Little Hope for Miliband

Ed Miliband was the candidate I favoured of the ‘final five’, but his first few weeks have revealed either a lack of power or policy: either way, it will remove Labour from the political equation at the time when we most desperately need a strong opposition…

From a considerably-to-the-left-of-Labour perspective, I had mixed feelings about the Labour leadership elections. On the one hand, had David Miliband won, the consummate Blair simulacrum would likely have performed well in opposition, returning Labour to power as the party who did not wreck the country (i.e. to let the cuts do their work). However, his viewpoint seems equally devoid of a truly progressive core as that of his hero; and a new government in 2013 or 2014 would simply have been the rebooting of the nauseating thirteen-year New Labour project.

Ed Miliband, I felt, was probably not able to win an election; he doesn’t entirely conform to the political identikit we now have, and it seemed he may have a couple of actual opinions. Nonetheless, in my view the most useful thing the Labour party can do currently is not to be reelected – the last government has removed ‘electability’ from any future list of positive adjectives for that party – but to fight the coalition government’s structural adjustment agenda tooth and nail. In that case, the best candidate was the one who had demonstrated some capacity to speak in the language of opposition – of fairness as egalitarianism and social justice.

Yet since the leadership election, two trends have been visible. Firstly, the Labour old guard have not allowed Ed Miliband to set the agenda. Alan Johnson has hamstrung opposition to the cuts through his peculiar supplication to Tory orthodoxy, while other dinosaurs have come out in favour of  benefit cuts and, recently, in condemnation of student protests and electoral reform. In my view, Miliband should forget trying to bring these dead husks of Blairism along with him. If they are powerful enough, they will ditch him at some point before or immediately after the next election. If not, he should move now to allow a free hand in order to act as a responsible and progressive opposition.

The other trend, which may be entirely explained by the first (or, more worryingly, not at all) is that Miliband is increasingly vague when pressed for policy. While clarity for its own sake is not always necessary in opposition, to lead a broad-based and angry mass resistance to what is increasingly resembling Europe’s version of the Latin American shock doctrine of the 1980s requires more than um-ing and ah-ing. Miliband should have been out on the streets with the students from the start, for example, instead of fearing the mud from the tiny amount of violence would stick to him. He should be standing up for migrant workers and those trapped on benefits instead of buying into the language of the Daily Mail. He should be slapping down Alan Johnson and his ridiculous repudiation of the top tax rate. He should be crucifying the Lib Dems for breaking each and every one of their pledges.

Instead, we hear vague waffling about things ‘looking unfair’ or having ‘potentially serious consequences’; that people are ‘right to be angry’ but not that the party of opposition is going to do anything about it. The only areas where Ed Miliband has displayed clarity have been embarrassingly craven in their pursuit of affluent support. Means-testing child benefit, in particular, was a daft fight to pick. Middle class opposition to the government will be forthcoming through a variety of punitive policies (particularly, I imagine, student fees), but the marginal losses of child benefit will largely be negated through creative payment practices. The opposition programme is utterly empty. It seems to be manacled by the desire to win an election in four years’ time, by treading oh-so-carefully around all those potentially alienating issues.

With strong opposition, this coalition could be brought to its knees in a matter of months, and that may happen – though if it does, the Labour party will no longer be welcome as part of the ‘real’ opposition.


Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

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