The man behind Miliband: how Arnie Graf is changing Labour
The silver-haired American activist has the Labour leader's ear and big plans for the party he leads
THE delivery was vintage Ed Miliband. But some of the ideas and sentiments underpinning the Labour leader's energised speech in Brighton yesterday were shaped by a silver-haired, preternaturally calm American called Arnie Graf.
The 69-year-old New York-born activist is hardly a household name. But Graf, who conducted a root-and-branch review of the Labour Party in 2011, enjoys a "warm, respectful" relationship with its leader.
Some would say that Graf's imprimatur can be seen in Milband's references to the kind of inspirational, society-changing government lead by Clement Attlee in the aftermath of World War II. It can also be felt in the frequent references to ordinary people; the people Labour needs to re-engage if it is to win power in 2015.
Graf, who was born into a working-class Jewish family and cut his teeth as a community activist in Chicago, believes Labour's re-engagement with ordinary working people is the key to its revival. He would have approved of the "unashamedly socialist" policies Miliband detailed in Brighton.
"One time before I die I'd like to see one meaningful social-democratic party in the world," Graf told The Guardian in November last year. "In the US, both parties are owned by the banks."
Graf's relationship with Labour began three years ago. He was contacted by the Labour peer Maurice Glasman who told him he should move to the UK and start working with the party's new leader. "My first question was: 'Who's Ed Miliband?'" Graf said.
On closer inspection, the American saw in Labour the raw materials for his meaningful social democratic party. After an "initial awkwardness", he also clicked with its young leader. Graf says he was impressed with the natural empathy Miliband showed when talking one-on-one with ordinary people. He realised it was a quality that was not being communicated to the public at large, which often views the Oxford-educated politician as out of touch.
Miliband asked Graf to conduct a "year zero" review of Labour. The American agreed, but only if he could talk to non-party members as well as apparatchiks. The result was a report highly critical of the party's culture – "bureaucratic rather than relational" – and its tendency to treat members as "drones rather than leaders". It was, said Graf, a party that was closed and suspicious of outsiders.
Miliband's embrace of the American ruffled a few feathers within the party. The New Statesman reports one Labour MP asking: "What does this bloke know about British politics and the issues on the ground?"
Three years down the track, he still has his opponents. The Labour blog HopiSen ran an article headlined 'Why I'd Sack Arnie Graf' in July this year. But Graf has developed a close, almost fatherly, relationship with Miliband. The Guardian suggests the Labour leader found "an older and experienced man on whom he could rely". For Graf, it's simply "a good relationship" that's "warm and respectful... I can talk to him [Miliband] in an unvarnished way".
When Miliband was being pilloried in the press – and pressured by colleagues - over his poor standing in opinion polls, it was Graf who reminded him that "the real world was much wider".
Despite the enormous hurdles still facing Miliband and Labour, Graf is optimistic. "The idea of becoming a relational party is starting to come together," he told The Guardian. "There is a huge appetite for what we are doing." ·