That Ed Milliband: must try harder.

I’m not at the Progress Conference, so haven’t heard Ed Milliband
deliver his speech, but am working off the version circulated by
LabourList earlier today.
(http://www.labourlist.org/let-me-tell-you-today-how-we-are-going-to-win-the-next-election)
I tweeted, after reading it “Got to say, this doesn’t do it for me”
and the lovely, thoughtful @rosiecosy challenged me with “really? What
would?” so here goes:

First let me say: I didn’t vote Labour at the last election, although
I passionately didn’t want a Tory government. I couldn’t bring myself
to vote for the crew that took us to war in Iraq, promoted the idea of
iD cards and thought Ed Balls was a good idea at the DCSF. I voted
LibDem and have been crying to myself ever since, including here:
http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/the-spreading-yellow-pool-of-shame
I am someone ready to be wooed back to Labour – if (but only if) I
think they will really deliver what I think this country needs, rather
than some kind of cringing brand of Tory-lite, which is what they did
before.

I agree with Ed that real political visionaries need to “reject some
of the easy answers”, and certainly if the Labour party can show that
they really have had “the courage to change on difficult issues like
Iraq and civil liberties” then they will at least have my ear
(although I’m not clear why these issues are considered that
difficult). But I identify pitfalls early in the speech where Ed
references as failings Labour’s position “from immigration to bankers
to welfare to waste”. He repeats this later as ‘mistakes that lost us
trust’ citing immigration, welfare & banking. I am with him when he is
angry at “those at the top making off with millions they didn’t
deserve”. He’s right that Labour’s over-reliance on, and shameful
indulgence of, the City of London and the worst excesses of the
financial services sector should be robustly corrected. But his
comments on welfare and immigration (until and unless he clarifies
them otherwise) look nastily like scapegoating weak, vulnerable and
already marginalised groups. He blames eastern European immigration
for depressing wages, rather than asking purposeful questions about
setting and policing a living wage; he remarks on people being “angry
about those they felt could work but didn’t” which unfairly demonises
all benefit claimants as work-shy, and utterly fails to address the
scandal that is in-work benefits – which are effectively a way of
getting the tax-payer to facilitate exploitation-level wages while
subsidising shareholder dividends.

He asks “what kind of country will we leave to our sons and our
daughters”? My answer would start – a country which places respect for
all people at its heart, a country which protects the weak, enables
the willing and cuts the over-privileged down to size.

Ed says people want to know “how am I going to make ends meet when my
living standards are squeezed”? Politicians should be asking “why are
ordinary people’s living standards being squeezed when taxpayers’
money is still funding bankers’ bonuses and yet another war…”? He
notes that action on the deficit is transferring public debt into
private debt (as the financial squeeze causes increased personal and
household borrowing), but he does not acknowledge that the ‘public
debt’ was, to a large extent, private debt initially – the private
debt incurred by corporations and the super-rich when their
buccaneering ways stopped paying off. The bank bail-out has been a
conjuring trick in which the rich have transferred their gambling
debts to the poor, and the government has brokered the transaction.

He seeks to appeal to the self-interest of “the middle income
people….who don’t consider themselves rich even though they may be
higher rate tax payers”. I am one of those people. But I know that I
am not “middle income”. I recognise that there’s a huge gap between
the very top 1% of earners in this country and the next centile down,
and that that gap more than swallows up the income differentials
between everyone else (see here:
http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/the-myth-of-social-mobility) but I
still can’t translate my financial circumstances into a need anywhere
near as pressing or worthy as the issues and interests of those who
are on half my income, or a quarter, or an eighth. When will Labour
stand up for the genuinely poor? For those who want to work but find
obstacles in their way? For those who did work but whose jobs have
disappeared in the interests of “efficiency”? For those who might one
day work if their early years providers, schools, health service,
careers advice etc. are properly funded to support and enable them? My
own children (yes, that’s children Ed, not ‘kids’) will probably still
do ok, despite the squeeze, but the children, young people and
families who need the services of the organisation I work for, for
example, are missing their chance. I don’t want Labour to appeal to my
self-interest, I want them to appeal to my altruism, and to re-awaken
that value in those who have lost it. (George Monbiot writes well on
this here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/oct/11/left-values-pro….

At the heart of Ed’s speech there’s some vacuous drivel: what on earth
does he mean when he says “asking more of our economy … means asking
less of the state”? How does anyone “hard-wire fairness into the
economy”? Who exactly are “aspirational voters” (other than a PR-man’s
invention) and does he not want the votes of people who don’t define
themselves by ever wanting ‘more, more, more’?

Elements of his policy to appeal to “aspirational voters” are: a
living wage (hell yes! Of-bloody-course!); new industrial policy (erm
– want to tell us what kind of new industrial policy, Ed? That’s a
whole other blog for me one day); a reform of finance (Yes! Yes!
Yes!); and “responsibility at the top and at the bottom” Eh? What does
that look like then? The rhetoric of “fairness and social
responsibility” which sounds so convincing and just, is often
converted into a sensibility which means that *I* must get what *I*
deserve, but that others can be marginalised because they are
‘undeserving’. Ed finds it all too easy to slip into that waistcoat of
Victorian paternalism. “Wealth and opportunity go to those who deserve
them” he says. I imagine him muttering under his breath, “we’ll let
the other buggers sink”.

By the time I read about us “building a better capitalism” I feel
despair. As a nation we will be just the same, it seems, only
everything will change for the better because we will be “true to our
values as a country” – values which Ed is careful not to really name
or define.

I’m not convinced that people want “better chances” – most want better
outcomes. No one has to worry about how they are going to afford “the
rising cost of a university education” if a government is brave enough
to invest in the public good that is higher education so that everyone
who is capable can be funded by the state through their first degree;
no one needs to lose sleep over getting their feet “on the housing
ladder” in a nation which stops treating homes as an investment
vehicle and places greater value on investing public funds in social
housing stock – which becomes acceptable (even sought after) for its
flexibility to support and encourage a mobile workforce.

Ed Milliband’s keynote speech – a fantastic opportunity to talk about
what differentiates the left from the current grisly mob in power, and
what could be offered in terms of a radically better future for the
next generation becomes, a chance to talk about “Blue Labour” – a sad
exercise in showing how little Labour differs from the Tories,
particularly in it’s willingness to roll over – instead of
demonstrating real leadership – on some of the knee-jerk ‘nasty’
issues like immigration and welfare.

Is this really what matters to people? Saving the forests for the
middle-classes and scapegoating immigrants and welfare-claimants for
crowd-pleasing purposes.

Sorry Ed. You’ve a long way to go to convince me.

@itsmotherswork

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5 thoughts on “That Ed Milliband: must try harder.

  1. Love your blog!I have strong view on the need for an infrastructure in society that supports our needs as social human beings. I have blogged about it in a number of ways. Most recently in this one on ADHD and families and systemic support to them http://bit.ly/jbb4kH Part of that does need to involve a moral-legal frame and here I might add into our analysis a thought about foreign wars and how sometimes we have a moral duty to protect. That’s now a legal duty via international human rights legislation. Lybia is the first situation in which the UN security council utilised this duty via resolution 1973. And too be honest, not before time. We need some structure on the international field that moves those decision neo-imperial and nationalistic frames.Kind regardsNoel

  2. "from immigration to bankers to welfare to waste"What the hell does that mean? What was Liam Byrne doing at the #hardesthit march?

  3. I think – I hope – Liam Byrne was on #hardesthit protest because it’s the right thing to do. And Milliband may recognise that too, it’s just that it really doesn’t come across from this speech (although in fairness, i’ve been told it was delivered slightly differently from the way it appears on LabourList). I want to see and hear more like that. At the moment it still feels too conciliatory to the status quo.

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