Sunday, 5 February 2012

We need Labour, not this soulless bunch
“His admirers say that David Miliband is one of the sharpest thinkers in the Labour Party.This is equivalent to being declared the brightest sunbeam in a Siberian winter. It's an accolade, but not one you would place on the first page of your CV.
The other brother was, for one, the Foreign Minister who told the Commons that Britain had played no part in torture and rendition. People seem to have forgotten. [Not everybody! ed.] Miliband was also at the heart of the government that took Labour to one of the worst defeats in its history. Few have forgotten that.
He is not, then, the person to whom you would turn automatically for advice on Labour's next move. The last time Miliband lost an election it was to his sibling. If opinion polls are anything to go by, even David Cameron won't make that mistake.
Not-Ed is undaunted. He has spent his entire career thinking up ways to change – "transform" – the Labour party while convincing voters that its values – "core values", of course – remain inviolable. So, writing in the New Statesman, Miliband has produced a plan.
That's not, of itself, unreasonable. Those polls show that, at best, his brother is running neck and neck with Cameron when the Coalition's name should be an insult to mud. By any measure any opposition party should be gaining support. Not Ed Miliband's party. Even when he says right and obvious things about productive capitalism, executive bonuses and Fred Goodwin, the Tories emerge with the credit.
Make a rough tally. Why should Labour be miles ahead? A collapse in real incomes might do it. Catastrophic unemployment, especially youth unemployment, should do it. Vindictive welfare reforms that will see cancer patients and disabled children pay for the banks' mistakes should certainly do it. An obsession with austerity that is demonstrably failing should clinch it.
I could go on. The point is not that Labour has failed to prosecute an argument, but that Labour has failed even to take advantage of facts that speak for themselves. The housing benefit cap – £26,000, irrespective of circumstances – is only the most startling example. It is wildly popular. People who are hard up have ceased to care about those worse off than themselves. And Labour has panicked.
It has had next to nothing to say about the shortage of affordable housing. It can't find the words to explain the connection between joblessness and the welfare bill. It doesn't even bother to explain that the poor are being cleared systematically from the southeast of England. Labour merely says that it, too, will have a cap. Just a nicer sort of cap.
Pathetically, it has accepted its failure to be "credible on the deficit". Now it hunts for ways to display economic virility and forgets the obvious. In England, in particular, the Tories are doing the things they always wanted to do to the NHS, schools, welfare and the rest. The deficit is their perfect, all-enveloping excuse. Ed Miliband says meekly that there should be more fairness. How true. (my emphasis)
How does Labour manage to get itself into this state time and again? Some reasons are almost sociological. There is the spectacle of a political movement whose list of viable leadership candidates consists of two brothers and a husband-and-wife team. Then there is the fact Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and the Milibands each came to prominence with minimal exposure to life beyond the political bubble.
They are all Oxbridge, naturally, and part of the elite that led Britain to its present eminence. Balls went from a spell at the Financial Times to become an economic adviser to Gordon Brown. His wife had already done the same job for the late John Smith. Ed Miliband did research for Harriet Harman and then went to work for Brown. David Miliband worked for the Institute for Public Policy Research and then for Tony Blair.
Notice a pattern? It is not one that points to a deep pool of Labour Party talent. Nor is it a pattern that speaks of an intimate understanding of the lives of ordinary people. This isn't a crime, necessarily. It is inverted snobbery to insist that the only authentic Labour politician is one who has come up the hard way from wherever the bottom happens to be.
The real trouble with the Milibands and the Balls-Coopers, hand-reared in the Westminster fish bowl, is that they have a limited idea of what counts as radical. If the values they invoke were eradicated from the earth tomorrow, their lives would not be altered even slightly. The Milibands are less radical, in every sense, than their late and esteemed father, Professor Ralph. Their own mother reputedly regards them as too right-wing.
Why is that? There is plenty of evidence that Ed Miliband thinks of himself as a progressive sort. David Miliband, meanwhile, claims – a different matter – to be cut from that cloth. The obstacle seems to be that they do not believe there is a majority of British voters who share their attitudes. Timidity follows.
It is these days ingrained in the party colonised by Blair and Brown. It results in obnoxious attitudes. One is that voters can be conned into believing Labour is, in the usual image, "a safe pair of hands". Radicalism must be concealed at all costs. The second attitude is more brutally pragmatic: if voters are right-wing, become right-wing. The old Labour belief that people can be won over to the causes of justice and fairness is irrelevant.
David Miliband, therefore, proffers seven suggestions for Labour's electoral redemption. In essence, they amount to an argument for a return to Blairite "modernisation". Overlooked is the fact that what was once modern is now at least 18 years out of date, that it ended in Blair's moral squalor and Brown's chaotic premiership, and that – no small point – its thrust is essentially Conservative.
Miliband is attempting to rebut claims made by "Red Roy" Hattersley on behalf of an interventionist state, otherwise known as a government that gets things done. "The public won't vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills," writes Miliband, "for the good reason that it isn't." Should I point out that Cameron holds precisely the same belief?
The article is all about how to win in 2015, as Miliband understands the game, not about the crisis for ordinary voters in 2012. It is, in that regard, truly self-indulgent. So the lost leader quibbles over equality, redistribution, and the defence of the last government's record. His intention is to strip the last guts from a party established to oppose most of the things he espouses. We could do with that party just at the moment. You have to wonder, though, about those who talk blithely about local government reform when hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers are losing their jobs.
Day by day, meanwhile, the other Miliband comes to resemble hapless Neil Kinnock, the socialist taken hostage by Oxbridge types whose only advice amounted to a list of things he must never say. Given the state of things in Britain today, that kind of cleverness amounts to a crime.” Ian Bell, Sunday Herald, 5/2/12
Hear Hear.

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