Wednesday, 22 September 2010

How Red Is Ed?

Over in The First Post, Neil Clark writes:

According to his critics, he's a dangerous left-wing radical who, if he ever became prime minister, would take Britain back to the Socialist 1970s. According to his supporters, he's the man who will lead Labour away from Blairism and reconnect the party with its core supporters and traditional values. Both his detractors and supporters are in agreement that Ed Miliband - who could well be Labour leader when the results of the party ballot are revealed this weekend - is the candidate for 'change'. Miliband himself has as his campaign slogan: 'Call for Change'. But if we look beyond the rhetoric and the sound-bites, a very different picture emerges.

The reality is that Ed Miliband is not so much the 'change' candidate, but a politician who will deliver more of the same neo-liberal policies that both Conservative and Labour governments have followed over the past 30 years. Genuinely left-wing politicians talk about dismantling capitalism or radically reforming it. Miliband calls instead for a 'capitalism which works for people'. Genuine socialists believe in public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. Ed Miliband doesn't even advocate re-nationalisation of the railways - a move supported by a majority of Tory voters, never mind Labour party members.

If Miliband were a committed leftist, he would surely have been proud to have been labeled a Bennite. Instead, when the Guardian's Decca Aitkenhead mentioned 'the whisper' that he was really a disciple of Tony Benn, he went off 'like a shotgun' - as if Bennism was some appalling disease. And it's hard to imagine a genuine socialist accepting a donation from a hedge fund, headed by a multimillionaire trader who has profited greatly from currency speculation and the credit crunch. With his pro-capitalist, pro-globalisation views, Miliband is, in fact, further to the right than many European Christian Democrats, who believe that big shops should stay closed on Sundays and that the state should run the railways. He's certainly further to the right than old school One Nation Tories like Harold Macmillan, Rab Butler and Sir Ian Gilmour, all of whom supported a mixed economy.

The fact that Miliband can be labelled 'left-wing' at all is a sign of how far to the right Britain has travelled in the past 30 years. Back in the 1960s, the far-left, including Miliband's father Ralph, a Marxist academic, lambasted Labour leader Harold Wilson for being too 'right-wing'. Yet Wilson extended public ownership, set up the Open University, abolished prescription charges and kept British troops out of Vietnam. Today, Wilson's pro-mixed-economy, social democratic views would position him well to the left of the political spectrum, but 45 years ago his positions were mainstream. Miliband's policies - of establishing a High Pay Commission, of campaigning for a living wage of £7.60 an hour and increasing taxes on the wealthy - may place him to the left of his ultra-Blairite brother David, and of the ruling Thatcherite coalition, but they hardly make him Britain's answer to Hugo Chavez.

In the current climate, it's easy to understand why many leftists have backed Miliband's leadership campaign. "Diane Abbot can't win and Ed's the best of the rest" is the logic many seem to have followed. In addition, Miliband comes across as a reasonably likeable politician and came out very well in the recent MPs expenses scandal, being described as "a saint" by the Daily Telegraph for his low claims. But those who hope that the younger Miliband - for all his personal attributes - is the man who will lead a socialist - or even a social democratic - revival in Britain are likely to be in for a major let-down.

Those on the right meanwhile can continue to sleep easily in their beds, secure in the knowledge that in the next general election, Britain's three main parties will once again be led by men who think that capitalism is the only show in town.

But he is still the best hope of beating his brother.

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