06 October 2012

Ed Miliband rediscovers what was always there

You lucky kids have not just one but two posts from me this morning, as I'm trying to avoid doing some rather boring work.

Amazing how one speech can turn round perceptions of Ed Miliband. Before Tuesday's Labour leader speech (incidentally why is the Labour leader speech halfway through Conference whereas the other two main parties put their speeches at the end? Is it just so there is a graveyard slot on Thursday morning to bury Steve Twigg?) people were seeing the conference as an awkward potential car crash - the general feeling was that Ed would have done well just to get through it without inviting the oppobrium that got heaped on him after his 2011 speech. (I actually thought the content of the 2011 speech was pretty good, but delivery was awful).

I haven't watched most of the speech this year - last year was just too painful - but I have seen Ed speak without notes, strolling round the stage, before, and he is remarkably effective doing that. In fact it was at the 2008 Compass conference that I first thought "maybe this guy could be the next Labour leader". His speech at the Fabian post-election conference in 2010, where he announced his  candidacy, was another good effort. By comparison, speaking from a lectern Ed just looks stilted and awkward.

This year's big idea - "One Nation Labour" - is designed to underline the fact that the Tories are a party of sectional interest who care only about a small minority of very powerful, privileged people. But this was the case from 1979 onwards anyway. What Dave Cameron and the ConDems are doing is just an extension of Thatcherism. Saying to working people, "you've had too big a share of the cake for far too long and now it's time to put you back in your place."

If the truth be told, Labour was always a One Nation party - it just almost never used the rhetoric (mainly because it was copyrighted to the Tories). But if you look at (for example) the 1974 Labour election manifesto - "a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of working power in favour of working people and their families". Given that "working people and their families" covered the vast majority of people in the UK (and still would do, if we didn't have such high unemployment), this was always a One Nation idea. The Tories, too, were One Nation from 1951 up until the Heath era, as party policy was mainly dominated by centre-left social democrats pretty much interchangeable with the right-wing of the Labour party.

Of course, the right wing tries to paint Labour as a party only interested in promoting the interests of public sector workers. But this simply reflects the fact that conditions in the private sector have deteriorated so badly over the last 35 years that it is now able to play 'divide and rule' in the Thatcherite tradition, playing one group of working class people off against another group of working class people. Fortunately, the 2008 crisis has, to a large extent, blown the gaffe on this fiction; there is now increasing understanding that Capitalism Is The Problem. If not (yet) a clearly articulated alternative (the sterling efforts of Occupy aside).

So "One Nation Labour" - a clever rhetorical move. But the facts on the ground were there all along.


Van Patten said...

The key thing in 1974 was that the closed shop meant that what Labour meany by working people (Trade Unions and their members) constituted a much higher proportion of the workforce. Now the proportion is far lower but, as you rightly point out the wholly accurate claim that Labour (and Miliband) represent the TUC' and it's interests rather than 'one Nation' will be made.

The issue is that Ed Balls seems to accept the coalition narrative that there is very little money available. That isn't the case for the man expected to be the Chief Economic Advisor, Richard Murphy. Could we see a rerun of the tension between Lawson and Walters which derailed Thatcher in her Third Term?

Hal Berstram said...

VP - Richard Murphy (whom I admire very much) - has about as much chance of being economic adviser as Fred the Shred Goodwin (i.e. not much). I don't think Richard's taken very seriously in the inner Labour circle - more's the pity!