First published on Progressonline
In the last 48 hours both the new Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, and Ed Miliband have announced significant reforms to their parties. Both are extending new rights to their members and in turn to the wider public. Both are opening up their parties and inviting the public in, recognising that it is in partnership with the voters that we can clean up politics and restore it as an honourable pursuit for those who want to make changes for the better.
Two weeks ago few would have predicted that either of these men would be making speeches of this kind, let alone the speed of implementation being proposed.
Kevin Rudd has announced he is turning the decision on who is Labor’s parliamentary leader from a decision taken by the caucus behind closed doors to one where federal MPs and members will share the decision in an electoral college ballot.
Ed Miliband has proposed changes to the selection of candidates, a primary for mayor of London and a deepening of the link with trade unions members so they have a direct relationship with the party and are fully involved with our processes.
Miliband and Rudd are showing that they want to widen the circle of those included in their parties’ decision-making processes and are showing an ability to stand up not just to vested interests, but to vested interests in their own parties. It is, after all, one thing for a leftwing leader to stand up to Rupert Murdoch or energy companies (itself not an easy decision to make) and another to upset factional and union bosses who have such bearing on their leadership and party platform.
In Yes, Prime Minister Jim Hacker reminds us that prime ministers are often ‘much more worried by discontent among backbenchers’ than among voters. The electorate, he says, ‘can’t vote against him until the next election. Backbenchers can vote against him at 10 o’clock tonight’. David Cameron is living proof of Hacker’s wisdom.
In both cases, Rudd and Miliband have thrown themselves on the wisdom of their parties – the parliamentary caucus in the case of the former, the National Executive Committee in the case of the latter. In both cases, they now have no choice but to win. And when they do, they will remind the country and the electorate that when it comes to the tough decisions, they will put the national interest ahead of that of their party. By so doing, they are demonstrating themselves to be worthy prime ministers and the rightful leaders of progressive politics in their country.
Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress and on secondment to New South Wales Labor party