27 March 2011

Miliband's naïvity of youth strikes again?

During the Labour Party leadership campaign last year, I dared to suggest that, effective though Ed Miliband's repetitive denunciations of 'New Labour' may have been in winning support from the unions, he was too young to remember the disasters that led his party into eighteen years of opposition after losing the 1979 general election (HERE).

Watching this clip from his speech at yesterday's anti-cuts demonstration, I was reminded again of the naïvity of youth - and more than a little flabbergasted to hear him equating the demo with some rather more important movements from the past.

It really got me wondering about his grasp on history. Had they already stopped teaching proper history in schools by the time he got there? Or is this kind of glib identification with the suffragettes, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela only to be expected from someone who was brought up in a Marxist household, where facts and evidence were presumably never allowed to get in the way of a good theory.


Richard Edwards said...

An utterly toe curling and inappropriate comparison. That said, Cameron isn't much better. Remember the "junior partner in 1940" gaffe?

The problem is not many politicians have a Healy style hinterland.

Roger said...

I agree with you that it was a very poor speech but the dig at the Miliband household is cheap and unfair.

Ralph Miliband is still worth reading precisely because he was not an abstract theorist but a Marxist who went to a great deal of trouble to marshal historical data in support of his arguments.

His magnum opus Parliamentary Socialism was in fact a cold and sober recounting of how socialist parties who are voted into power have never actually achieved anything radically socialist - and if for a moment it looked like they might would like Allende in 1973 and the Spanish Popular Front in 1936 be bloodily removed from power by extra-parliamentary means.

(Come to think of it if David Miliband is still looking for a real job he could do nothing better than update his father's book up to 2010 based on his own experience of government).

And the Miliband household was apparently always full of visiting leftist luminaries who included not just academics but actual veterans of the suffragette, civil rights and anti-apartheid movements.

In fact I suggest this might well have been the problem: the two Miliband boys were on the one hand offered their father's worldview in which there were no quick solutions to the world's problems only the long hard march to an eventual socialist revolution - which even if it did eventually happened could all too easily go horribly wrong and produce another Soviet Russia.

And on the other they were tempted by the siren voices of identity politics - which when they were growing up in the seventies and eighties had so much more to offer bright young intellectuals than the dour old world of class war.

Personally I rather wish they'd split - then Ed might be continuing his father's work in some book-lined study and we would have a Labour leader who might actually win the next election (or indeed have won the last one if Ed hadn't been around to counsel caution when his party and country desperately needed Dave to man-up and knife Gordon in the back before he screwed up everything).

Roger said...

It also occurs to me that given his upbringing Ed's first draft would probably have listed the Levellers and the Chartists rather than the Civil Rights and Anti-Apartheid Movements - and that it was whatever hemisphere of his brain where the soulless New Labour Apparatchik still resides that would have struck them out as too obscure and too left-wing for the evening News.

Which if true is yet another example of how he actually should let his inner Marxist out more often - then rather than drawing ridiculous analogies with MLK and Mandela he could have had a whole peroration on how Labour has a real history and real roots in these islands and that even the most basic democratic rights once had to be won by people who marched down these very streets.

OK given his sixth form debating society delivery that might well have sounded silly as well - but who knows maybe some of the passion that his father and all those ghostly left-wing revenants (and Tony Benn) expended at the Miliband dining table might have forced its way through and made him sound briefly like someone who really does care...

Max Atkinson said...

Thanks to Richard & Roger for your comments.

Roger - cheap and unfair you might have thought my comments were, they at least prompted your much more interesting reflections on Miliband's family background - and on his abilities as a speaker and prospects for winning power.

If, like me, you'd spent the first 20 years of your career working in sociology departments, you'd understand why the continuing attacks from marxists like Miliband R on all other approaches to the discipline (other than theirs) eventually made some of us give up on the battle.

According to them, the very idea of trying to do objective/scientific studies of social order was evidence that you were too thick to realise that you'd implicitly bought into bourgeois reactionary ideology - i.e. you were an appalling consensus theorist and therefore wrong on all possible counts (i.e. on a par with the misguided working class who were so obviously - according to middle-class Marxist intellectuals -misguided by their 'false consciousness').

Two consequences: 1. sociology lost credibility as a worthwhile discipline and 2. promising approaches like conversation analysis were written off as not worth taking seriously.

After 20 years in the trenches trying (unsuccessfully) to resist their onslaught, I had and (another 20 years since quitting) still have no regrets about refusing to sign up to the party line.

I do, however, regret the damage done to the discipline by the intellectual Stalinism of my erstwhile 'colleagues' and by the way in which they damaged - but, happily failed to destroy - other pronising approaches to sociological research.

Roger said...

Having spent my own time on both sides of the trenches with Know Nothing Academic Marxists I more than understand your poor view of the breed.

But did you know Ralph Miliband?

Have you read his books?

Based on having seen him teach and on having my read him closely (admittedly some years ago) I definitely do not class him amongst the middle class 68-er generation Marxists who bored two generations of students into political apathy or worse.

He was in my opinion a real political scientist who happened to be a Marxist but took the 'science' in his discipline very seriously indeed.

And his major political work argues against both the Bennite reformism and the ultra-left insurrectionism that were so popular in the seventies and eighties amongst his fellow Marxists.

I admire the man and if either of his sons ever do show any real political backbone I hope it will be because they remember whose children they are.