There’s quite the storm today about the visa and work status of Arnie Graf, the American “community organiser” who Ed Miliband brought in to revitalise Labour’s campaigning machine.
The Sun reports that Graf has no work permit, and is only here on a business visa which does not allow him to be paid a salary by clients. Labour say they only ““reimburse him for lost earnings and expenses” – which sounds rather like a distinction without a difference.
Guido points out a) that Graf has been going round telling people he works for Ed Miliband and b) if he isn’t paid a wage but instead some form of reimbursement then there are “serious tax implications”.
Even if it’s legal to the letter of the law, it looks like a slithery way to negotiate the rules. At best this rather undermines Labour’s attempts to reposition themselves as the party who don’t settle for mere legalities and instead demand companies live up to an arbitrary definition of what is ethical (see their rhetoric on tax avoidance for comparison).
It’s an embarrassment for Graf and Miliband , but more fundamental is the real problem the Labour leader has with his community organising guru: namely, there’s precious little evidence that Graf is any good at what he does.
A year ago, the Labour hype was that the test-run of his techniques was going to revolutionise the party’s fortunes in Lancashire. LabourList wrote last March that, with Graf’s help:
“Lancashire Labour have managed to create an army with a personal investment in the success of the party”
It was an approach that “could help Labour win the next election”, they said.
We haven’t heard much about Lancashire Labour’s revolution since. There’s a good reason – in May that “army” of Graf’s failed to win back control of Lancashire County Council.
After the first failure of his New Model Army, Graf hasn’t been keen to stir up any other great expectations. We’re told that he is training other “community organisers” elsewhere in the country, though there’s a fair bit of suspicion in Labour ranks that these are just a rebranding of their existing structure. It seems he may just be another person who is basking in the reflected glory of Obama’s electoral success.
Ed Miliband must be asking himself why he has to go through the embarrassment of bad headlines about Graf’s visa status when the source of the embarrassment isn’t apparently very good at his job. Bad press might be worth taking for someone who helps you win – but why take bad press for a guru who is no use?