Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Vis Unita Fortior

Over in The Week/The First Post, Neil Clark writes:

He's a 'washout'. His prospects are "bleak". He's the man "with the word 'Loser' printed on his forehead". He's the geek "who can't even get being a geek right". Reading newspaper commentators opine about Ed Miliband and his leadership of the Labour Party you'd think that the party had actually lost last week's Feltham and Heston by-election.

In fact Labour won it with an 8.56 per cent swing from the Conservatives. The party's share of the vote increased from 43.6 to 54.4 per cent and its majority rose from 4,658 to 6,203. Yes, turnout was low, at less than 29 per cent, but there's no getting away from the fact that Labour did very well in a seat which the Tories will probably need to win if they are going to form a majority government at the next election.

Moreover, the result was no one-off fluke: Labour has fought five by-elections since Ed Miliband became leader in September 2010 and has won them all. The reality is that far from being a "washout" whose prospects are "bleak" Miliband is doing rather well where it actually matters - at the polling station. So why is there such a disconnect between the critical views of Miliband's leadership we read in the newspapers and his actual performance?

The problem with Ed - as far as a sizeable chunk of the commentariat is concerned - is that he's the wrong Miliband. It was David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, and protégé of Tony Blair, who was supposed to have succeeded Gordon Brown in 2010 and not his younger brother. I remember speaking to one journalist from an august financial publication who assured me that Labour had consigned itself to oblivion by choosing Ed over David. "Ed will never get Labour back into government," the journalist assured me. "David would have been a far more sensible choice."

The dominant media narrative states that 'Red Ed' is doomed to failure because he's 'too left-wing' and a 'deficit denier' who is too soft on those awful trade unions. This thinking is based on the belief that only politicians who keep within the neo-liberal Thatcherite/Blairite/Cameron consensus - that free markets are good, that unions are not very good, and that privatisation is a largely positive development - are able to win elections in the post-Thatcher era.

But there's a big difference between this elite view and the views of the general public. As Seumas Milne of The Guardian puts it, "The assumption that the broad Blair-Cameron consensus - social liberalism combined with free-market economics, privatisation, low taxes on the rich, and a welfare safety net - reflects the centre of gravity of public opinion is completely unfounded."

Miliband is doing well at the polls because he's shifting - albeit very slowly - away from the elite consensus towards a more social democratic position which is more in tune with public opinion. His party has rigorously opposed Andrew Lansley's unpopular health reforms, which mean the end of the NHS in all but name. And they have unequivocally opposed the coalition's plans to sell-off the Royal Mail. Of course, Miliband can - and should - go further and pledge to renationalise the railways. As I have argued here before, this would not only be a vote-winner, it would signal that the party has made a clean break with neo-liberalism.

But the main thing is that Ed is heading in the right direction, even if media commentators, still wedded to a political model forged in 1979, don't like this deviation from the script. As a consequence, Miliband's Labour Party has become the political equivalent of Stoke City football club. Tony Pulis's team are continually criticised for their style - or rather their lack of it - yet they keep on winning. "They are doing much better than people think," Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen admitted after Stokes's latest win, their fourth on the bounce. The same could be said of Labour under Ed Miliband.

The political leaders who should be worried after the Feltham and Heston result are David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Cameron, as already stated, will probably need to win the seat if he's to form a majority government after the next election and on the basis of last Thursday's result, and he's an awful long way off from achieving that. Meanwhile Clegg's party finished just 88 votes ahead of UKIP. If the serial winner Ed Miliband is a washout whose prospects are bleak, then what on earth does that make the Lib Dem leader?

These people’s preferred candidate, the man who devised the Coalition’s programme and then some when he was running Tony Blair’s Policy Unit but who could not get it past Gordon Brown, did not win. His definition of Opposition, that the only problem with the cuts is that they do not go far enough and that we should already be at war with Iran because Israel says so, did not and will not prevail. Only his surname prevents his very necessary expulsion and that of his noisy but infinitesimal party within the Labour Party.

Since Ed Miliband became Leader, Labour has consistently been ahead in the polls apart from a blip, the first this year, after the insanely overhyped European veto that wasn’t. Labour has won five parliamentary by-elections in a row, the most recent, less than a week ago and after the EU carry on, with a swing of 8.5 per cent from the Conservatives, typical of the swings obtained in English by-elections under Miliband.

Miliband should remember all of this. He is clearly going to win. And when he does, he should regulate them all into oblivion. Such is their undeniable impact on public opinion that they might as well already be there.


  1. Ed Miliband is certainly benefitting from the Glasman/Lindsay influence. What chance you'll make it to the cabinet via the Lords? Pretty good I'd say, especially given the storm that will accompany publication of Confessions of An Old Labour High Tory.

  2. Enjoying your Christmas party, evidently. Have one on me.

    Seriously, he is certainly benefitting from Maurice's influence. Who among us is not?

  3. Once the next couple of books were out, would you accept a Labour peerage?

  4. How goes the Blairite/Eustonite response to your next book?

  5. In the nicest possible way, how would I know? It is a matter for themselves.

  6. Odd that responding to you, of all people, should be their last chance to show whether they have anything left to say.

    Philip Gould and Christopher Hitchens are dead. Aren't they all? This is their chance to answer that one. Funny how things turn out.

  7. How many of those collections in response to COLHT are there in preparation now? It has yet to appear but it is already generating quite a reaction across the spectrum. There's only one David Lindsay.

    The reference to Philip Gould and Christopher Hitchens strikes me as apposite. A pair of old monsters who did enormous damage but whose deaths were reported as the end of civilisation. Such has been the complete Blairite-neocon seizure of control of our commentariat.

  8. I only know of one for certain, but the rumours of several more, a lot less favourable from various perspectives, are quite strong enough to believe. Whether they will come to anything in the end, who knows? I have no idea how things get around the several literary and political Londons.

    The latest edition of Private Eye has the measure of Hitchens, calling him "The Hic", and printing supposed quotations from him on such figures as Mother Teresa ("A malignant little Albanian dwarf with a tea towel on her head") and George W Bush ("A great and brave leader with a brain the size of a planet") that might as well be genuine, so faithfully do they reflect both his views and his style.

  9. "The several literary and political Londons"? No such intelligence has reached me, I hate to have to tell you.

  10. Has it occurred to you that that might say more about you, sweetie?

    As I said, I almost never visit such circles. Your comment, I am afraid, rather sums up why I don't.

  11. You have probably not heard all the rumours, they are almost as exciting as the original book itself.

    The thing that could scupper several of them is that the factions said to be putting them together are so riven with internecine hatred that they might never be able to co-operate internally to the necessary extent. But your work is definitely on course to galvanise many disparate tendencies against you. No change there, and exactly what you will have wanted.

    I must admit, I have not heard anything from either the Henry Jackson Society stable or the Blairite and Euston Manifesto Group stable. If they fail to produce anything, it will prove that they no longer matter.

  12. The grapevines of these things are a complete mystery to me. It never ceases to amaze me how there is no barrier whatever between the heights of literary London and the most extreme political factions, neoconservatism included. Oh, well, they read and write a lot, I suppose.

  13. See that you are in full bah humbug mode today, making the very good points in this post but lacing them with digs at the "spoilt little rich boy" and the "West London yummy mummy" married to "journalistic royalty" who are getting the gigs instead of you. Not for much longer, it seems.

  14. So when is your book being published?

  15. Start of February, or thereabouts. Have been promised the galleys just after Christmas, and then all systems go. I am already well into the one after that.