UK Politics

Ed Miliband says Labour must change to win

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said his party's leadership lost touch both with its own members and the public.

In a speech to the national policy forum, Mr Miliband proposed reforms aimed at making the party less insular and its decision-making more open.

He said the Labour Party "can only win if we change" and that power would not "come automatically".

Mr Miliband also defended plans to scrap elections for the shadow cabinet, despite backbench opposition.

He said: "A party created by working people, for working people, lost touch with them.

"Old Labour forgot about the public. New Labour forgot about the party. And, by the time we left office, we had lost touch with both."

New proposals

And he cited the decision under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to abolish the 10p starting rate of income tax, which saw millions of low earners lose out.

"At times the leadership seemed to believe that their role is to protect the public from the party.

"It never really believed that the party could provide that vital connection to the British people, and we didn't build a genuine movement.

"You were telling us about immigration, about housing, about the 10p tax rate, but the leadership did not listen enough.

He added: "Let me be clear what my ambition is - for Labour to be a cause not just a party, a mission not just a programme, a movement not just a government. Then, together, we can build the country we believe in."

In his speech to party activists and trade unionists, Mr Miliband unveiled a series of proposals.

  • Its annual conference will be opened up to campaign groups and charities - who will be allowed to speak from the floor in debates although they will not get to vote on policies.
  • Local Labour parties will be allowed to organise petitions on issues which they feel ought to be debated at national level, and if they can demonstrate enough support, those issues will be placed on the agenda at future meetings of the policy forum.
  • There will also be a new code of conduct for the party's candidates and politicians to ensure they meet voters regularly and are transparent about their expenses.
  • Following on from an idea trialled in Oxford and Birmingham, local parties across the UK will get extra resources if they sign up more supporters.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the party had to learn from the failures of the past: "The fact was we lost an election and the arrogant thing to do would be to pretend that didn't happen.

"The true thing to do, is to say we did some great things, we didn't get everything right, the people have told us we got things wrong, we've got to put that right."

In his Wrexham speech, Mr Miliband also defended plans to scrap elections to the shadow cabinet.

The move to take sole responsibility for frontbench appointments has been criticised by some backbench MPs who feel they will be distanced from the party's top team.

He said: "All it did when we were last in opposition, was to force members of the shadow cabinet to look inwards and not outwards. Jockeying for position, spending months campaigning against colleagues and organising to get elected.

"All of this was a huge distraction and only emphasised differences. If we are serious about moving on from the patterns of the past and never returning to the factions that divided us, we cannot persist with this system.

"Just like I want the focus of every party member to be on the public, so too it must be for my top team. Just like the football manager picks his team, so it is right that I pick mine."

'Insulting' change

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said the current system was more likely to produce a "balanced" shadow cabinet.

He told the BBC: "The number of women in the shadow cabinet needs to increase, in my view, and Harriet Harman was proposing that 50% of the shadow cabinet should be women.

"I thought Ed Miliband agreed with that so unless he is going to do that by patronage, it is an issue that is going to, presumably, be swept aside."

Dai Havard, the Merthyr Tydfil MP, wrote to his party leader opposing the plan to change shadow cabinet selection and described an e-mail from Mr Miliband in reply as "something of an insult".

Mr Havard said the abolition of shadow cabinet elections was "the winding back of the internal democracy of the Parliamentary party" and he told Mr Miliband his analysis was "flawed" and his "perceived solutions and actions wrong".

As well as the Labour leader's keynote speech, the policy forum will also hear the results of 19 reviews he set up on subjects such as welfare, family and culture.

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