« Home | A debt repaid. » | Nice work if you can get it. » | Scum-watch: The libelling of Sylvia Henry. » | The censoring of a centipede. » | Radicalisation and the ideologues. » | Everyone else's problem. » | Eyes down. » | So that explains it... » | Decriminalisation has to begin somewhere. » | The continuing sorry saga in Libya. » 

Monday, June 13, 2011 

The responsibilities of a Labour leader.

Difficult as it is to believe, Ed Miliband has only been leader of the Labour party for nine months. It's fair to say that he hasn't exactly set the world alight so far, while at the same time he also hasn't made any major mistakes. Sure, calling for the head of Ken Clarke over his disastrous interview on 5 Live was daft, having previously said how he wouldn't be calling him soft for doing exactly what he was attempting to articulate on the radio, and he's struck a few bum notes at prime minister's questions, but which novice leader hasn't? William Hague often supposedly got the better of Tony Blair in those distant days when he was Tory leader, and it didn't win him the 2001 election.

All the curiouser then that Miliband is now apparently in crisis mode, having failed to take advantage of the coalition's mounting mess-ups when facing David Cameron in the Commons, with the leaking of the incredible revelation that Ed Balls and Gordon Brown wanted Tony Blair out in the mists of 2005, followed swiftly by the Graun obtaining the speech the elder Miliband would have given to the Labour party conference had he won. The two Eds can't get along, we're told, and David Miliband's truculent supporters are starting to agitate again. If you're dull enough, like me, to have been following Labour's quiet attempts to regain ground, then you'll know that much the same was being said around Christmas time. Ed couldn't make a break-through, the shadow cabinet weren't behind him, and moves were being made to overthrow him. A couple of weeks later and all was right again, thanks to a change in the spin team. Now we're back in Iain Duncan Smith territory.

No one slightly in touch with reality is claiming that the party is already on its way to a win in four years' time. It's also apparent though that things are nowhere near as bad as those like Dan Hodges and the increasingly laughable Labour Uncut blog continue to make out. Hodges may well have been right about the AV referendum, he has something resembling a point on the mythical "progressive majority", and he's dead wrong on almost everything else. Only slightly tongue in cheek, he writes of how the party has been seized by "progressive McCarthyism", with everything associated with Tony Blair being seen as untouchable, unclean. The May local election results weren't anything approaching a beginning to a comeback, Miliband's personal ratings are hopeless, and the Tories are already confident of gaining an overall majority come 2015, just as they were at the beginning of last year. Elsewhere Peter Watt, former general secretary of Labour despairs at how the party is still disagreeing with the coalition over the cuts, when what the public expects and wants is for them to move on, not least because it reminds them of how it was all Labour's fault anyway and all politicians are grasping knaves. Kevin Meagher goes even further back, to the loony left and how they destroyed Labour's image in the 80s (Is this right? Ed) (Only if you consider that much of what the "loony left" argued for has since been implemented).

Suggesting that it's only been nine months is to be complacent. Imagining that because the party is ahead in the polls it's making an impact is ridiculous, not to mention ahistorical. Thinking that the tide may be beginning to turn against the coalition on the economy is laughable. The party needs to do more to repudiate the real legacy of the Blair/Brown years. The debt that was built up which no one, not even the Tories, complained about at the time. It needs to regain the trust of the working and middle classes which it forfeited over immigration and welfare. Labour has to smash this notion that it's a party for benefit claimants, asylum seekers and bankers.

If taking advice from the "flat earthers" of Liberal Conspiracy is a bad idea, then it's nice to see what appeasing those advocating triangulation, as that's what it fundamentally is, looks like. Ed's speech today wasn't just woeful in execution, vacuous and fatuous in content and tone deaf in delivery; it was the perfect example of what you don't do to put an end to a supposed political narrative. When Theresa May stood up at the Tory party conference and said that some even referred to them as the "nasty party", it may have been the beginning of efforts to detoxify the party's brand, but it was also the beginning of the entirety of the media treating them as having an image problem which needed to be fixed. The former took longer because of the latter. For Ed to today say that "Labour did too little to ensure responsibility at the bottom" he's not just ignoring the ignoble efforts of James Purnell and others down the years, he's allowing the media to now set in stone the idea that the government he was a minister in allowed scroungers to multiply and get away with their indolence.

The effect leaves an enduring bad taste because of the false equivalence the speech draws between the poorest and the very richest; even the worst benefit cheat didn't contribute to the global economic crash, let alone the hopefully fictional man Miliband describes in his introduction, who had been on incapacity benefit for 10 years when in Ed's view "there were other jobs he could do". He tries to sugar the pill somewhat by saying how he doesn't want to demonise anyone in society, or suggest welfare claimants are feckless or worthless; no, they're simply irresponsible. As Chris points out, completely absent from Miliband's analysis is any notion of power: everything instead is purely down to a lack of values. I suspect, and hope, that Miliband doesn't really believe this: he's simply attempting to draw a line and is doing so in as simple a way as he can feasibly get away with. If so, then he's still doing a grave disservice to those currently having their cases reviewed, or those being put on the laughable new "work" programme, whose lives are being turned upside down. He criticises the government's welfare reforms but gives ammunition to the Conservatives in pushing them through.

Hodges is as pleased as someone still pining for the elder Miliband can be. Ed has found a voice he writes for Comment is Free, while as usual the Fabians read too much into one small change in policy. Even Frank Field is delighted, his prejudices on reintroducing a contributory factor to welfare having been listened to. Whether Labour should be getting into the idea of there being a deserving and undeserving poor, as criticised by the Archbishop of Canterbury is neither here nor there. Miliband has shown that he can reach out beyond his base by alighting upon on two incredibly easy targets.

If this was a ham fisted attempt at picking a fight with the party, as Blair did so often, then it didn't exactly work. He was pushing at an open door; it's only us old sentimentalists and bleeding hearts that believe comparing the down on their luck or ill with those at the top getting filthy rich is unhelpful. It also didn't go far enough to attract the attention of the tabloids, or the public, failing on both counts. It also couldn't distract from his brother's notional winning speech, as leaked to the Guardian. We can't of course know that it hasn't been drawn up over the past nine months, honed and weighted until perfect, rather than drafted and redrafted back then. Even so, it's impressive, although the delivery would have been everything. It doesn't mention Iraq, there's a very dubious unexplained part mentioning the war on drugs and he overeggs Labour's achievements on law and order, but on so much else it was the speech Ed should, and still can give. A peace settlement for Afghanistan; effective welfare reform which doesn't stigmatise; a job for every 18-24-year-old out of work for six months; and the kind of attack on George Osborne that genuinely resonates. As that flat earther Sunny Hundal suggests, Ed needs to make interventions that have long-lasting impact. If he follows the example of his brother and the Archbishop rather than Hodges and his ilk, the fight back really does begin here.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

No idea what the bit about drugs meant, but it sounded like bad news. And this is just contemptible:

Why have they abolished the policing pledge that said XXXX?
Why are they undermining the DNA database when it XXX?
Why are the government reviewing CCTV? When it offers security and helped catch the XXX.

Evidence-based policy, anyone?

Agreed. I'm not suggesting David Miliband would now be smashing the Tories to bits; more that Ed's strategy needs to be properly focused, with less of this nonsense of playing up to a tabloid stereotype of the party.

Post a Comment


  • This is septicisle


    blogspot stats

     Subscribe in a reader


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates