Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ed Miliband, mea culpa and the sheep's clothing

Today in Manchester a fresh faced shiny new leader pulled on sheep's clothing, some of the items stolen from the genuine leader of Britan's liberals, round the wolf that is the body of the Labour Party.

To be fair, that speech was well written, and well delivered - and it was a pretty good shot at what Ed Miliband needed to do in it - to dissociate his Labour Party from the divided, authoritarian, at times downright wicked rabble which had been noisily disintegrating in Government these past few years.

What may be a really good thing was his own personal commitment to the Alternative Vote. If he were to lead the Labour Party to vote for the referendum and campaign for AV, we could well be on our way to a fairer voting system. However all he said was that he personally would vote yes. I suspect he knows he doesn't have the authority to insist that Labour campaigns for it because the awkward squad start sniping.

He also stated his commitment to an elected Lords. I had to stifle a laugh when he said:
Yes, we need to finally elect the House of Lords after talking about it for a hundred years.
Labour had 13 years to do so in Government, and now it's left to the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg (for the Tories would never have done it on their own) to implement this vital change. That boat has sailed for the new generation Labour Party.

In many ways, it sounded less like a leader's speech today and more like he was reading out his own charge sheet, a list of the things New Labour had got so terribly wrong, everything from Iraq, to civil liberties (these things listened to in stony faced silence by those members of Labour's cabinet who had brought them about). It had the air of a guilty plea in the hope that he'd get a shorter sentence. The very idea that he thinks that one speech, a few days at one Conference, could wash away the mess of the last 13 years shows Ed really doesn't get it.

But he only apologised for the attempt at 90 days, not for the month detention without charge we have now.

He mentioned his parents' flights from the Nazis and move to this country - but didn't apologise for the appalling way Labour treated asylum seekers. And I'm concerned that he's going to continue narrow anti-narrative on immigration.

He basically tried to position himself as the new Nick Clegg. He even pinched one of Nick's best lines, almost exactly with his example of the disparity in wages between a banker and care worker:
What does it say about the values of our society, what have we become, that a banker can earn in a day what the care worker earns in a year?
If that sounds familiar, it's not a million miles away from this, is it?
"And that's why I don't apologise for proposing that the banker from the City of London pay the same rate of tax on his capital gains as his cleaner does on her wages.
The thing is, the original Nick Clegg is still very much alive and well and enacting Liberal Democrat policies in Government. Miliband's Labour Party will always be playing catch up on that front.

There was actually very little in the speech that I disagree with. If you read the words, it all sounds very grown up and consensual. I mean, who on earth could find fault with this?

Here is our generation's paradox: the biggest ever consumers of goods and services, but a generation that yearns for the things that business cannot provide.
Strong families.
Time with your children.
Green spaces.
Community life
Love and compassion.

Words have to be placed in context, though. David Cameron tried to park his tanks on our lawn and it didn't work then. I think once we get to the substance, and once the novelty of a new leader wears off on a Labour Party that's to a certain extent been let off the leash after 13 years, life may not be quite so motherhood and apple pie.

Ed Miliband knew as well that he had to try to put some distance between himself and the unions, given that it was they who had delivered him his victory. Talking about strikes, he said:

We need to win the public to our cause and what we must avoid at all costs is alienating them and adding to the book of historic union failures.
That is why I have no truck, and you should have no truck, with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes.
The public won't support them. I won't support them. And you shouldn't support them either.

That's Bob Crow told, then.

The tight margin of his victory victory means that Ed Miliband will, like Gordon Brown before him, have to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged blairites. Changing the soul of the Labour Party is a fair old challenge for Mr Miliband, though, and isn't going to happen overnight, if at all. You have to remember that most of the members of the Labour Party voted for the status quo with a few frills, and so did the MPs.

As far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, it's vital that we  get our distinctive message across. It's deeds, not words, that matter and in coalition we are the ones enacting liberating reforms and working for fairness, doing exactly what we said we'd do. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You shouldnt be surprised at both Labour and Conservatives "parking their tanks on your lawn". We are constantly told that elections are only won on the centre ground, and that the Liberal Democrats occupy the centre ground in British politics. Ergo, both main parties will try to pinch your ideas.

As to Labour having done nothing to reform the House of Lords in 13 years, I will have to point you at the removal of the (majorioty of) hereditary peers in 1999, the first public consultation on the future of the House of Lords in 2001/2, and the inconclusive votes on the replacement in 2003, the second public consultation in 2003, the votes on it in 2007, the new white paper in 2008.

In short, its not an easy quick fix, and Labour has done much of the groundwork, but even the coalition will find themselves having to use the Parliament Act to get change through - and whenever that gets used, theres a massive great big controversy


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