Thursday, 4 October 2012

Better dead than Ed

At this week’s conference, the Labour Party have tried to show that Ed Miliband can make a tolerable Prime Minister. Earlier in the week, the focus was on trying to forge a personal connection between Ed and the electorate. One of Tony Blair’s great strengths was that many people thought of him as the kind of guy they wouldn’t mind having a pint with. Even David Cameron has a certain affability, despite his privileged background. Ed’s team have been trying to make it seem as if he isn’t all that weird and blinky, after all. Thus, we have seen the release of a rare family photograph, it which Ed looks thoroughly normal, as well a video stating the fact that Ed went to a state comp. As the conference progressed, there has been an attempt to communicate an alternative vision of Britain’s future to the Tory version of more cuts and austerity, culminating in Ed’s much lauded ‘One Nation’ speech.

The effort to make Ed Miliband electable, is by no means futile – I do think it possible. His very impressive speech has certainly bought him some time. However, ultimately I think Labour’s apparent strategy will fail. First of all, compare Ed Miliband to John Prescott – there is a world of difference between them. One is a genuinely working class politician, complete with regional accent, another is patently not. Ed Miliband’s father was an academic, he wrote books that are on the reading lists of any half-decent politics degree, Ed is clearly of the bourgeoisie; even if it is that part of the bourgeoisie that Marx described as the “small section of the ruling class [that] cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class.” Highlighting the fact that Ed went to a comprehensive will not be enough to convince most ordinary people that he has much in common with them.

Another flaw with the Labour Strategy is that Ed really is weird and blinky. Ed’s conference speech showed personality and charisma, but it was a 70 minute highlight in a two year omnisnore. Ed cannot win on personality unless this one brief spell of good form becomes consistent charm. His near constant inability to achieve this was fully demonstrated in his interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday. Asked about Labour’s new favourite buzz-word, “pre-distribution”, Ed opened with a terrible joke, telling Andrew Marr, apparently sarcastically, that he “loved” the concept. As he begins explaining it, he uses the words, “I’m very clear about this…” with increasing frequency, and no corresponding increase in clarity or lucidity. Quite the opposite. Then, failing to be pinned down to a simple definition of ‘pre-distribution’, he offers an appallingly vacuous definition along the lines of, “pre-distribution is about making the economy work for ordinary people”.

This brings me to the final problem. He has no substantive vision for Britain’s future that differentiates Labour from the Tories. On the major policy issue of our age, the economy, Labour would have practically the same austerity package as the Tories. Ed’s ‘one nation’ idea is utterly meaningless without some actual policies to flesh it out with. What makes it different from the Tory claim that ‘We’re all in this together’? Perhaps there is something to be said for not coming up with policies too early. Parties frequently get hung up on pledges made years in advance that are revealed to be impractical or foolish when they come into government; think of the Tory pledge not to restructure the NHS, or the Lib Dem promise not to raise tuition fees. However, there should still be some gesturing at what the policies might look like. When Brown was Prime Minister, the Tories positioned themselves as the party of austerity as opposed to stimulus without knowing where and when they would cut. We knew that they wanted to “cut red tape”, an appallingly vague phrase that still lets it be known that some regulations will be removed, even if they cannot say which ones. The ‘One Nation’ idea does not even do this.

Ed Miliband claims that ideas matter in politics, but this is nonsense if the ideas are devoid of any content.

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