Monday, 27 September 2010

Ed Miliband: A New Hope?

With all the gloom happening in my life at present, another job rejection on Friday; further steps in disposing of my house before it is repossessed and simply having a cold, I actually got quite excited this weekend when it was announced that Ed Miliband has been elected leader of the Labour Party.  I have labelled myself a democratic Socialist and certainly adhered to Labour Party policies in the 1980s, but was very much turned off by New Labour and have not voted for the party since 1992.  Of course, to the 'mainstream' of British society with a centre ground in politics far to the right of anything I (like most people) would have considered acceptable in the 1970s, I must appear like some revolutionary.  Though I have lost my faith in the particular electoral system the UK uses I certainly support democracy and in fact feel in all its aspects it was damaged by both Thatcher and Blair.  Ed Miliband was an unexpected winner.  Since Tony Blair succeeded so well at the 1997 election it seems that no political party can accept a leader who does not look incredibly like him.  David Cameron, Nick Clegg and David Miliband look like clones created from cells of Blair with a little different input.  Ed Miliband, in contrast, reminds me of the US actor, Ray Romano, though more cheerful in demeanour.  David Miliband seemed to adhered to the politics of what Labour was in 1994-2008, the Blairite Party.  Blair and Mandelson are hovering in the wings trying to keep Labour as the Blairite Party and not go back to anything resembling the Labour Party before 1994 or, in fact, anything more modern.  Blair was very much a Thatcherite and was unwilling to at all address the immense power the wealthy were continuing to accrue through his terms of office.  This left a basis on which Cameron could come in with the smokescreen of the national debt, to implement a harsh New Right monetarist policy of a severity which would have even made Margaret Thatcher hesitate if it had been proposed in 1979 or even 1983.

The Conservatives believed that they could not have won against a Labour Party led by David Miliband and to some degree are probably a little relieved by the unexpected outcome of Ed coming to the role.  However, if David had been chosen, then the Labour Party would have received another nail in the coffin and the Blairite Party would have been reinvigorated after the brief interlude of Brown.  Of course, the Conservatives and their allies in the media will present Ed as a tool of the trade unions and as dangerously 'red'.  However, as he has noted very vigorously in his first interview as leader, wanting social justice and for the bulk of the population not being compelled to serve the interests of the ultra-wealthy is not left-wing policy.  So many commentators forget that the current Labour Party including Ed Miliband is far less Socialist in its outlook than the Conservative governments of Winston Churchill or Harold Macmillan; they oversaw and economy which was 20% nationalised, had a large, robust and growing welfare state and civil service, oversaw social house building and limited the removal of capital from the UK, all things that would seem radical if proposed these days.

What gave me some hope seeing Ed Miliband being interviewed yesterday is that he is willing to challenge the inequalities of British society.  Of course, he is going to emphasise that he is his own man, every party leader does that, but I think no matter what support he got, he can bring not only the Labour Party but its broader support in the country together.  He seemed far less unafraid than either his brother and certainly Blair, of saying things which sound hard.  We know he would take on the banks.  I thought it was utterly disgraceful of Baroness Warsi to come on the BBC and say that Ed Miliband had been disgraceful in not using his first speech to apologise to the nation for the economic mess that she believed Labour had got the country into when in office.  Would any political leader have started their career that way?  It shows how much contempt she holds for the Opposition that she patronises then that way as if they are not fit to be considered a proper political party.  The other thing, of course, is would the Conservatives have done anything different if they had been in office?  Would they have allowed banks to have collapsed?  No.  It would have caused immense hardship to millions of ordinary voters.  The fact is that Blair, adhering to the Thatcherite creed of deregulation, had allowed merchant banks and speculators to gamble with the UK's money.  They knew that if they lost the state would be compelled to bail them out or risk a wider crisis.  They take such aid for granted and have won triply: they had their banks saved, they now have a government following the monetarist line they love and they are back to paying obscene bonuses and salaries backed once more by the state.

Ed Miliband certainly seems to be a leader for which policy is more important than how it is represented in the media.  For Blair the portrayal of things was always more important than the policies themselves.  This is why so much of his time in office saw the government paralysed, not only concerned about how the policy would work, but even more focused on how it would appear; hence the terribly slow progress on constitutional reform.  Of course, he is shifting more to the 'centre' as to win the next election Labour must not only secure the votes of the unemployed, but also of the 'squeezed' middle class.  Reference to housing and tuition fees plays well to this set of society who thought, from the vague policy statements that Cameron put out before and during the election they were going to get another Blair, but have found instead someone who makes Sir Keith Joseph appear to have been caring.  Unlike the ultra-wealthy, the middle classes, however, they may struggle against it, are in fact dependent on a robust state, and, in fact, because they statistically engage more with things like higher education and will live longer than working class people, they often need its support in a wider variety of aspects in their lives.  Miliband is personable, but from the outset, what has won me over to him, is that he has presented simple messages that are about making the UK a more fair society, not classless, but reducing what we have seen in the past two years, people being rewarded for being reckless out of the pockets of hardworking people.  Even the daily headlines about 'dole cheats' will not convince most of us, that the bulk of the people around us, are like us, wanting to simply house themselves, feed their families and work in a reasonable job.

I suppose I like Ed Miliband because from the start he is talking about things that I get upset about on this blog, primarily the inequality, in terms of opportunity in particular, which is being sharpened in our society.  While I would probably still be considered middle class, as I lose my house and I return to the rental sector and the income in my house is now so low the child living in it is entitled to free school meals, I am sliding into not even the working class, but the bottom end of that.  Of course, I have thrown away the aspirations of a couple of years ago and know I will now never get promoted; never will own property again and, may be jobless for years to come, but, it would be nice if I could still believe the boy in my house does not face the same fate, and, perhaps, even go to university one day.  Naturally, if the destruction of the UK economy continues at the pace it is at the present, then he will not even get the opportunities currently available to teenagers and most likely will be in classes of 45+ pupils before he gets to leave school.  His only hope would be to emigrate, but given how education is to be slashed in the coming years, he would be so much less skilled than foreign rivals, assuming he has not died of some illness hospitals cannot afford to treat or through contracting a superbug in unhygenic health facilities.

One thing the Conservatives have won on is to get everyone obsessed over the deficit as if this was evil and has to be eliminated immediately.  Of course, any Conservative MP of the Churchill and Macmillan years would see it differently, knowing that in crisis the state borrows, this is basic Keynesianism, the economic policy followed from 1941/8-1972/6.  However, monetarism has been so engrained in UK thinking as the only, 'rational' way of viewing the economy that no-one yet can challenge it.  However, even in this context Miliband can refer to Alastair Darling's plan for halving it in four years with cuts in public spending but not to the severity the current government is adopting.  The illusion that Cameron has created is that his economic policies are necessary for tackling the debt.  In fact, he would have pursued them even if he had come to power before the banking crisis.  The debt is a smokescreen for the harsh monetarist policies it is clear he always dreamed of implementing.  The only use of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition is actually, finally, someone is making a fuss about tax avoidance by the wealthy, seventeen times more damaging to the economy than the estimated level of benefit fraud, but something Blair and even Brown did not tackle.

Commentators are right.  Labour is already as popular as the Conservatives and once the cuts really hit, they will become immensely popular.  At the time, I disagreed with Polly Toynbee that Brown should have stepped down before the election, but now hold the opposite opinion.  If a Miliband had come to lead the party, then the outcome would clearly have been different.  Sensibly he is drawing a line under the New Labour era, which he cleverly portrays as being old fashioned.  In fact it allows him to recapture good elements from the history of the Labour Party.  Doing this in 2009 could have spared the UK from the horrific experience it is now going into.  People talk of a 'double dip' recession.  This analogy is wrong.  To have a second dip, means you have to have had a peak of some recovery in the middle.  As yet we have had no such recovery. We are on the 'downward staircase' recession, depression in fact, with some plateaus of things not worsening, and then a further fall as the next batch of government cuts kick in.  Labour is the party of hope and I think it is ironic that Ed Balls referred recently to the Attlee Labour governments of 1945-51, because if Labour return to power in 2015 (hopefully it will be sooner), then they will be facing an economy dealing with many of the same difficulties as when the Second World War finished.  Hope will be like gold dust in those days and strong policies to revive the country will be necessary.

I know many years of hardship, for me personally, and the bulk of my friends and relations lie ahead, but this week at least I feel there might be someone who understands and is seeking to bring forward policies which will at least ameliorate the worst of it.  I know I am putting a lot of store by the new Leader of the Opposition, he may fail, he may be marginalised, but for a small moment, I do feel at least a little ember of hope.

No comments: