by Eunice Goes
Political parties have a complex relationship with ideologies. If on the one hand they are their most visible embodiment and are active contributors to their production and contestation, on the other, they are not necessarily their most faithful followers. Indeed, political parties often seek to make ideologies fit their electoral strategies. To complicate matters further, the ability of political parties to reinvent themselves is constrained by ideologies as any attempt to change and revise their programmes must reflect their ideological trajectories across time and space.
In short, parties’ relationship with ideologies is both instrumental and constrained. These two understandings of parties’ relationships with ideologies dominate the academic literature on the subject. But there is a third dimension in this relationship that has been overlooked by the literature which shows that ideology is central to the activities of political parties.
Because ideology is central to their life, political parties are heavily involved in the production and contestation of ideologies not only because they want to win elections or are historically constrained by them, but also because ideology is what political parties ‘do’. As political institutions that are, as Sheri Berman reminds us, ‘shaped by the ideological projects they championed’, all activities, including power-seeking strategies, pursued by political parties are driven by ideological and ideational consideration.
To show how political parties engage in processes of ideological production, this article will use a new methodological approach, which combines V. A. Schmidt’s discursive institutionalism and Peter A. Hall’s historical institutionalism, to analyse how the Labour Party under Ed Miliband used the idea of ‘predistribution’ to drive ideological change. In particular, the article will show how Miliband used the idea of predistribution to develop and articulate an agenda that sought simultaneously to renew the socialist roots of the party, to address the political and policy challenges created by the 2007 global financial crisis and three decades of neoliberal politics, and to win a general election.
The Mechanics of Ideological Analysis
The methodological approach proposed here, which combines discursive institutionalism and historical institutionalism, places ideas at the centre of political action. As such, it does not disregard the role of interests in political decision however, it assumes that ‘ideas cause actors to make certain choices’. Each of the ‘new institutionalisms’ offer insights into how that process happens.
As an approach that focuses on ‘who talks to whom, where, and when’ discursive institutionalism maps how ‘ideas are generated among policy actors and diffused to the public by political actors through discourse’, and shows how ideologies are produced, renewed, and changed. Thus, the key contribution of discursive institutionalism is to propose a method to map the different stages of how ideas influence the behaviour of political actors from ‘thought to word to deed’.
To properly understand how ideas can influence or drive processes of ideological change, discourse needs to be contextualised and categorised by degree of generality (policies, programmes, and philosophies), and type of content (cognitive or normative). Moreover, Schmidt identified two types of discourse that need to be analysed: coordinative, among political actors; and communicative, between political actors and the public. This distinction is important because coordinative discourse signals the intentions of political actors as well as their thought-processes, but communicative discourse reveals the constraints they face.
Because discursive institutionalism focuses on explaining how ideas can lead to change it pays special attention to the ideational activities of the epistemic community which is responsible for the production of ideas within a party. This epistemic community, composed of professional intellectuals, think-tank experts, party intellectuals and activists from different factions, political advisers, and strategists, performs different but related roles: it prioritises issues; it offers causal explanations to problems; it links ideas and solutions to the morphologies of ideologies; and it devises strategies to make those ideas accessible and attractive to wider audiences.
But if discursive institutionalism allows us to map how political actors think, interpret, adopt, and adapt ideas in processes of ideological change, it does not explain why certain ideas gained currency whilst others were abandoned or diluted. The key element missing from discursive institutionalism is a consideration about the power of political actors to choose and impose their ideas on others. To address this weakness, this post proposes to complement discursive institutionalism with insights from historical institutionalism.
The key assumption of historical institutionalism is that to be transformative, ideas need to possess certain qualities. Peter A. Hall proposed three criteria to test the power of ideas in processes of third order change, though they can also be applied to processes of incremental change. The first criterion is about the persuasive capacity of ideas, a condition which is also required by discursive institutionalism. The idea in question needs to offer a plausible and persuasive response to a current policy puzzle.
But persuasiveness is not merely dependent on the intellectual coherence of an idea or its technical viability. Hence, in Hall’s model, to be successful ideas also need to be comprehensible. They need to resonate with the way the recipients of the idea understand the world. Third, to influence policy ‘an idea must come to the attention of those who make policy, generally with a favourable endorsement from the relevant authorities’.  In other words, to be influential ideas need to be sponsored by powerful actors.
The next section of the post will show how the methodological approach proposed here shows how the idea of predistribution drove Ed Miliband’s attempts to renew the socialist roots of the Labour Party in the period 2010-15 from thought, to word, to deed.
Predistribution and the Renewal of Social Democracy
The Labour leader Ed Miliband saw the global financial crisis as one of those critical juncture moments which opened the way for a ‘new centre-left moment’. Thus, when he was elected leader in 2010, he proposed to turn the page on New Labour and to renew the party’s socialist roots as a strategy to address the challenges and problems created (and revealed) by the global financial crisis. His blueprint prioritised the goals of reducing inequality and a reform of capitalism which was consistent with post-war social democracy.
Miliband’s search for solutions to tackle inequality, involved setting up a wide epistemic community which was given the task to lead and contribute to the party’s policy review. Several of his advisers were political scientists, philosophers, and public policy experts. Miliband also cultivated a diverse ideational network composed of academics, think-tanks researchers, senior media commentators, party strategists, influential Labour and centre-left groupings (for example, Compass), which benefited from the occasional contribution from famous public intellectual from Britain, the United States (Michael Sandel, for example) and Brazil (Roberto Unger).
The discussions between a cross-section of intellectuals, political strategists, and activists, resulted in a remarkable outpouring of new ideas and let to multiple dialogues and encounters between Miliband’s team and intellectuals, researchers, and activists from within and outside the Labour Party.
It was in one of these encounters that Miliband first heard about predistribution, a new and barely fleshed-out idea developed by the Yale political scientist Jacob S. Hacker. In 2011, Miliband attended a Policy Network event in Oslo, where Hacker spoke about predistribution for the first time. From that moment on a dialogue was established between the Yale academic, Miliband and his team, think-tanks associated with Labour, and party intellectuals from a variety of factions.
Roughly a year after this encounter, Miliband introduced the idea of predistribution in a speech delivered at a Policy Network event. Henceforth, the concept of predistribution made regular appearances in the political debates of the time and quickly gained the status of big idea in party and media discussions.
If the term became ubiquitous there was no settled interpretation for its meaning. To gain a better understanding of how Miliband used this idea it is useful to look first at how its author defined it. Hacker, proposed predistribution as an approach to ‘stop inequality before it starts.’ As a transformative idea, predistribution required a change in the relationship between the state and the market which recognised the role of the state in creating and shaping markets. As such, predistribution advocated the regulation of markets to serve the public good as well as a new role for the state as an investor in innovation and public infrastructures
Hacker was not overly prescriptive about what a predistribution agenda would entail. He argued, however, that it would touch upon three main planks of public policy. The first focused on market reforms that encouraged a more equal distribution of economic power and included proposals as varied as a stronger regulation of financial markets and executive pay, and the strengthening of trade unions. The second plank concentrated on what Hacker called expanding equality of opportunity, and included proposals like the expansion of pre-school education, investment in vocational training and in affordable housing, and improving working conditions by raising wages, introducing a living wage, and improving job security. The third plank was about organising what Hacker called a ‘countervailing power’ to the market which aimed to empower ‘new forms of work organisations’.
Miliband and his team were keen on the transformational potential of a predistribution agenda. This was, after all, an idea that sought to tackle the root-causes of inequality and to reform capitalism, two goals associated to the party’s ideology, but which sounded reassuringly technocratic. the political backlash that traditional redistributive strategies normally attracted.
The interest in a predistribution agenda extended beyond Miliband’s office. Different factions of the party showed interest in the idea. Several MPs and Labour-leaning think-tanks like Policy Network, the Resolution Foundation, the IPPR, and the Fabian Society were quite supportive. The think-tank Policy Network hosted Hacker several times and devoted a number of seminars and publications to its discussion and dissemination.
Unsurprisingly, the different Labour factions interpreted the concept in a variety of ways. Whilst figures associated with the Right presented it as an alternative to redistribution, others emphasised its potential either to promote ‘responsible capitalism,’ or to promote equality, or to strengthen an emancipatory agenda centred around ideas of economic democracy and mutualism.
Interestingly, Miliband’s engagement with the idea of predistribution evolved over time. In his first explicit reference to the idea, Miliband presented predistribution as a transformative idea:
Predistribution is about saying:
We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck with permanently being a low-wage economy.
It is neither just, nor does it enable us to pay our way in the world.
Our aim must be to transform our economy, so it is a much higher skill, higher wage economy.
Tellingly, predistribution would not replace redistribution, because redistributive measures would always be necessary. Thus, Miliband’s predistribution agenda was about tackling the causes of inequality by promoting what he called ‘a more responsible capitalism’. This would be achieved by changing the rules that ‘shape the ways markets work’, namely by ‘changing the relationship between finance and the real economy. To deliver this agenda, Miliband proposed the creation of a British Investment Bank, an active industrial policy which would focus on investments in infrastructure and skills. He also defended state intervention in markets to ensure they served the public good.
The political reaction to this speech was mixed. Whilst commentators on the left thought the idea was interesting and had potential, others resisted it because it was a nebulous concept that was difficult to sell on the doorstep. This reaction largely explains the fact that following this speech, Miliband rarely mentioned the word predistribution again and his press team banned him from using it in public. In a recent podcast devoted to the idea, Miliband said that predistribution was a ‘throwaway remark’ that was then presented in the media as his big idea. He also said that ‘the word was ugly’, though he recognised its importance.
In its place, Miliband developed other narratives—namely, the squeezed middle, the ‘producers versus predators’ narrative (which was also dropped very quickly), the power agenda, One Nation, the ‘cost of living’ crisis, the zero-zero economy—to promote a predistribution agenda that followed the three planks suggested by Hacker. For example, his senior policy adviser Stewart Wood explained that the ‘One Nation’ approach aimed ‘to change the rules of markets, so that we get to a more equal distribution of economic power and rewards even before government starts to collect taxes or paying benefits’.
Miliband was equally interested in the second plank of the predistribution agenda about expanding opportunity and he used a variety of narratives to promote it. For instance, his ‘power agenda’; his ‘producers vs predators’ agenda was used to defend a capitalism that protected the public good; and his ‘cost of living crisis’ narrative were used to address issues like low wages, job insecurity, and work-life balance. To this end, he proposed to widen the adoption of the Living Wage, the extension of free nursery provision, and the introduction of new apprenticeships.
The Labour leader was equally supportive of Hacker’s ideas about developing ‘countervailing power to the market’. To that effect he talked about extending power to individuals and grassroots organisations in several speeches. His ‘power agenda’ was the focus of lively discussions within Miliband’s circle and led to proposals like the devolution of power to local communities through mutualisation, participatory budgeting, and bringing workers into company boards.
Though rarely uttered in speeches, the idea predistribution informed several sections of Labour’s 2015 electoral manifesto which promised to reform the relationship between the market and the state. Labour’s manifesto promised, as well, a rise to the minimum wage, the promotion of the living wage and the expansion of free childcare, the banning of some zero-hours contracts, freezing energy prices, and investing in infrastructure and in the green economy. Finally, there were proposals to create a bank bonus tax, and to introduce workers’ representatives in the boards of companies.
The author of the idea was encouraged by Labour’s 2015 manifesto. For him, it was ‘the idea, not the label, that mattered’. However, Hacker was less encouraged by Labour’s approach to developing countervailing power. In his appraisal of Miliband’s take on predistribution he noticed the ‘notable lack of serious discussion of the alternative to unions that could provide some degree of representation for workers’. This omission was so glaring that Hacker even questioned whether ‘predistribution of the sort I have discussed is even possible given the decline of labor [sic] unions’. Hacker was not the only one to be disappointed by this omission. Jon Cruddas, one of the co-authors of the manifesto, admitted that Labour’s failure to strengthen trade unions undermined the idea of predistribution.
There were other problems with Miliband’s predistribution agenda. Some of the proposals to ‘widen opportunities’ were almost tokenistic. The promise of a Living Wage, an idea that had been at the centre of Miliband’s campaign to become Labour leader, was presented as an aspiration.
Assessing Miliband’s Take on Predistribution
The mapping of the idea of predistribution ‘from thought to word to deed’ showed us that Labour Party under Ed Miliband ‘thought’ and ‘discussed’ it as a transformational idea by Miliband however it was watered down when it reached the ‘deed’ stage. To understand why, the next section of the article will apply Peter A. Hall’s three criteria to explain why Miliband diluted his approach to predistribution.
The first difficulty Miliband encountered was presentational. Predistribution was a complex idea to present to voters on the doorstep. It was a term with an unclear meaning and was therefore not a persuasive concept. To overcome this constraint Miliband and his team developed different narratives to promote the predistributive agenda. But this approach was ineffective because the narratives kept changing from speech to speech, preventing voters from gaining a familiarity with it. As it challenged voters’ understanding of how a predistribution agenda could be compatible with the goal of reducing the public deficit, it was not a persuasive and comprehensible idea.
But the greatest obstacle to the success of Miliband’s predistribution agenda was his inability to attract the support of relevant actors both inside and outside the Labour Party. Private interviews with Miliband’s senior advisers, Labour MPs, activists, observers close to the Labour leader, as well as media and academic accounts suggest that Miliband was isolated in the party and shadow cabinet. In reality, the Shadow Cabinet was divided about the extent of Labour’s radicalism. Whilst one powerful group believed that a few retail offers would suffice for Labour to win the election, there were others who argued that Labour had to be more radical and transformative.
Miliband’s team also had reservations about giving more powers to trade unions in economic policy. Some of Miliband’s advisers thought that British trade unions were not ‘sufficiently responsible’ to be awarded co-determination powers. The party was equally divided about the scope of reforms to the regulation of the banking industry. Labour signalled a desire to introduce tighter regulation of the banking industry with the purpose of reducing risk and increasing competition, but the reforms to the banking industry it ended up proposing were modest in scope.
Miliband himself was ambivalent about the extent of his own radicalism in general and about these proposals to strengthen trade unions and devolve power to cities and local authorities in particular. His ambivalence was also manifested in the party’s policy development. The reality was that there were, as Stewart Wood explained, two Ed Milibands: ‘There’s Ed Miliband the son of Ralph Miliband, and there’s Ed Miliband the special advisor in Treasury for ten years’. Interestingly, in a recent interview Miliband admitted this problem and regretted not having been more radical in his approach. Miliband’s admission is telling. Though it is clear that he was constrained in his decisions by the lack of institutional support, ultimately he had the agency to decide on the direction of the party. His own interpretation of Labour’s challenges and possibilities led him to choose a more cautious policy and ideological path.
The party’s divisions and Miliband’s ambivalence impacted Labour’s predistribution agenda. That much was admitted by one of the authors of Labour’s manifesto. ‘Definition, energy, vitality, clarity’ were the price to pay for party unity, admitted Cruddas. These tensions led to the dilution of the most innovative and potentially transformative proposals, namely those that concerned the creation of greater countervailing power, the regulation of financial markets, the devolution of power to local authorities, the strengthening of workers’ rights and citizens’ voice. Instead of presenting ambitious ideas and a clear vision that renewed the socialist roots of the party, the 2015 manifesto and the party’s electoral campaign focused on modest retail offers that did not seem to cohere around a powerful message. This dilution resulted in a predistribution agenda that looked disjointed and far from transformative.
But if context, institutional and political pressures, and electoral considerations led to the dilution of Miliband’s predistributive agenda, there is no doubt that this idea drove his attempt to change the party’s ideological direction and develop an egalitarian programme that renewed Labour’s socialist roots, and sought to address voters’ concerns and aspirations.
If Miliband lost the 2015 general election, his attempt to renew Labour’s socialist roots with a predistributive agenda outlasted his efforts. His successor, Jeremy Corbyn, picked up on Miliband’s predistribution agenda and drove it into a more radical direction. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto, entitled For the Many not the Few, revisited all the themes associated with predistribution, and was seen by Guinan and O’Neill as a follow-up of that agenda. Tellingly, Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer has promised an agenda that builds on Labour’s 2017 manifesto. For an idea that was seen as ‘ugly’ and too complex, predistribution has surely demonstrated an impressive resilience.
 These accounts can be seen in J. Adams, M. Clark, L. Ezrow, G. Glasgow, ‘Understanding Change and Stability in Party Ideologies: Do Parties Respond to Public Opinion Or To Past Election Results, British Journal of Political Science, 34 (4) (2004), pp. 598-61, at p. 590. See also I. Budge, ‘A New Spatial Theory of Party Competition: Uncertainty, Ideology and Policy Equilibria Viewed Comparatively and Temporally’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 24 (4) (1994), pp. 443-467, at p. 446.
S. Berman, The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), at p. 11.
 C. Parsons, A Certain Idea of Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006), at p. 6.
 V. A. Schmidt, ‘Taking Ideas Seriously: Explaining Change Through Discursive Institutionalism As The Fourth New Institutionalism’, European Political Science Review, 2010, 2:1, 1-25, at p. 16.
 V. A. Schmidt, ‘Reconciling Ideas and Institutions through Discursive Institutionalism’, D. Béland and R. Henry Cox (editors) Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), at p. 55.
 V. Schmidt, ‘Discursive Institutionalism: The Explanatory Power of Ideas and Discourse’, in Annual Review of Political Science Review, 2008, 11: 303-26, at p. 309.
 C. M. Radaelli, V.A. Schmidt, ‘Policy Change and Discourse in Europe: Conceptual and Methodological Issues’ in C. M. Radaelli and V. A. Schmidt, Policy Change and Discourse in Europe, (London: Routledge, 2015), at p. 15.
 V. A. Schmidt, ‘Bringing Ideas and Discourse Back Into The Explanation of Change in Varieties of Capitalism and Welfare States’ CGPE Working Paper Series, Working Paper No. 2, University of Sussex, May 2008, pp-305-307.
 P. A. Hall, ‘Conclusion: The Politics of Keynesian Ideas’, in P. A. Hall (editor) The Political Power of Economic Ideas: Keynesianism Across Nations, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), at p. 370.
 Ed Miliband interviewed in Jason Cowley, ‘Ed Miliband: He’s Not For Turning’, New Statesman, 05 September 2012.
 E. Miliband, ‘Speech to Policy Network – Labour’s New Agenda’, 06 September 2012, http://www.labour.org.uk/labours-new-agenda, accessed on 22 August 2013.
 Hacker quoted in G. Easton, ‘Interview to Jacob Hacker: Ed Miliband’s Wonkish Pin-Up’, in New Statesman, 11 February 2013.
 J. S. Hacker, ‘The Institutional Foundations of Middle-Class Democracy’, Progressive Governance, Oslo, Policy Network, 06 May, http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=3998&title=The+institutional+foundations+of+middle-class+democracy, accessed on 07 September 2012.
 See J. Hacker, “The Free Market Fantasy”, Policy Network, 23 April 2014, http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4628&title-The-Free-Market-Fantasy, on 28 August 2014.
 J. S. Hacker, ‘The Institutional Foundations of Middle-Class Democracy’,
 J. Hacker, B. Jackson, M. O’Neill ‘The Politics of Predistribution’, Renewal 21, 2-3, (2013), pp. 54-64, p. 56.
 E. Miliband, ‘Speech to Policy Network – Labour’s New Agenda’, op. cit.
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 E. Miliband and G. Lloyd, ‘Predistribution: What the Hell Does It Mean?’, Reasons To Be Cheerful Podcast, 22 April 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/83-predistribution-what-the-hell-does-it-mean/id1287081706?i=1000436007357, accessed on 17 May 2019.
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 M. Stears, Private Interview, 18.06.2013; J. Cruddas, Private Interview, 02 September 2013.
 J. Hacker ‘Miliband’s Not Talking About Predistribution But He Has Embraced My Big Idea’, op. cit., Ref. 80.
 J. Cruddas, Private Interview, 04 March 2015.
 Ed Miliband, ‘Speech to the CBI’, 25 October 2010, http://www.labour.org.uk/leader-of-the-labour-party-ed-milibands-speech-to-the-cbi,2010-10-25), accessed 10 January 2012.
 S. Wood interviewed by David Kogan, D. Kogan, Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party, (London: Bloomsbury Reader, 2019), at p. 173.
 D. Kogan, Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party, op. cit., Ref 123, at p. 173.
 J. Cruddas, Private Interview, 04 March 2015.
 Labour Party, For the Many Not the Few: The Labour Party Manifesto 2017, (London: Labour Party, 2017), p. 47.
 M. O’Neill and J. Guinan, ‘The Institutional Turn: Labour’s New Political Economy’, Renewal, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2018, pp. 5-16, p. 7.