Sunday, 26 September 2010

The right Miliband?

Well, it was always going to be one of them. Good luck to Ed as he takes on a very tough job. As regular readers will know, I supported David, but I'm not so churlish as to believe that no-one else can do the job, especially someone with not dissimilar politics (as, in fact, 4 of the 5 candidates had, let's be honest). I also had a lot of time for Ed's work in putting climate change on the national agenda.

But it's easy playing to the Labour movement - now the tough part. Can he win an election? Has he a clear vision? And has he the good judgement he needs to get where he wants to go?

On election-winning: it's too early to tell. He's got a long way to go in winning back voter confidence and he's unlikely to get it with a "clear red water" strategy with voters who made a decided move towards the centre in the general election. He's good interpersonally but lacks Blair's gravitas and Clintonesque gift for working a crowd. On the positive side, he inherits a party membership and machine in a much better state than Blair did, so doesn't have to spend years reworking the party. And truly, although change is necessary, neither can Labour be so far away from where it needs to be politically, or the Tories would have won a majority in Parliament.

On vision: if he has a policy vision which is as clear as Blair's and Brown's or even Smith's and Kinnock's, it's not clear yet what that is (at least, to me it's not). This needs to change, as most voters have a lot less interest than I do as a political anorak, and if I don't know his vision I'm sure they don't. This does not augur well.

On judgement: in his leadership campaign he has cuddled up to unions whose views he does not necessarily espouse, when he may have been smarter keeping his distance. He now has the stark choice either of distancing himself from what he said to them during the campaign (which makes him look unprincipled) or deliver openly on whatever deal he made (which makes him look unelectable to a public which is largely not union-sympathetic, especially at a time of strike stoppages).

The first 6 months will very likely decide whether or not Ed can win, as it did for Hague when the Tories lost office. And even then, his winning will still depend on the coalition making a poor fist of their time in office. If they're seen to do well, it may not even matter.

Despite the relative narrowness of our election defeat, it's not an easy place to start from, Ed. I wish you luck.


  1. Re: "deliver openly on whatever deal he made"

    I think the deal was the distance from the past. Just as TU funding for Labour has become an insurance policy rather than a guarantee of improved conditions for labour, I think there was something similar going on in TU members voting for him over his brother.

  2. I hope you're right and it's just that...we'll know soon I guess. The Leader must drive policy, not the unions.

  3. Rob, I don't know how much you've been following the debates during the leadership contest, or the thinking within the trade union movement which led to overwhelming support for Ed M over his brother.

    To many people who had votes as affiliates but not as party members that I spoke to, Ed's appeal was largely on the basis that he offered humility and honesty on issues of trust.

    As to who drives policy, you miss out the other main player - the ruling capitalist class. It is the interests of the many, not the few, which must inform policy and positioning.

  4. James, I have indeed followed the thinking within the union movement. I think that union members largely voted on the basis of their own thoughts about the candidates, which is as it should be. But we are talking about the union leadership here, which gave explicit support to candidates, as they are entitled to do (and, in some cases, actually sent their recommendation to members with ballot papers, something that in a government or even a Party election would never be tolerated). My point is merely that there must have been a deal - there always is.

    Re the many, not the few, I'm with you all the way, that's why I'm a member of the Party. But we must also be careful - your argument seems to equate union members = party members = all working people = "labour". We are dealing with a complex 21st Century electorate with an enormous middle class and a reduced size working class. And a lot of the last category doesn't even vote for us. I'd be careful about the "ruling capitalist class" as well if you mean rthe the supporters of those who run the country, some of them voted Lib Dem and got an unexpected result...

  5. Though the electorate is much more complex, the nature of people's existence is as it ever was - most people depend upon their labour for an earned income. A capitalist economy is structured for capital accumulation - the "ruling capitalist class" are those people who are actual capitalists. I think there's an alternative:

    Sadly for David, the fact that such individuals were backing him led to suspicions about what deal he had done or if he really could make a shift to "Next Labour"... As I always say about TU funding for Labour, it's an insurance policy. More important than the funding of TU members is their participation in our party, helping us to canvass and campaign in the seats we need to win at the next election.

  6. I don't understand what you mean by "reduced size". Before the recession, we had the largest number of people in paid employment on record.

  7. Well, people do depend upon their labour, yes, as they always have and always will. But the "many" of the 21st century are not content to fit into the simple "capital" and "labour" labels of our friend Karl. They are more affluent, want and aspire to capital of their own - nothing wrong with that. And they, let's not forget, are the people we need to win over.

    In many cases, last generation's aspirational working class is this generation's middle class - there are just not as many people who consider themselves working class any more (there are statistical surveys showing this, by the way). That's what I mean by reduced size".

    Finally I'm with you on fairer/ethical business. But neither are all businesspeople (or capitalists, as you might call them), who don't adhere to this way of thinking, bad. They just need to be educated.

  8. "But the "many" of the 21st century are not content to fit into the simple "capital" and "labour" labels of our friend Karl"

    Or our old friend Adam (Smith), or any of the other classical economists... The British Social Attitudes survey in 2005 found a 57%/37% working/middle class split in terms of self-identification. There's been a decline, for sure, but surprisingly little, it would seem.

    "They are more affluent, want and aspire to capital of their own - nothing wrong with that"

    Sure, there's nothing wrong with that, I want that too - I'd also like super-powers, but it's not likely to happen ;-). Robert B. Freeman points out that the capital/labour has shifted to the benefit of capital with the opening of China, India, and Central and Eastern Europe (


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