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Walking the walk with David Miliband

By  | 2 September 2010 at 01:20 | 464 views


When the Labour Party lost to a strange coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (ConDem) last spring, many pundits asked how and why. But it had been a long time coming. Forget Tony Balir’s ‘eternal sin’ of taking Britain to war in Iraq; Gordon Brown’s obstinacy to reason that the people wanted to see his back off, or the ignominious acts of Members of Parliament involved in expenses scandal. What was the real undoing of the Labour Party was the fact that it had lost touch with its grassroots supporters.

I have been a card carrying member of the Labour Party since I arrived in Britain one bright summer morning. I paid my monthly dues, besides my subscriptions via UNISON. But I was yet to see a leader so passionate about the party that they would want to touch base and build from the scratch. I did receive emails, texts and telephone calls. But most of these were to inform you of yet another council, mayoral, bye or general elections. I could forgive the Blair years, because I arrived in Britain at a time when he was on the threshold of power. When Gordon Brown took over office as Prime Minister in 2007, he promised change; a different politics that will put the interest of the people at the core of its policies. Indeed, Gordon promised to listen. But apparently, he did not. He preferred to consort with a not too likeable politician like Lord Peter Mandelson a.k.a The Prince of Darkness. He would understand later that the likes of Lord Mandelson are interested only in looking after their own end of the business, as his [Mandelson] memoirs, The Third Man would later unearth.
No sooner had Labour lost the elections that people (including even non Labour supporters) started wondering who among the lot will make a vibrant opposition.

The Conservatives had entered 10 Downing Street through the back door. The people clearly could not trust them. As the rumours floated, David Miliband, the ex-Foreign Secretary in the defeated government stepped out of the shadows, (from which he had refused to emerge at a time a huge chunk of supporters wanted him to oust Gordon Brown), and announced his intentions to run for the post of Labour Leadership. His announcement was, surprisingly contested by his younger brother Ed Miliband. Then Ed Balls and the only black female candidate Diane Abbot. But the National Executive Committee members were prudent enough to realise that the election of Gordon Brown’s successor should not be rushed. Meanwhile, party members began scrutinising the candidates. It apparently became a two horse race between the Miliband brothers.

One day, I got a text and an email, simultaneously; from the David Miliband Movement for Change campaign asking whether I was interested in becoming a Community Organiser. I was at first not interested because of my other commitments. But the more I rejected, the more the campaign kept bombarding my cell phone and email box. The messages were simple; to give power back to communities. I realised that something was happening here. If Labour lost the elections because they shunned their grassroots support, then here was a vibrant, energetic aspirant offering something special; something different, even if he is a Blairite. Well, the two Eds are supposed to be Brownites, aren’t they?

I, therefore, out of curiosity agreed to sign up as a Community Organiser, but first, I should attend a day’s training. I kept skipping that again, until I finally attended one on 28Th August at Pimlico. The classroom bore faces of young activists and grown ups willing to learn, but not perhaps ready for the explosive nature of the phenomenon. They were to find out a couple of days later. Though Labour was founded out of community organising, the tool became dormant over years, until David realised how effective it had been for the Barack Obama emergence in the United States. At the end of the course, I received a ticket to attend the David Miliband Campaign for Change National Assembly at Westminster Abbey.

Bank Holiday Monday, August 31, was the day, and Emmanuel Centre at Westminster Abbey, the place. As early as 16:00HRS, the hall was filled to capacity. There were performances by brass bands, African shows by a group of Congolese, a rendition of Change Will Come by a one man band and testimonies by Future Leaders (Community Organisers) from different parts of Britain; the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, etc. Most of the speakers spoke of the cuts the present coalition government are pushing through. Child tax credits, winter fuel allowances for pensioners, Child Trust Funds etc. Some, praised the power of community organising, and how councils have been persuaded to give their residents what is rightly theirs, in terms of secured locks at estates that are invaded by yobs or how anti-social behaviours have been tackled in some boroughs.

At exactly quarter past five pm, David Miliband arrived, straight from canvassing at the midlands, looking tired, but yet all the more determined. He entered the hall to a standing ovation and flourishes; seven hundred and fifty community organisers plus their guests invigorating the occasion.
From one Future Leader (Community Organisers) to another, the testimonies were different, but the outcomes similar. The ConDem coalition is planning to cut the common people’s life line; a legacy, propelled by New Labour during its thirteen years in office. Labour that succoured the “Welfare State” would not allow these cuts to happen, or so David Miliband asserted. But the people were already impatient with just four months of the David Cameroon led coalition. Some wished elections were tomorrow, to teach ingrates like the Liberal Democrats a lesson. “Organise”, Miliband reasoned with the people. “If we can train almost a thousand community organisers in four months, imagine in five years how many future leaders we will have.”, he enjoined.

David did not mince his words, and was clear of what was expected of him; “to constructively expose the coalition for what they are, and return power to hard working people and communities”. If his supporters and the media are certain that David Miliband is the only candidate that would drive fear into the hearts of the serving regime, he was humble enough to know that the battle was not won yet. He called on organisers not to relent, but go out and recruit more leaders.

As I walked the streets of the Abbey, home-bound, I knew that there waited a leader. I saw in him humility, determination and the courage, which I had not seen in politicians for a very long time. And I realised that all of these will count for nothing if the future leaders he is now training are one day given deaf ears. But yet I knew his path to the top would not be easy. Standing between him and the party leadership, is his own blood brother Ed Miliband also known as “Red Ed”, because of inseparable marriage to unionists. That morning, the media had expressed concern that should Ed pander to the unions, the latter will be more powerful than White Hall. Later in the day, “The Prince of Darkness”, Lord Mandelson threw spanners into the works by declaring that electing Ed as Leader of the party will be regressive. Such comments might come to haunt David’s campaign, especially if voters conclude that the Blairites were rearing their heads in that of his [David].

Ballots started popping through the post boxes of party members on 1st September. The process will conclude on the 25Th at Manchester, when the new leader will be announced, tasked with the duty to take on the coalition. Will it be the Miliband brothers or the dark horses; Ed Balls and Diane Abbot? Whatever happens; it will be an epic end to a cruel summer of politicking.

Photo: Saidu with other community organizers from Oxford.