Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Is Ed Dead?

The newspapers, Newsnight and Today programmes have spent the usually newsless first weeks of January telling us all that Ed Miliband is a dead Labour leader walking, supported by dubious comparisons with Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Foot. He's suddenly gone from being a public fratricide to a spineless jelly.

But is it true? It's certainly the case that if all the media outlets spend their time telling readers that you're useless, the public will think so, and Labour sure isn't getting equal access to the airwaves: I saw a Newsnight discussion the other night featuring a Tory MP, and Lib Dem MP and a businessman - hardly impartial programming.

I'm not a natural Labour supporter, because I'm a socialist, but I joined the party for two reasons: firstly because I believe that socialism requires a mass membership party rather than secretive 'vanguard' organisations which don't actually make any kind of impact or even stand for elections (the argument that elections are a democratic sham is fascinating but I'll save that for another day), and secondly to vote for John McDonnell when he tried to stand against Gordon Brown but failed to get enough nominations from fellow MPs.

I voted for Ed Miliband in the leadership election, as the least worst option. He was a genuinely good minister for the environment, and he wasn't a war criminal, unlike his brother David, who personally authorised the kidnapping of various individuals and their transport to friendly countries which could be relied upon to torture them. Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are right-wingers whose Blunkett-like position is that anything done by a Labour politician must automatically be according to Labour principles: this is how New Labour prosecuted illegal wars, arranged torture, deregulated the financial markets, tripled tuition fees (you don't think the Tories thought that up by themselves, did you?) and the whole host of reactionary policies they introduced. Diane Abbott's funny but not serious and a hypocrite. Which left Ed. I thought he spoke human quite well, had a clear view of where New Labour had gone wrong, he should have inherited some good ideas from his illustrious father, and he wasn't entirely tainted with New Labour arrogance. My friend Ben voted for David on the basis that he was more natural and personable, and therefore more electable. I can see his point, but to me, David apart from his war crimes (which I mean seriously, not like someone waving a 'Bliar' placard), he represented the managerialist machine politics of a post-ideological age even more than Ed, who at least showed signs of challenging the Blairite paradigm.

Fozzy Bear, anyone?

I still largely think that: I had a chance to attend a meeting (that's where I took these photos) he hosted and he was reasonable and thoughtful, which is partly why the media have turned against him: these qualities do not a thundering headline make.

However, I'm rapidly becoming disillusioned. Yesterday's Today programme interview was pitiful: Ed floundered partly because John Humphrys is a monotoned hectoring git, but mostly because he hasn't developed any substance beyond 'let's try to be calm and nice'.

He is, I think, entirely trapped by the British media, something all Labour politicians have to contend with, and it's not his fault. Surrounded by hostile rightwing newspapers who act solely as the mouthpieces of the Tories and their business allies, he's desperate to appeal to them. However, rather than accepting the right's discourse, he should be challenging it. For instance, he wheeled out the usual rightwing crap about armies of idle benefit scroungers without referring to the 2.5m who are unemployed: they can't all be lazy bastards, and called for 'fundamental change', yet totally failed to enunciate what he meant. It's just an empty phrase which means entirely the opposite. He wants to vaguely tinker with fiscal regulation to win some easy headlines about 'fat cats', but has nothing to say about the bond markets, derivatives trading, banking structures or any of the big issues about capitalism. He can't talk bold without being bold. I have literally no idea what his definition of 'fundamental' means, though the term to me implies structural change.

Personally, I think that there's a critical mass of voters who are fed up with being held to ransom by the City, and would welcome some German-style industrial dirigisme to make the City work for the real economy. They'd like to see some banks nationalised and others closed, and they'd like to see a tax system which rewards citizens, not massive mobile corporations which benefit from tax-funded systems (roads, schools, policing, healthcare) but doesn't want to contribute. They'd like a state transport system which actually works, and a government which is more interested in citizens' lives than posturing on the world stage as though the UK is in any way important. They want all schools to be good and controlled by elected local representatives, not by unaccountable sects and corporations. They want an NHS that works, not one that's sold off on the premise that 'choice' is a benefit. Ordinary people - i.e. not lefty ideologues like me - are angry and ripe for a leftwing, populist campaign.

I don't think these are particularly radical: they're easy wins for Ed Miliband. The problem is that he's being held captive by fear of his natural enemies. Can he break out of this spiral of mediocrity? I think he has the personal and political skills to do so - but I'm not sure that he wants to, and recognising you have a problem is the first step towards solving it. It's time he took charge of the debate - as he did over News International - and made the running himself, rather than triangulating with the discourse of the right.

1 comment:

Alex said...

British people have been consistently saying they want those things for 30 years now. And they didn't elect a Tory government this time, despite what happened on Labour's watch. I'm just not sure how much longer we can kid ourselves that Labour, Miliband-led or not, will ever try and deliver them.