It’s called biting the hand that feeds you, Ed

"Red Ed" Miliband at the TUC

Ed Miliband has got himself in trouble with the brothers and sisters at the TUC for denouncing the recent strike action and the proposed further action in defence of public service pensions, which are coming under sustained attack from the Conservative government (I think I might have to stop calling it The Coalition, it just doesn’t feel like an accurate description)

Miliband’s behaviour smacks of chronic ingratitude to say the least. Leaving aside the small matter that the affiliated unions provide the bulk of the party’s funding, he owes his position as leader of the Labour Party entirely to the support he received in the union section of the Electoral College in the leadership contest. Despairingly, his feeble non-entity of a brother, David “charisma bypass” Miliband, darling of the Labour Right, who was running on a ‘more of the same unreconstructed Blairite bollocks’ ticket, won majorities in the parliamentary and constituency parties after the second and third preferences etc had been counted. A pretty horrifying indictment of the state of the Labour Party right now I’m sure you’ll agree.

I have a tiny confession to make. I was taken in by Ed last year. During the leadership campaign he made all the right noises about tax evasion and defending the public sector. I voted for him in the naïve hope that he would do his job and stand up for the labour movement, especially if the alternative was his brother, whose programme for opposition and government was the political equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. I really should have known better……….

Notwithstanding my childish naïveté, the economic crash of 2008 and the one that may yet follow have exposed, to any fair-minded person at least, the insanity, irrationality and un-sustainability of the current capitalist model. It has been discredited, possibly terminally. Theories such as Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis, which posited that liberal democracy and free-market capitalism had decisively triumphed over all forms of social organisation and we were now living in an epoch where things would just get better and better (where have I heard that before?) has been exposed as an arrogant, smug delusion cooked up in an academic ivory tower, like all the other ‘new right’ and ‘third way’ apologias for unbridled free markets.

Across the world, invariably centre-right governments (depressingly and perversely, it is the right that have benefited most from the crash despite their complete lack of a programme to get us out of this mess, and reliance on economic theories that have been shown, repeatedly, in the past as virtually guaranteed to exacerbate the problem) are implementing austerity programmes that have one thing in common: they aren’t working.

For example, in Britain, after Gideon and Flashman put the kibosh on Brown and Darling’s limited stimulus plans, growth has ground to a halt and the economy is in danger of tipping back into recession. A cuts programme is being implemented that is brazenly ideological and unjust, whilst at the same time the wealthy may have to pay less tax! The banks are being allowed to continue unreformed until 2019 (which essentially means never) even though the crisis was one of out of control financial capitalism, and not one of excessive and wasteful public spending, whatever the government, think-tanks and right-wing press keep telling you. We are all being asked to pay for the mistakes of the super-rich and financial institutions. Well, everyone that is except for the super-rich and financial institutions.

And yet, no serious political opposition to this agenda has emerged. The leaders of the ‘Arab Spring’ all appear wedded to neoliberal orthodoxy, whatever other benefits the revolutions may have. There have been countless protests and mobilisations all over Europe and North America, but it has translated into nothing, anywhere, least of all inBritain. Indeed, the Conservatives could well secure an absolute majority at the next election.

How can this be? Surely in some ways it is a great time to be on the left. What we have been arguing for years about unfettered free markets has been proven without fear of contradiction. The theories of our opponents have been exposed as garbage. And yet the left is weaker than ever.

The reasons are complex, but I would suggest the main problem is that the ‘mass’ (a slight misnomer in 2011) social democratic parties that the bulk of ordinary working class people expect to defend their interests are as wedded to neoliberalism as the neoliberals are. So in this case, Ed Miliband just can’t bring himself to break with the economic orthodoxy that has completely dominated political discourse for the last 30-plus years. So he does what all social democrat leaders do when push comes to shove, and turns on the unions, even though they put him where he is. He can’t see any further than the next opinion poll or Daily Mail headline, and above everything he must keep the chimerical ‘Middle Britain’ on-side. And that means being tough on the unions. As all decent, hard-working Britons hate strikes and trade union militancy, don’t they? In tandem with his condemnation of putative strike action Miliband has promised not to reverse many of the Tory cuts (even though he also says that the cuts are choking off growth. Go figure.)

The intellectual poverty and spinelessness of the labour leadership and their policies and pronouncements would be wrist-slittingly depressing if it wasn’t all so predictable. They have learnt nothing from the ignominious failure of the New Labour years. There was talk of a new kind of politics from Miliband when he won the leadership. Instead, we have the same old shit.

So what would you do James, you foolish socialist dinosaur who thinks he is living in Paris circa 1968? Well if I can be so bold, I’m going to suggest the outlines of an alternative.

If Labour is to ever pose a viable alternative to the free market status quo and change things for the better then it needs to cast the Focus Group politics and Daily Mail chasing into the outer darkness. Instead of ‘governing from the centre,’ ‘keeping the markets happy’ and appeasing ‘Mondeo Man’ and ‘Worcester Woman,’ a political method that achieved nothing for New Labour bar the keys to Downing Street for a few years and lucrative directorships for members of the Cabinet, it needs to start making a positive case for interventionist social democracy, public services, union rights and in the here and now running a deficit whilst the economic mess is cleared up by stimulus spending and heavy state involvement. Of course the right-wing media attack-dogs will go berserk, but so what? Did Thatcher worry about challenging the consensus? So why should we?

When Alastair Campbell was working for Blair he set up a rapid rebuttal unit to refute any stories that he regarded as dishonest and prejudicial to the New Labour cause. How about doing the same, but instead of the focus being Alastair Campbell’s, which was on winning power whatever the cost, make it winning the argument? When subjected to rigorous scrutiny most of the arguments of the lickspittle tabloid press collapse like a house of cards. Of course they will hate you for it, like they hated Tony Benn, Dave Nellist, Eric Heffer and Nye Bevan. So fucking what?

In these most unstable of times, the leader of the Labour Party has to choose which side he is on. If Ed Miliband chooses capital, then he is consigning himself and the Labour Party to the dustbin of history, and betraying the hopes and dreams of the millions of union members and working class people who need him now more than ever to defend them and their futures.


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