26 July 2010

Can Labour afford to back the Ed Milibandwagon?

A special welcome to those of you who've come via the first ever link here from the Left Foot Forward blog. I hope you won't be too disappointed to discover that the words 'dangerous' and 'trot' are nowhere to be found in what follows. And, if this is your first visit, I very much hope that you'll browse around some of the other posts, to which a complete list of links can be found under 'COMPLETE BLOGPOST INDEX' on the left. If you do, you'll see that the blog seeks to be 'non-aligned' and you don't have to go far to find positive and negative comments about members of all the main political parties. The main focus is on analysing and commenting on speech-making, presentation and communication, often using short video clips to illustrate the points being made.

Listening to Ed Miliband denouncing New Labour in an interview on today's World at One (BBC Radio 4) reminded of something I wrote six years ago, when the said Miliband was one of the Brownites who was busily briefing against Tony Blair.

Under the title Can Labour Afford to Back Brown? the first few paragraphs went as follows:

1979 Revisited?
"On the day after the 1979 general election, I remember being flabbergasted by a letter to 'The Guardian' that seemed completely out of touch with reality. Signed by Tony Benn and a group of like-minded colleagues, it attributed Labour’s defeat entirely to the fact that it had failed to pursue policies that were left-wing enough. The authors conveniently ignored the fact that the Callaghan government had only managed to stay in power because of a pact with the Liberals. And they were undaunted by the complete lack of evidence of any widespread support for left-wing policies from an electorate that had just voted Margaret Thatcher into office.

"With the price of ignoring the preferences of the electorate as high as eighteen years in opposition, the party ought surely to have learnt its lesson. But calls from Labour malcontents to replace Blair with Brown are beginning to sound like the first drum beats of a renewed retreat from political reality. It’s not just that the anti-Blair agitators have apparently forgotten that bickering and division are a sure-fire recipe for damaging a party’s fortunes. They also seem to be assuming that the electorate would be happier, or at least just as happy, with Brown at the helm as they are with Blair.

"What harks back so resonantly to 1979 is the fact that the change being pressed for by the siren voices within the party once again seem to have more to do with internal party feuds than any rational assessment of Labour’s wider electoral appeal" ... (continued HERE).

1979 Revisited again?
Now that Ed Miliband has won the backing of the big unions, whose support Ed Balls had been hoping for, the question is: can Labour afford to back Ed Miliband on his journey back to 1979 and the wonderful world of old Labour?

And, in case you think I'm being a bit alarmist, try this sample from one of the video clips posted yesterday:

video

Although I know nothing at all about his mother's values, I do know that his father, the late Ralph Miliband, was a militant Marxist and a highly influential member of a generation of sociological theorists who (in my opinion) contributed towards undermining the credibility of a once respectable discipline and, more indirectly, towards the Labour Party's disastrous lurch to the left in the early 1980s.

I also know that, if I were Labour Party member hoping for better things to come, I wouldn't be putting my money on a leader so willing to associate himself with the Marxist values of his father.

Nor would I take too much heart from the following clips from a video posted on the candidate's own website.

Down with New Labour and down with markets!

video

Time to turn the page (backwards?)

video

The discontinuity candidate?

video

Too young to remember?
The problem is that Ed Miliband is too young to remember what happened to the Labour Party during the 18 years of decline and recovery between 1979 and 1997. He was only 9 when Margaret Thatcher came to power and 13 when Foot led Labour to the disastrous defeat of 1983.

So let me remind him and his supporters of a few rather important facts:
  1. In 1980, Labour turned its back on the moderate Denis Healey and elected left-winger Michael Foot as party leader.
  2. In 1981, left-winger Tony Benn came within 0.8% of ousting Denis Healey as deputy leader.
  3. In 1981, four senior former Labour cabinet ministers broke away from Labour to form the Social Democratic Party.
  4. Labour's 1983 election manifesto, described by Gerald Kaufman as 'the longest suicide note in history', included withdrawal from the Common Market and unilateral nuclear disarmament.
  5. At the 1983 general election, Labour's popular vote was only 2% ahead of the combined vote for the SDP and the Liberal Party.
  6. Had the SDP not attracted so many 'moderate' Labour voters in 1983 and 1987, subsequent Labour leaders would not have been forced to move their party towards the centre.
  7. In 1995, Labour removed Clause IV from its party constitution (the commitment to 'the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange') - the official birth of New Labour.
  8. Blair and Brown worked very hard in opposition to win the confidence of business, the City and middle class voters before Labour's general election victory in 1997.
Old Labour today = defeat tomorrow
In short, however much the likes of Ed Miliband may want to consign New Labour to the past, they should remember that their party would never have won one, let alone three consecutive elections without the broader centrist approach and appeal established by New Labour.

And, as I suggested when I warned that Brown would be an electoral disaster, the party is unlikely ever to win again without a leader who can communicate effectively with a much broader swathe of voters than those represented by the trades unions and the traditional Labour 'core vote' - to whom Miliband the younger is appealing for his mandate to put the clock back.

But to some of us of a certain age, it sounds like a retreat from political reality' that's at least as flabbergasting as the one led by Tony Benn and his left-wing chums back in 1979.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is David Miliband the offspring off Ralph Miliband or another set of parents that I am not aware. Would you like David Miliband to disown his father.

I think this is some sort of horrible historical redux. Ed Miliband is not Ralph Miliband or Tony Benn. If anything he could be compared to John Smith. How would you like to compare the other candidates.

This is clearly an outright and illogical attack on Ed Miliband designed to frighten the selectorate.

Soylent GreenStreet said...

This is a ludicrous hatchet-job worthy of the Mail or Express. Why not have the courage to talk about who you DO support for the leadership and why. Labour made some big mistakes in power that need to be talked about: Iraq, civil liberties, overly craven attitude to financial sector? Ed Milliband is the candidate asking serious questions about where Labour went wrong in power.

Max Atkinson said...

Well, well - I hadn't expected such angry responses - but really don't think either of you needs to worry about anything I say having any influence on the outcome. I'm not a party member, know few people who are and am merely a curious observer with an interest in trying to decode where the various candidates stand in the great scheme of things

Of course, I may have got it wrong but, as far as I can see, Ed Miliband is running on a 'lefter than thou' platform aimed at drumming up support from trades unionists (with considerable successl) and activists who never much liked the New Labour project in the first place.

I stand by my suggestion that Labour Party members ignore points 1-8 at their peril and that all the candidates, apart from Diane Abbott, are too young to be aware of just how bad things got for the party in the aftermath of the 1979 defeat (where by 'bad'/'good' I mean 'unelectable'/'electable').

To that I would add that I'm mystified by the way people like Ed Miliband are so willing to denounce New Labour, because it implies that they are seriously underestimating the critical importance of the NL project in making Labour electable again (after, should a reminder be needed, losing 4 elections and 18 years in opposition).

There are also other important but elusive assets for British party leaders, which Blair had (but Brown hadn't), that I've touched on here: http://bit.ly/dzVrzJ

I'm not sure where I'd place the various candidates on this, but did suggest back in January that Andy Burnham may be a much more important secret weapon than the party realises: http://bit.ly/8IGWba And, although it looks unlikely that he'll win, whoever does become leader would be well advised to elevate him to one of the top jobs ASAP.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that David Miliband had a different set of parents. But I do confess to being vaguely intrigued by the fact that this is not the first time that Ed has reminded the party about his parenthood (see http://bit.ly/dhzbXL) - whereas I've never heard David doing likewise.

And, just in case you think I'm being too negative about Miliband the younger, I do believe that he's the most effective public speaker of all the candidates - which no doubt partly explains why he's been winning so much support.

Soylent GreenStreet said...

Well Max, I am old enough to remember the 1980s and I don't take issue with your 8-point recap of Labour's wilderness years. Having campaigned on behalf of Labour candidates during the '80s I recall those dark times all too well. But this is now. Labour lost power in May for reasons that the party must address in order to be fit for government in the future. As I said before, Ed Miliband appears to be the only viable candidate who is asking serious questions about where the New Labour "project" went wrong in power: The Iraq war, disregard for civil liberties and a supine attitude towards big business (especially the financial sector), combined with being overly metropolitan & London-centric all took their toll at the ballot box. We cannot pretend that these things don't matter and the country will soon wake up and decide they want New Labour back with all forgiven. Btw, I agree absolutely with your assessment that Ed Miliband is the best communicator on the candidate list.

whyworktoday.spaces.live.com/blog/ said...

Ed may be a very good public speaker; but what is the content of his speech?

To the left of his brother, or a dangerous Trot? Is this debate about political choices at all?

democraticgreensocialist said...

I note max atkinson repeats the hoary old nonsense about the 1983 'longest suicide note in history'.

What is always given by those who would like to keep the Labour Party to the tame right is a very selective 'remembering of that period.

Throughout the latter part of 1981 and right up until the outset of the Falklands War, the Labour Party, with Foot as Leader and with its most radical manifesto since 1945 was miles ahead of the Tories in all opinion polls. Thatcher was the most reviled Prime Minister in British History, hundreds of thousands were marching against the mass unemployment she created. I vividly remember seeing Labour actually polling at over 50% - an actual majority - in one poll publicised on national television.

Of course, the thought of a left wing Labour Government that might actually challenge the British Establishment was not to be borne, and consequently we saw the Falkands War and the patriotic hysteria generated by the Tory press, the SDP traitors hailed into a major force by the same to sink the Labour ship below the waterline, and some major huffing and puffing about a pensioner daring to wear a duffelcoat at the cenotaph on a cold windy day.

Ah well, if you can fool some of the people some of the time...