn’t going to grab headlines now, except for things that it disowns from the past (like 42 days detention).

Third, even if the media pays a bit of attention, voters won’t do. They still have negative connotations from the last election, and that will take time to eradicate. The same old soundbites by familiar ministers aren’t going to make voters look at the Labour party again.

Fourth, the Coalition has the votes to push its agenda through and it’s going to be very difficult to oppose them in the short term. Especially since the Tories are masters at lying and framing their arguments in a way that wins public support.

My reading of the polls is that while people generally support the Coalition on many changes they’re making (on housing, benefits, workfare, cutting civil service etc) – they still feel a deep sense of unease about it all. Especially since they feel they’re having to pay for mistakes made by bankers. In the short term it’s difficult for Labour to win the media debate because the Coalition get to frame how things are presented in the media.

Fifth – and this is the most important bit – I don’t think the fightback should be led by Labour anyway. If the education protests were led by and fronted by Labour ministers, I bet it would look like one big political rally, rather than something authentic that students are angry over.

Civil society (Big Society?) should lead the fightback and constantly seek to undermine and argue with the Coalition. The protests against Vodafone and tax avoidance are a prime example of this. But even activists have to be prepared to play the long game – organising, building support and leading local campaigns against Coalition cuts is not something that can be done tomorrow.

It might take at least a year before we get into full swing. We can’t afford to turn around in a year or two and say that all that activism went to waste. Forcing the left into mindless short-term opposition is the trap we have to avoid.

So, Ed Miliband is right to play the long game, and we have to do the same.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game http://bit.ly/9jCPcm


  2. yorkierosie

    RT @sunny_hundal: Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game http://bit.ly/9jCPcm


  3. Angela Pateman

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game http://bit.ly/9jCPcm


  4. sunny hundal

    Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game; the Left has to do the same http://bit.ly/9jCPcm (from this morning)


  5. Show some leadership, Mister Ed! « Harpymarx

    [...] Show some leadership, Mister Ed! 26 11 2010 So much for the long game….. [...]


  6. Netroots UK – organising and planning our fightback for the longer term | Liberal Conspiracy

    [...] cuts can take the form of many burst of activity and demonstrations. But I’ve always maintained that this is a fight that will have to be long, planned, and sustained over several [...]


  7. Emily Davis

    @aaronjohnpeters I agree with @sunnyhundal on that point: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/10811 P.s. Keep doing an excellent job :)


  8. sunny hundal

    @Eddy39 but does he need to? See: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/10811


  9. sunny hundal

    @latentexistence nope! http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/10811 cc: @sophwarnes


  10. Tentacle Sixteen

    RT @sunny_hundal: Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game http://bit.ly/9jCPcm


  11. sunny hundal

    @qofe thoughts here: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/10811 :)




  1. Marina72 — on 22nd November, 2010 at 10:09 am  

    As my family has already been hit by cuts, I do feel frustrated by this ‘long game’ approach, although the Tories may be ultimately digging their own grave. (The LibDems certainly are doing just that, and fast.) But I take your point that Labour needs to re-examine itself deeply, and that the movement for change must come from people and not be seen as a Labour construct.

  2. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 10:28 am  

    Well Sunny, I certainly don’t disagree with big parts of this. There is one point though where I have some real doubts.

    ‘My reading of the polls is that while people generally support the Coalition on many changes they’re making (on housing, benefits, workfare, cutting civil service etc) – they still feel a deep sense of unease about it all. Especially since they feel they’re having to pay for mistakes made by bankers.’

    The way I read the polls is that people generally support the Conservatives, rather than the Coalition. This is a really important point because in the short term the Lib Dems are just there for the taking (the Conservatives might even serve them up). Liberalism, Nick Clegg style is not much more than the freedom to starve for the poor and freedom to get winter bonuses for bankers. Those pictures of tory MPs cheering the cuts are likely more telling in the minds of voters than some think.

    One of the most interesting parts of Lord Young’s recent comments was an aspect not really reported on. He appeared to say that Osbourne had been talking down the economy and that the deficit situation as it stands was not the catastrophe that some would have us believe. In fact in between his stupid comments, Young made some quite reasonable points. This, for me will be the defining point of Ed Milliband’s leadership – what to say about the deficit. Labour went into the election on a programme of deficit reduction with a slower timetable, more based on tax rises than cuts. This is probably not a bad place to start but it will need some very serious bravery to fight on what is essentially Tory ground. But I still have this nagging doubt about Alan Johnson as chancellor compared to Yvette Cooper.

    This parliament will be about a new ‘current affairs’ where things like Iraq, the environment and identity politics will likely be less of a priority. Labour supporters may need to adapt to this new current affairs at least as much as the party.

  3. Steve — on 22nd November, 2010 at 10:35 am  

    Fair point Sunny – but there’s no point Labour having a ‘deep re-think’ and coming out the other side with the same set of New Labour, triangulation, hug-the-right-wing-media tactics. Which is what at least half the shadow cabinet seem to be lobbying for.

    Ed has got to meet the centre-ground half way and drag it to the centre left. The trouble is the longer he waits the deeper the consensus on cuts gets entrenched – unless Labour emerges from their silence with an effective new language and strategy it will be disasterous. Big gamble he’s taking, suppose he can’t be accused of timidity.

  4. Sofia — on 22nd November, 2010 at 10:42 am  

    Playing the long game must allow time for the Labour party to get back its core voters..the ones that left in droves..ppl like my dad who thought he’d support labour till the day he died…who instilled labour socialist values that were chucked out when Tony Blair came to power

  5. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 10:57 am  

    Sofia – What are these ‘socialist values’ as a matter of interest?

    Presumably, this leaves aside whether those are actually going to win any elections. If such people did in fact leave in ‘droves’ the SWP might actually have some credibility.

    Blair’s great strength was that he treated society as it is, not as militant would like it to be. Lond may it continue.

  6. Refresh — on 22nd November, 2010 at 11:17 am  

    I agree with Civil Society taking on the Tories. Labour are not up to the job until it becomes part of that coalition.

    It is activism that creates coalitions, we cannot have everyone sitting back waiting on New Labour to rediscover itself. And they must not take credit for it all. The last time we did that they gave us masters of baiting and triangulating.

    Recall that Blair et al, not once (certainly to my hearing) did they refer to Thatcher’s legacy in the negative. And yet, Cameron, Osborne and Clegg hang every excuse on New Labour.

    1997 was a coalition of civil society; and that coalition was mercilessly kicked, bullied and abused. They created and sustained a Tory-friendly narrative, which Cameron, Osbourne are only too happy to exploit.

    In a way, Sunny, you appear to accept that narrative

    ‘My reading of the polls is that while people generally support the Coalition on many changes they’re making (on housing, benefits, workfare, cutting civil service etc) – they still feel a deep sense of unease about it all.’

    and I am sure that is not your intention.

  7. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 11:25 am  

    Refresh –

    ‘Recall that Blair et al, not once (certainly to my hearing) did they refer to Thatcher’s legacy in the negative.’

    The ‘forces of conservatism’ speech?

  8. Sofia — on 22nd November, 2010 at 11:26 am  

    Blair’s great strength was that he treated society as it is, not as militant would like it to be.

    You mean he treated it the way he wanted to without regard for what the people who voted labour wanted.

    And I don’t need to sit here and give you a history lesson on the labour party for you to understand what my father would have seen in the 1960s

  9. Refresh — on 22nd November, 2010 at 11:30 am  

    MaidMarian

    ‘The ‘forces of conservatism’ speech?’

    Looking back it seems it was most duplicitous. If I did understand it, and I don’t claim that I do, it simply said trust me: I am the one who knows what these ‘forces of conservatism’ are. And I think he genuinely meant anything opposed to HIS idea of reform.

    A sort of Thatcher’s ‘there is no society’ – well of the same sort of calibre.

  10. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 11:34 am  

    Sofia – Ok, untwist your underwear!

    ‘And I don’t need to sit here and give you a history lesson on the labour party for you to understand what my father would have seen in the 1960s.’

    Well, I’m not asking for that – I’m asking for what these values are. If your father wished to pickle Britain in aspic, there is always the SWP.

    ‘You mean he treated it the way he wanted to without regard for what the people who voted labour wanted.’

    What, the record increases in public spending for example? You seem to be forgetting that, ‘the people who voted Labour,’ voted for Blair as PM three times.

  11. Gerald — on 22nd November, 2010 at 11:50 am  

    “Especially since the Tories are masters at lying and framing their arguments in a way that wins public support.”

    Wut?! Where have you been for the last 13 years.

  12. dave bones — on 22nd November, 2010 at 12:16 pm  

    Eh? What long game? They are going to sit in opposition for a few years and then become Tories when they get the reins of power again? All three parties are playing Jenga.

  13. boyo — on 22nd November, 2010 at 1:24 pm  

    Agreed Sunny – more to the point, people won’t really protest until they feel the pain, in about 1-2 years time. Then Labour has to be there for them.

  14. Emily Davis — on 22nd November, 2010 at 1:24 pm  

    Interesting post. However, what is the difference then between a ‘permanent campaign’ that the likes of the republican party in the US have undertaken in opposition, and seems to have some effect, and the ‘mindless short-term opposition’ you are warning of here? Very interested to know the distinction.

  15. Sofia — on 22nd November, 2010 at 2:17 pm  

    Maidmarian, I find you really quite offensive..in the past you’ve accused me of victimhood and now you’re telling me to quit getting my knickers in a twist..why don’t you learn how to be respectful instead of rude?

    People think they can talk in any way they please because they’re hiding behind a pc. It’s lame and sad. As for voting labour in 3 times, it was pretty hard ousting a party with the majority they had and it wasn’t like the whole of Britain voted..what was the turnout again??

  16. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 2:35 pm  

    ‘it was pretty hard ousting a party with the majority they had and it wasn’t like the whole of Britain voted..what was the turnout again??’

    Decisions are made by the people who show up.

  17. Refresh — on 22nd November, 2010 at 2:40 pm  

    ‘Decisions are made by the people who show up.’

    Not strictly true. Abstentions ie turnout is crucial. It, afterall is the measure of the health of democracy.

    Lets not forget parties work to keep the electorate away from the polling booth as much as they do in getting them there.

  18. dave bones — on 22nd November, 2010 at 2:42 pm  

    You lot are seriously still presuming voting Labour, Liberal or Conservative makes a difference? Why?

  19. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 2:48 pm  

    ‘Not strictly true. Abstentions ie turnout is crucial. It, afterall is the measure of the health of democracy.’

    I think you are confusing franchise with turnout.

  20. boyo — on 22nd November, 2010 at 2:59 pm  

    @18 Ah, but it does make a difference. I used to be of that mind – after all, on one level you’re correct as we’re only looking at different forms of capitalism and power politics – but in this game of power, consciousness can make a difference. For instance:

    In 1945 a real Labour government was elected and, although the rot had already begun to set in with Attlee (who refused to ban private schools and get rid of the Lords) it was a major step forward for the working class who five years later had rested a fair amount of power from the elite.

    The elite however have spent the following 50 years seeking to roll that back (undoubtedly unconsciously much of the time) and this is personified in the current government for whom almost every action is defined by how it will favour the elite at the cost of the powerless, be that ending tenure on council homes, dismantling (and discrediting) the public sector, or “reforming” the NHS so it basically becomes discredited.

    People – inadvertently admittedly in the case of the Lib Dems – voted for this “land grab” for power on the part of the bourgeois. And the only way they will grab some power back is by voting for it.

  21. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 3:17 pm  

    boyo – If Clement Attlee ever had to face the talkboards of today he would not even have made six years. He took Britain nuclear, entered the Korean war, reintroduced the bread ration, partitioned India and advocated a zionist state. He even retained ID cards.

    Attlee was a real left sort. Sadly the left nowadays is conflated with those fighting battles lost in 1983.

  22. boyo — on 22nd November, 2010 at 3:26 pm  

    “partitioned India, advocated a zionist state”. Well, that’s one reading!

  23. damon — on 22nd November, 2010 at 3:50 pm  

    I really can’t get too excited by the thought of an Ed Miliband led fightback at this moment.
    Keep and eye on the Republic of Ireland to see some real anger. Talk of reducing the minimum wage by one euro an hour, and cutting unemployment payments.

    But at €8.65 an hour minimum wage, and €196 a week (euros) for a single unemployed person (who gets just £65 a week in the UK) – you might say they’ve been living beyond their means.

    btw, I’d feel much better about any resistance to the government’s plans if it wasn’t hi-jacked by Socialist Worker types …. and if people would be honest about student fees and admit that the process for paying back the money is very benign. Instead of spinning it.

  24. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 3:55 pm  

    damon – The process for paying back student fees was even more benign for Cameron and Gideon’s generation.

  25. fezz56 — on 22nd November, 2010 at 3:57 pm  

    I think you can do both. As long as party values are maintained there should be no problem with attacking the coalition and preparing for the long haul.

    There is no reason why Labour cannot start to change the political landscape to put the coalition on the back foot. There are too many people who have, and are, about to lose their jobs to ignore it.

    The question is do all in the party see it that way?

  26. Refresh — on 22nd November, 2010 at 4:00 pm  

    Franchise is a right, and turnout is the exercising thereof. And below a certain level of involvement by the electorate the legitimacy of the system is brought into question.

  27. MaidMarian — on 22nd November, 2010 at 7:41 pm  

    Refresh –

    No, that is abrogating the electorate of the imperative of civic participation. By not voting people effectively say to all the other voters, ‘you decide on my behalf.’

    A system that is not legitimate would be one where people do not have the right to vote. Civic participation, to my mind, runs deeper than flaunting impotent rage on the internet.

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