“The only way is down”, one Labour shadow minister told my New Statesman colleague George Eaton yesterday, in one half of a cover story which led the BBC, Sky and Channel 4. But could a change of staff save the party?
Lucy Powell – Ed Miliband’s “acting chief of staff” during his first, troublesome year in opposition – has rejoined the leader’s team, taking over as a Vice Chair (Operations).
Quite where she’ll fit in amongst the mess of meetings and advisers that Labour already have is unclear. In December an internal memo leaked to the Observer showed the party planned to hold 23 different types of weekly or monthly meetings this year.
Miliband himself was meant to chair six of them, which ranged from a weekly “strategic overview” (sensible enough) to monthly meetings on general election “readiness” (still sane) and “strategic message” (fine), along with monthly catch-ups with Harriet Harman and… Alastair Campbell, who has no formal role in the party.
That shock was the news at the time. But the rest of the memo is even more revealing. Miliband was also meant to host a monthly 18-person meeting on “strategy”, with leadership rivals Burnham, Balls, Cooper, and Umunna among those attending. If those meetings ever happened, they can’t have been productive.
Those are just the ones Miliband was involved in. Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore – who were at least once in charge – were also scheduled to host a “weekly look ahead” with twelve people, a “campaign planning” meeting with fourteen, a “quarterly look ahead” with eight, and two different types of “elections 2014” meetings with a similar gaggle of far too many people for a meeting to actually work.
But hey Labour held onto Heywood & Middleton.
Then there were the “core meetings” (the others were peripheral?). These ranged from a “Weekly Catch up” (That’s a Capital for Catch) with four people to a “Weekly Core Catch up” with… the same four people. Then there was a weekly polling meeting, “warbook” meetings, “Sunday Group” meetings and a series of catch-ups with Labour figures excluded from most of the other meetings. Not forgetting a morning media call and a weekly “attack” meeting.
Since then Labour has half-hired Obama’s former campaign chief David Axelrod, who the media are still yet to spot in Britain, and set up a “digital” team with another former Obama hand, having hired and fired American community organiser Arnie Graf.
Where, one wonders, is Powell meant to fit in amongst all this?