With the ballot for the Shadow Cabinet closing today, who will be assigned to look after the Labour Party? Continuing my check-list theme for assessing whether Ed Miliband is his own person or in the thrall of the Party machine comes the contentious issue of a Party Chair. The position does not exist in the Labour Party Rule Book. It never has, though the defeated leadership candidate, David Miliband had ambitions to create the post. And fallen leftie idol, Jon Cruddas has made no secret of wanting to be crowned the same.
Ed Miliband seeks a mass membership party. After 13 consecutive years of declining membership, he needs a senior figure to champion the role of members in the Party both as contributors to the Party's finances, policy making and campaigning capacity. It is an enormous job in its own right.
During the Deputy Leadership campaign in 2007, Jon Cruddas led on making that position the vehicle for rebuilding the party. The eventual winner Harriet Harman portrayed herself as a unifying force who would take the Party to victory at the next election. But rather than focus on the Party, she accepted a sheaf of ministerial responsibilities ranging from Leader of the House, to Minister for Equalities and Women, as well as taking the courtesy title of Party Chair, originally created by Tony Blair after the 2001 general election.
Given the welcome and spontaneous interest in Labour Party membership since the May 2010 general election, this will need encouraging and nurturing if the new joiners are to renew in 12 months time. The Party also need to mobilise more candidates to run for local council seats in May next year, as well as a senior Party figure to oversee giving members a say in policy making, possibly as chair of the National Policy Forum. These tasks must be tackled now to position Labour to win the next General Election.
The only person with the necessary democratic legitimacy to do that job is Deputy Leader Harriet Harman. She doesn't need a the insult of a courtesy title like Party Chair to get on with it, as I'm sure the Party machine will be urging.
Avid readers of this blog, who include her husband Jack Dromey, now MP for Birmingham, Erdington, may be somewhat surprised by my advocating Harriet for this task. After all it was only yesterday I was reiterating my contempt for her clinging on to the position of Deputy Leader. (She declining the opportunity even to open nominations for Deputy Leader after Gordon Brown stepped down as Leader in May.) It was a pity she didn't run. I'm convinced she would have been unopposed. But in any event that's history. We have to move on. Her readiness to take on a Party focussed role would also help clarify whether there is any point in the position of Deputy Leader. The alternative would be to delete the Deputy post and create a position of elected Chair with an unambiguous job description instead.
So I hope Ed Miliband will show his mettle by inviting her to use her unifying skills as the Party's Deputy Leader and take on that vital role of rebuilding the Party from the grassroots. And, of course, I am sure that she will recognise the massive job that needs to be done and accept the challenge graciously.