Is it Time to Resurrect ‘One Nation Labour’?

The first phase of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour party is nearing completion and many commentators are asking what lies ahead. The next step is to establish a policy base and a brand on which the next three years can be built on. For Blair it was ‘New Labour’, for Cameron the ‘Big Society’ and for Ed Miliband it was ‘One Nation Labour’. Milibandism was tragically crucified on the electoral cross six years ago, yet the ideas survived and influenced the Conservative party more than anyone else, perhaps even contributing to their landslide win at the last general election. I believe that ‘One Nation Labour’ was not rejected on May 7th, 2015, but that Ed Miliband was.

Milibandism was an impressive set of policies that comprised virtue with popularity. Sadly, the political project was led by the wrong Miliband brother. Everything wrong with ‘Red Ed’ can be summed up in nine words: “Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I’m tough enough!”, his nerdish demeanour and middle-class British politeness meant Ed Miliband had the perceived political strength of a particularly timid lamb.

The same could easily be said of many of his colleagues on the front bench, most notably Ed Balls. Perhaps it is not unclear then why so many voters were more inspired by Nathalie Bennet and Nigel Farage than the man whose nickname in Whitehall was ‘The Emissary from Planet F***k’.[1] Despite this characterisation, Ed Miliband possesses a first-rate political mind and his electoral strategy, similarly to Tony Blair’s in 1997 successfully evaluated Labour’s shortcomings and its looming landslide losses.

What exactly is ‘One Nation Labour’ though? Launched at the 2012 party conference ‘One Nation Labour’ emphasised national unity and social justice. The strategy set out to differentiate itself from New Labour in certain key ways. Miliband made sure that Labour took a far tougher attitude to migration by emphasising the need to prevent emigration of skilled workers and offering policies such as requiring new EU migrants to wait two years before claiming benefits[2] and ensuring people in public-facing roles have minimum standards of English to appeal to those enticed by UKIP.[3]

Another policy in which ‘One Nation Labour’ deviated from its predecessor was its approach to the economy. Policies such as the ‘Mansion tax’ and the promotion of technical education aimed to ensure investment and jobs were available in Britain’s neglected regions and represented a more interventionist shift in the direction of the party. Compared to his successor though, ‘Red Ed’ was not so red after all, as commitments to reduce tuition fees and allow greater public-sector involvement in the railways were considered the radical socialist policies that made him a danger to the economy. Both policies, however, have been floated by the current conservative government and it was rumoured that a ‘Mansion tax’ would be announced in the March 2020 budget only to be shelved due to the pandemic.[4]

The final key pillar of Milibandism was the devolution of power in England. Miliband proposed a ‘constitutional convention’ to assess English devolution and other much-needed reforms to the archaic Westminster system such as a Senate for the regions and the feasibility of codifying the constitution.[5] The purpose of the convention was to strengthen the nation by giving a voice to regional identities. Many contemporary progressive critics might attribute Milibandism with pandering to ‘Little Englanders’, yet this is a cynical way of viewing ‘One Nation Labour’ and a foolishly idealised view of politics.

What Miliband proposed was a set of visionary ideas, as he realised the erosion of party support from traditional heartlands in the ‘red wall’. ‘One Nation Labour’ addressed the feelings of those forgotten and harmed by economic globalisation and sought to find effective solutions to their problems, without resorting to populist sensationalism such as the abolition of tuition fees, endless Brussels-bashing or xenophobic rhetoric that would only have made a lot of people worse off. By listening to genuine concerns about the loss of national and economic identity and providing honest solutions to alleviate those concerns, Labour stood on a moral and potentially popular platform.

What the Labour party needed was a more effective leader to communicate those solutions to the public. The age of Corbyn has sadly wiped out many possible Messiahs that could resurrect ‘One Nation Labour’. Of the MPs that remain, possible saviours include Dan Jarvis, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Liz Kendall and most likely of all shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy. Compared to Miliband or Sir Keir, Nandy has multiple advantages. She comes across as honest, genuine, relatable and charismatic and the more one sees of her, the more one likes her. Whereas Sir Keir has the vibe of a headteacher who thinks creating a TikTok account for his school will give it a modern edge.

Lisa Nandy’s greatest asset though is her Northernness, her distinctly Lancashire personality and her ability to fully understand the feelings of residents in abandoned towns up and down the country such as those in her own constituency of Wigan. That is why throughout the last Labour leadership election, she proved herself as the most popular candidate amongst conservative voters and the most worrying candidate amongst conservative politicians.

Ed Miliband’s policies may not have gotten him into No.10 but when seat after seat fell to the Tories on December 12, 2019, the constituents of Doncaster North which had one of the highest Leave votes in the country decided to give him another chance because they knew he fought for their interests valiantly. I predict that unless Sir Keir rebrands Labour into a party that acknowledges and addresses the concerns of neglected towns then his political career shall end in 2024 having only flipped a few dozen seats.


[1] The meek vs the geek: Brothers Miliband battle it out | The Independent | The Independent

[2] EU migrants would wait two years for jobless benefits, Labour says – BBC News

[3] Our Immigration Reform Bill will set out our new approach to make a real difference. – The Labour Party (archive.org)

[4] Boris Johnson ‘considers mansion tax on Britain’s most expensive homes | Daily Mail Online

[5] Labour proposes devolution settlement to ‘shape own futures’ | Scottish independence | The Guardian

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