In language that challenges all wings of his party, Miliband will say: “For too many people at the last election, we were seen as the party that represented these two types of people: those at the top and the bottom who were not showing responsibility and were shirking their duty to each other. From bankers who caused the global financial crisis to some of those on benefits who were abusing the system because they could work – but didn’t.
“Labour – a party founded by hard-working people for hard-working people – was seen by some, however unfairly, as the party of those ripping off our society. New Labour did a lot to change the fabric of the country. But it didn’t do enough to change the ethic of Britain. My party must change.”
Except he’s arguing that there was nothing wrong with New Labour after all, and that it’s the solution to what ails Britain now. As others have argued:
- Why is he returning to the ‘deserving’ vs ‘undeserving’ poor rhetoric?
- Why is he blaming the poor for the social damage caused by the bankers?
- Why is he not announcing a policy change to include huge growth in social housing?
The electorate is screaming at him to:
- Support a Robin Hood tax to make the bankers genuinely pay for the economic disaster they caused;
- Provide more social housing instead of making people compete for what’s already there;
This isn’t to say there there aren’t ‘benefit scroungers’ but what’s lost from them is a drop in the ocean compared to the tax evasion practised by the rich (who are allowed to do so). And let’s n0t forget the bankers paying themselves millions of pounds of bonuses with our money. It’s a despicable policy shift, which Blair & Brown would have been proud of, but Owen Jones is quite right when he says the Tories will outflank it from the right.
Guy Aitchison suggests that now the new Shadow Cabinet has been announced, there remains serious cause for concern about the post-Blair/Brown Labour Party on the civil liberties front:
Balls has been given the shadow home secretary role, shadowing Theresa May. As the man responsible for the dreadful vetting and barring scheme as children’s minister (now mercifully killed off by the coalition) he has always struck me as one of those authoritarian wannabe “hard-men” at the top of New Labour. His voting record shows he was a supporter of ID cards, 90 days detention, and all the rest of the last government’s draconian anti-terror laws and his urge will be to tack to the right on immigration, as he did during his leadership campaign.
Given the pitiful absence of liberals in the mix, though, we may just have to be grateful that the role didn’t fall to Alan Johnson who goaded the Coalition back in June for being “obsessed” with civil liberties, accusing it of being the “political wing of Liberty”. And there are some small, and surprising, glimmers of liberalism from Balls who, as the Guardian’s Alan Travis pointed out to me on Twitter, is against ASBOs and for a welfare approach to youth justice.
I haven’t seen any redeeming qualities about the ‘new’ (reshuffled) gathering of unreformed civil liberties deniers. And then there’s Phil Woolas, who George Eaton is far more than just ‘concerned’ about:
Having run one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in recent history, Woolas is currently fighting an attempt to have his victory overturned by his Lib Dem opponent on the grounds of “corrupt practices”. He has consistently denied breaking electoral law to secure his seat and said it would have been “political suicide” to do so.
Below is the demagogic leaflet published by Woolas’s campaign, which, according to his defeated opponent, Elwyn Watkins, suggested that the Lib Dems were courting support from Islamist extremists.The text reads:
Extremists are trying to hijack this election. They want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil for being strong on immigration. The Lib Dems plan to give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the right to stay. It is up to you? Do you want the extremists to win?
Legal documents submitted to the High Court argue that there was a calculated attempt by the Woolas campaign to whip up racial tensions in a bid to get the “white vote” behind him.
An email by Woolas’s election agent, Joseph Fitzpatrick, to the candidate declared: “we need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.” Another from Fitzpatrick to Steve Green, the MP’s campaign adviser, said: “we need to go strong on the militant Moslem (sic) angle” and proposed the headline “Militant Moslems (sic) target Woolas.”
A verdict on the case is expected on 5 November and defeat for Woolas would see him expelled from Parliament and a by-election held in the highly marginal seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth. Regardless of the morality of his appointment, the pragmatic case against appointing an MP currently subject to a court action is clear. The court may yet find in Woolas’s favour, but his presence on Labour’s frontbench is hard to see as anything but a serious mistake.
On the face of it Ed Miliband’s rise as Labour leader suggested lessons had been learned. He attacked the Blair regime for having gone to war in Iraq, he said he understood there had been a problem with New Labour’s approach to civil liberties, and repeatedly said he ‘got’ people’s fundamental issues with New Labour’s instinct to control and bully. His appointments though seem to show a different side to him – there was briefly a rumour that Andy Burnham had been offered the Shadow Home Secretary role which would really have been catastrophic – one which suggests that he may have the right instincts personally, but is prepared cravenly to give in to the authoritarian tendencies still prevailing in his parliamentary party. If, as expected, Labour attacks the ConDem coalition on civil liberities from the Right, the Labour Party will remain unelectable.
I know how difficult the situation now is for any left-of-centre party, trying to capture the political initiative and power from the ConDem coalition, and to overcome the now brazenly partisan Murdoch press. The way I see it, progressive politics is torn between two deeply entrenched trends: the ‘pact’ between government and the middle class, as articulated by John Kampfner in ‘Freedom for Sale’ and the need to win back the five million voters who’ve deserted Labour since 1997. Blair and Brown decided to push ahead with the former, whilst flatly ignoring the latter, and it appeared to lead to the demise of New Labour in May. David Miliband broadly seemed to have favoured the same route, but not his younger brother Ed, now leader of the Labour Party. The immediate response from the Murdoch and gutter press has been to label him ‘Red Ed’ (or #RedEd), but his politics haven’t really born this out, and it seems to be used as an attempt to misrepresent him to swing voters.
Ed is caught between neoliberal New Labour on the one side, which obsessed itself with appeasing the ‘Daily Mail-reading middle class’, relentlessly triangulating policy with focus groups and relying on narrow, lazy assumptions about who ‘middle class’ swing voters were. As an example, old guard, outgoing Shadow Chancellor Alistair Darling has duly warned Miliband can’t move the party leftwards:
Mr Darling urged Ed Miliband to show that he was not in the pockets of the unions and cautioned him against a policy of making the 50p top rate of income tax permanent.
and the other side meeting the demands of the five million who left, disgusted at the lack of social housing, the Iraq War, the party’s illiberal, authoritarian agenda its pact with the bankers who brought down the economy. The issues for Miliband boil down entirely to who these swing voters really are? Polly Toynbee suggests New Labour defined it fundamentally erroneously in the first place:
Can Ed recapture it for Labour? Newness and niceness are never enough: he will need all the firmity of purpose, authentic voice and clarity of belief his adherents claim for him.
Today he again positioned himself alongside over-worked middle income families – the real medians, earning around £25,000 a year, or £36,000 per household, and struggling.
Not the imaginary “middle class” of the Daily Mail who are in reality top earners, a misnomer that so misled Blair and Mandelson. The Miliband “squeezed middle” are the 90% who earn under the 40% tax band: they have been hit hardest in recent years while most growth went to the top 10%. So this is no retreat to a Labour comfort zone of a working-class minority. Can he persuade them Labour is on their side?
It’s clear from his public statements that he feels he’s already started talking to them. He’s addressed student debt, he’s addressed insecure contractual work, and spoken directly to people who see themselves as losers from increased globalisation and European integration, and notably denounced the decision to wage the Iraq War. But Dan Paskini in Liberal Conspiracy also demonstrates that Miliband has plenty of room to regain the votes of the lost five million:
[Lord] Ashcroft has just released research called “What future for Labour?” It includes data from more than 2,000 people who voted Labour in 2005, but who deserted the party in 2010. The results are absolutely staggering.One argument that obsesses political commentators is whether Labour should move to the left, or whether this would be electoral suicide. Amongst swing voters, 31% would be more likely to support Labour if it moved to the left, and 32% would be less likely. A plurality, 37% “are not sure what is meant by ‘moving further to the left’”.A better example of our out of touch political elite would be harder to find. While right-wing newspapers shriek about “Red Ed” “lurching to the left”, nearly 2 in 5 swing voters have no idea what they are talking about, and the rest are split evenly because those who think this would be a good or bad thing.
Mehdi Hasan from the New Statesman reminds us:
Here is a politician [David Miliband] who spent the entire campaign saying again and again that he had no plans to quit frontline politics, even if his brother beat him. He told me in an interview for the magazine, in mid-July:
I’m not walking away from the people of South Shields. I’m not walking away from the Labour Party. . . I’m very happy to serve under anyone.
And on the Politics Show on BBC1 three weeks ago, he mocked me as a journalist of “infinite impatience”" for daring to suggest that he wouldn’t be able to serve under his younger brother. Asked by me to give an explicit, on-air guarantee that he’d stay in the shadow cabinet under an Ed Miliband leadership, he said:
Of course. And I am absolutely clear about my intentions, my assumptions, and I answered that very, very clearly.
And yet from the Guardian’s liveblog of the Labour Party conference we have:
1.51pm: Ed Balls has confirmed that David Miliband is leaving the shadow cabinet. This is what Balls told ITV.
I don’t think David Miliband is leaving because of reasons of politics or ideology or policy. I don’t think this is a political divide, I think this it’s a personal decision. He’s decided, and it seems he’s decided in the last few days if he has, that for personal reasons he doesn’t want to serve with his brother. I understand that because it must have been incredibly difficult to have lost to your brother in that way … If as a brother you’ve decided that it’s too difficult I think people would understand that. I don’t think it’s fair to find some big political split or divide here. I don’t think that it really exists.
And yet this paints DM in just the light I’ve always seen him. This is the man who professed he would serve under his brother, who then doesn’t just then not do so, but (as Hasan points out) implicitly snubs him in his initial speech to the Labour Party conference as leader. But then again this is also the man whose Foreign Office fought very hard to prevent details of Britain’s involvement in torture becoming public, and who hasn’t shown any remorse whatsoever for the Iraq War. His departure will be no loss to a Labour Party which wants to reinvent itself and move on from the Blair/Brown psychodrama, nor one which has even the slightest ambition to walk away from its neoconservative and authoritarian recent past. And two faced behaviour like this is just what the public rejected in May. Good bye DM and good riddance.
From his appeal to disaffected Lib Dem voters in yesterday’s Guardian:
Our society is at risk of being reshaped in ways that will devastate the proud legacy of liberalism. We see a free market philosophy being applied to our schools, wasteful top-down reorganisation of our NHS, and the undermining of our green credentials with cuts to investment.
At some point you have to conclude that this is not a mistake here or there, but part of a pattern. The pattern is of a leadership that has sold out and betrayed your traditions, including that of your recent leadership: Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy and Campbell.
Oh dear. Miliband attacks the ConDem government for precisely the neoliberal, free market policies which he freely associated himself with in the New Labour government, and which, if he became party leader, he too would espouse. Where does he think faith schools came from? Where does he think foundation hospitals came from? And it’s rather ironic to see the man responsible for the Vestas fiasco in the Isle of Wight complaining about a government not standing up for investment in green industries. The truth is that all three major parties are equally in support of neoliberal economic policies now as they ever were – would Miliband really say he didn’t care about the housing market? Would Clegg on his own suddenly confess he was against increases in consumer spending, funded by easy credit? It’s appalling for him to suggest to Lib Dem voters that their interests would be best suited by joining a Labour Party helmed by him. But he goes on:
We are proud of our record in government, from the children lifted out of poverty to the transformation of our NHS, but I believe I am winning the argument that we must turn the page on New Labour and the mistakes it led us to. For example, the argument is being won that a graduate tax based on income would be fairer than tuition fees and a market in higher education. The argument is being won that on issues like ID cards and stop-and-search we became too casual about the liberties of individuals. And I believe the argument is being conclusively won that we must recognise the profound mistake of the Iraq war.
Erm what? This was the party which was supremely indifferent to people becoming super rich, so whilst children were lifted out of poverty, the gap between them and the newly super-rich grew unlike any other time before in British history. The government did nothing whatsoever to tackle the problems of tax avoidance and evasion, was at the very least complicit in the American programme of extraordinary rendition and contracted out torture, thought it right to be able to detain people without charge for forty two days, and made up the reasons for the Iraq War. Is that really a record to be proud of? He isn’t even saying sorry for the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed in a war without legality or purpose! He and his party continue to believe in the state curing all problems, and came to believe themselves the ultimate arbiters of risk for everyone. So in order to save everyone from risks which could never be substantiated, they felt they had to subjugate the rights of everyone. Anyone remember the Independent Safeguarding Authority? How liberal is it really to suggest that everyone be considered a paedophile in the workplace unless they can prove otherwise?
Miliband hasn’t argued for an improvement in the voting system. He hasn’t articulated any ideas about how better people could be attracted to the political classes, nor how to devolve power away from the Whitehall mandarins who thought arresting the (then) Shadow Immigration Minister was a good idea. Someone more liberal would suggest no longer destituting asylum seekers, or allowing the police to construct a vast, unaccountable database of protesters. It’s an appeal of the vilest cynicism, promising just as little substantial reform from the nightmare of New Labour as his brother. If Miliband wants Labour to become the home of progressive politics he needs to realign his party fundamentally, not just try to steal other parties’ votes, and certainly not preach about other parties betraying their traditions.
For years New Labour has been told to stop its authoritarian agenda, with its Extradition Acts, ID cards, ISA, control orders, Digital Economy Acts and more, but they simply wouldn’t listen. They, as other governments around the world like Singapore’s, China’s, Russia’s and others believed liberty and free markets weren’t inexorably bound, and to an extent they were right. As long as most people are able to go about their simple basic tasks and to meet their basic wishes it has indeed appeared that most people were prepared at least to ignore the massive infringments on civil rights and attacks on human rights – just as long as they didn’t affect them.
Except New Labour has now been thrown out of power, admittedly for a number of reasons, but it’s authoritarian project must have played some small part, at least in not showing positives for voters to choose from positively; New Labour ran a thoroughly mendacious election narrative – fight for a fairer Britain (except we won’t treat whole swathes of people fairly at all). Now that David and Ed Miliband are running for the Labour leadership though, let’s take a look at their positions on this nasty little venture. Ed first:
Members of the public who feel the state is indifferent to them: faceless and unresponsive.
Public servants who felt that we didn’t value what they do and micro-managed too much.
And also on issues of civil liberties there was too much of a sense that we were casual when it came to the relationship of the state and the individual.
That needs to change.
It does indeed, and he was told as recently as February that it needed to change. But did the Labour manifesto (which he was responsible for) offer change? No. In fact his voting record shows he never wanted it to. ID cards, the Terrorism Act 2000 (with its insidious Section 44), voting against an investigation into the Iraq War and for ministers intervening in inquests – he was at the heart of the project to realign the relationship between the individual and the state. David though has legions of fans currently falling at his feet, and has said:
“New Labour was a reaction to the 1980s but it was trapped by the 1980s. Anyone who thinks that the future is about re-creating New Labour is wrong. I think we’ve got to use this period to decisively break with that. What I’m interested in is Next Labour.”
But he hasn’t suggested any wrongdoing by the Blair & Brown governments or even apologised for any. It’s unsurprising, because his voting record shows more or less the same (if not greater) commitment to the autoritarian nightmare from which we’re emerging as his younger brother’s. The elder Miliband is cruising on a cult of personality right now, which may or may not be deserved, but noone should be under any illusion about where his sympathies about civil liberties and human rights really lie. Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray alleges David is complicit in attempting to conceal New Labour’s true involvement in torture. Were that true you would really have to hope that his ‘Next’ Labour really did bear no resemblance to New Labour. We shall have to wait and see.
The Spectator picks this from the Climate Change Secretary’s Observer article:
Let’s start, as our manifesto will, with what the country needs in the coming five years. It can’t be about business as usual. We need to rebuild our economy in a different way from the past, with more jobs in real engineering not just financial engineering. This economy of the future can only be created if we understand the role of government, complementing the private sector, in making it happen, nurturing industries from digital to low carbon. The last thing Britain needs is a government that thinks its only role is to get out of the way.
This is true of so many of the issues our country faces: climate change, reforming social care, getting more young people a good education, dealing with crime and antisocial behaviour. All require a party that believes in the power of collective action.
What’s the point of the article, they ask? I think the answer’s obvious. Ed’s prepared to weather the oncoming storm, and set out a no-nonsense stall for the leadership post-general election clamity. He’s articulated a new political thinking – it’s threadbare, sure, but there’s a cohesion to what he’s suggesting which is not what is coming either from Brown or the cabinet. My money is still on Ed Miliband to lead the Labour Party in opposition, which if he plays his cards right could be quite brief. There’s no love for Cameron out there, and I’m going to guess his majority will be slim. On contentious issues like the repeal of the Human Rights Act he may well find himself at the painful end of a vote of no confidence. That’s the time at which David Miliband would fail to strike – leaving the question: what about Ed?
My question remains – if he has any intention of providing governmental solutions by ‘collective action’, will it be by authoritarian diktat or will he enable the individual freedom needed in order to achieve them? New Labour decided it would force people to behave as it wanted in every conceivable sphere – what follows will have to decide to undo that mentality. If a Miliband shadow administration were prepared not to kowtow to every corporate interest coming its way, it may the first one in some time with something positive to offer. Time will tell.
It’s been clear to me for some time that David Miliband, eager to be liked by all of the people all of the time, hasn’t had the drive needed to become Prime Minister. And as New Labour declines towards its inevitable, ideology-free end in May, it’s also been clear that new thinking and new presentation – a whole new attitude is needed to guide a rump Labour Party to its next incarnation. It should be Ed Miliband, and others are starting to agree:
Miliband Jr has four strengths, goes the thinking. He is a more natural media performer than his brother, as his assured appearances at Copenhagen showed; he connects more easily with the party, which he has been courting assiduously as co-ordinator of Labour’s general election manifesto; and he would find it easier to unite the party, whose left and right wings are warming to him. As a 40-year-old, who has only been an MP for five years, he represents more of a break with the Blair/Brown era.
There is another factor that is being whispered: he may have worked for Brown, but Miliband Jr has not been afraid to stand up to his master. A year ago he irritated the prime minister by wringing out environmental concessions before signing up to the third runway at Heathrow.
“Heathrow was Ed’s coming of age,” one member of the cabinet says. “Ed, who made life quite difficult for Gordon, had a big influence on the decision. But he is collegiate and he has stuck by it.”
He’s by no means perfect. His lofty words about the green economy are rarely matched by deeds (Vestas anyone?), but in my mind he’s the only choice to lead the party away from the utterly discredited Blair/Brown era. Time will tell if it happens, and more importantly if he chooses bring an actual ideological bent to it, the complete absence of which after all is what caused voters to be alienated from it in the first place.