Better dead than Red Ed

June 30, 2011

John Lennon once infamously said of Ringo Starr that he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles. In a similar vein, you could probably say of Ed Miliband that he wasn’t even the best Labour leader in his own family. His decision not to support the strike that is happening today is a reflection of that.

750,000 public sector workers are striking today. Their rationale is rather simple. It is claimed repeatedly by David Cameron that public sector pensions must be reformed because the present system is “unaffordable”. In actual fact the amount we will be paying less for public sector pensions, as a percentage of GDP, will decrease even without any reforms.

These pensions are not gold-plated. The recent Hutton Report on pensions (the above graph is from p. 23 of that report) had this to say:

The Commission firmly rejected the claim that current public service pensions are ‘gold plated.’ The average pension paid to pensioner members is around £7,800 per year, while the median payment is around £5,600.

In the civil service pension scheme, for instance, most workers receive a pension of less than £6000 per year.

(from False Economy)

It’s hard to disagree with Dave Prentis when he describes these pension pots as “a cushion against poverty in retirement”.

What the pension reforms effectively mean is that employees will contribute more for their pension and receive less out. That, as False Economy argues in the blog I linked to above, is essentially a pay cut. Or, as another blogger puts it, as a tax to pay off the deficit.

It’s true that these pensions are better than those received by the vast majority of private sector workers. Apart from, obviously the very rich. As the TUC briefing makes clear (p. 3):

In 2007/8 tax relief cost £37.6 billion – almost ten times the net cost of unfunded public sector pensions. This tax relief is heavily skewed towards the well off. 60 per cent goes to higher rate tax payers and a quarter of tax relief — nearly £10 billion a year – goes to the one per cent of the population who earn more than £150,000.

None of this seems like an argument to further hit public sector workers, who are already facing a pay freeze for two years in times of high inflation and what could amount for some to a 10% cut in pay.

So it’s easy to see why some public sector workers have decided to take the most extreme action possible to try and protect their already-eroding living standards.

And what was Ed Miliband’s response?

The Labour Party I lead will always be the party of the parent trying to get their children to school, the mother and father who know the value of a day’s education.

On behalf of those people I urge unions and ministers to get back around the negotiating table and sort this out…

The public deserve better. All sides need to get round the table and back to negotiations.

And he tweeted today:

For a start, it’s only a one-day strike. It’s not like the teachers have padlocked the school gates, starting singing The Internationale and taken to the streets until the government falls. If closing schools for one day affects children’s education so adversely, why was the decision taken to close schools for the royal wedding? Or close scores of them so that they could be used as polling stations on May 5th? To criticize a one-day strike because it’s hugely detrimental to children’s education seems disingenuous, to say the least.

I know that’s what many of the small socialist groups giving out leaflets on the march today, as well as people like Laurie Penny, want them to do.
But this strike isn’t about a revolution. It’s ordinary working people who have taken a democratic decision to strike in order to defend their pension. It certainly isn’t the start of an insurrection.

You can extend it to a march of people who wish to reverse the government’s economic policy. In which case, what about the parents who work at courtrooms that may be closed, who rely on Sure Start centres that may be cut, the parents that work at businesses like Thorntons and Habitat who are now feeling the pinch of the current economic climate? How is Labour going to stand up for them?

Ed Miliband’s decision not to support the strike doesn’t even make sense from a political point of view. I can only assume he’s done it because he doesn’t want to be seen as “Red Ed”, in thrall to the unions, but this seems to be mistaken. A majority of people have consistently said they are in favour of workers striking to protect terms and conditions. So Ed has ignored polls, alienated the unions who fund Labour, disappointed a lot of members and Labour’s core supporters, all for what? To stop a few bad headlines in the Daily Mail. There’s only one response for that:

And don’t even get me started on this God-awful performance.

I do think that Ed Miliband’s words say something about the existential crisis that Labour is in at the moment.

It’s becoming very difficult to answer the question of who exactly Labour is for, and what its core values are. There are those that Owen Jones calls the Blairite ultras, and Con Home calls the thoughtful leftwingers, who are essentially Blairites and believe Labour should support the cuts in their entirety. On the other extreme, there are some members of the no-cuts brigade, with every shade in between. All have different opinions on why Labour lost 4 million votes between 1997 and 2010, and all have different opinions on how Labour best wins them back.

At the moment it feels like he’s trying to please all sections of the party whilst appeasing the right-wing tabloids, and ending up pleasing nobody.

This blog will have much more to say about the direction of Labour. At the moment though, I get the feeling that this incident will have done Ed Miliband more harm than good.


Thoughts on Barnsley Central: another Lib Dem disaster

March 5, 2011

Before anyone starts designing “Ed Miliband: Prime Minister in 2015″ mugs, let’s remember that this was an average performance for Labour in Barnsley Central. Yes, they won 60.8% of the vote, but that’s almost exactly the same figure they won in 2005 (61.1%).

Even when Eric Illsey had a massive expenses-shaped cloud hanging over his head in May, for which he ended up being imprisoned, Labour won with a majority of 11,000, which is about the same number as Dan Jarvis’s majority now.

So there really isn’t much point in popping champagne corks in Labour HQ just yet. None of this has anything to do with Ed Miliband. He’s the equivalent of a new football manager who has just beaten two teams in the relegation zone in his first two games.

It is interesting that, as with Oldham East, the misdemeanours of the previous Labour MP simply wasn’t an issue. This is hardly surprising, as I remarked in the Old and Sad post-mortem, people care more about the impending spending cuts than who claimed what on an expenses claim form years ago.

In his acceptance speech Dan Jarvis quoted a lifelong Tory voter, a pensioner, who apparently said to him on the doorstep something to the effect of:

This Tory-led government is cutting spending too far and too fast. It’s bad for jobs.

(I honestly cannot remember the exact quote; I can’t find the full speech online and I saw it at 1.20am so my recollection of it is hazy)

I’d be surprised if the pensioner actually referred to a “Tory-led government”, but I am sure she expressed those sentiments about the spending cuts.

For the Lib Dems, this was an almighty kicking. After narrowly finishing second in May, they finished sixth (yes, sixth!) losing 5000 votes in the process. They were beaten into fifth by an independent, who is an unemployed miner with no party machine, and the BNP finished fourth (but lost one-third of their votes from May, which is a reason to be cheerful).

Alarm bells must be ringing in Nick Clegg’s ears, despite his protestations to the contrary. In the long-term, the fate of the Lib Dems depends on the state of the economy in 2015. For now, however, it’s clear that it’s looking disastrous in the short-term for them. Local elections in May could see them completely obliterated.

The big winners of the night were UKIP, who finished second. I don’t know enough about their campaign in Barnsley to comment on why they more than doubled their vote share (4.7% in May to 12.2% now). Judging from this billboard, they went down the “human rights” angle:

It shows that, strategically, David Cameron is falling between two stools. His attempts to “detoxify” the Tory brand didn’t quite work, as seen by the fact he failed to gain a majority against a morally and intellectually bankrupt Labour Party in May last year.

Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of Andrew Neil’s documentary calling for the return of grammar schools was when he discussed polling data which suggested that C1 and C2 types, the “aspirational working and lower-middle-class” that would have voted Thatcher in the ’80s didn’t vote Tory in constituencies like Birmingham Edgbaston because they were perceived as being “too posh”. It’s voters like these that cost Cameron an overall majority.

However, by his attempts to make the Tories appear “fluffy” he has managed to alienate a great portion of the Tory right.

This was well-illustrated by Norman Tebbit, in the most mind-boggling column I’ve ever seen hosted by a national newspaper site.

After explaining that Arabs “don’t do democracy”, defending the poll tax, taking a sideswipe at Chris Patten and referring to the ECHR as “mad judicial imperialists”, Tebbit goes on to say:

I still do not know where, apart from to a Big Society gay wedding in Westminster Abbey, the Prime Minister really wants to go.

Tebbit went within a gnat’s tadger of backing UKIP in Oldham East, and a few more results like that of Barnsley Central could see him fully jump ship, along with, potentially, a few more right-wing Tories.

I’m not sure I can ever fully understand the motives of people who look at this current administration and say, “You know what the problem is with the coalition? They’re just SO left-wing”. But there is definite discontent within the Tory right, and UKIP is picking up on it.

However, one still should not overplay UKIP’s success. They only won 12% of the votes: less than 3000 in total. It hardly sees them becoming, as Nigel Farage put it “the voice of opposition in British politics” – yet. Also, governments always get kickings in by-elections.

Still, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage will be happy, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg will not. For if David Cameron tries to placate the Tory right with some more “centre-right”-type policies, that can only serve to annoy even more the few remaining Lib Dem voters.

Unlike a few partisan Labourites I know, I can’t take much pleasure from the Lib Dem implosion. It’s like watching a friend you thought you used to know go completely off the rails. I can’t see anything other than oblivion happening in May for them now.


Ed Miliband should lay off the personal smears (that’s our job)

January 25, 2011

Ed Miliband’s main problem at the moment is that he doesn’t come across as Prime Ministerial.

I don’t mean this in the superficial sense, by how he looks or how he speaks. People can make fun of him all they want, and it’s pretty puerile, but the simple fact is that amongst the factors that will govern whether Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, appearance is fairly low down the list. If this becomes a factor, that will only become apparent in the Leaders’ Debates. Even then, the issue will not really be about how Ed Miliband speaks, but about what he actually says, and what he does before 2015.

Take Gordon Brown for example. It’s easy to forget that he was actually riding high in the polls for the first four or five months of his premiership. People didn’t mind the sagging face and creepy smile when they thought he was actually competent. The tide turned for Brown when he failed to call the snap election in October 2007. It was stonkingly obvious to anyone that he had changed his mind because of the opinion polls, yet Brown denied this was the case in an interview with Andrew Marr. This started the rot for Brown: then the financial crisis finished him off.

Much of the debate in the Labour leadership contest last summer focussed on the fact that the party was not just picking a leader, but a potential Prime Minister. Ed Miliband needs to remember that, and act accordingly. So far, he has not acted with the necessary gravitas required.

In the first PMQs of the year, Ed Miliband came out with his trump card: fungi.

We know that the Business Secretary is not a man to mess with; he told his surgery before Christmas that he had a nuclear weapon in his pocket and he was not afraid to use it, so we should listen to him. He said: “If you keep people in the dark, you grow poisonous fungus.” On this occasion, he was not talking about the Chancellor of the Exchequer – he was talking about the bankers.

I would venture to submit that if you want to convey gravitas, and look Prime Ministerial, what you do not do is compare senior members of the government to poisonous mushrooms. Let’s face it, it’s not very big or clever.

It’s not as if that’s the only Tory Ed Miliband childishly insulted in that PMQs:

He even put the Vulcan in charge of his policy on the banks – planet Redwood and planet Cameron.

Does Ed Miliband want people to take him seriously?

The real problem with Ed Miliband resorting to personal insults is: where does that leave me?

Or rather: us, the political bloggers.

Surely it’s our job to fling personal insults and lower the standard of debate? You’d certainly think so if you listened to certain journalists. If Ed Miliband starts by comparing George Osborne to a poisonous mushroom, where can bloggers go to lower the tone? We’d have to spread rumours that he was sexually involved with horses, or something.

Anyway, all this does raise a fairly serious point. It’s one that Andrew Rawnsley made yesterday, when analysing Miliband’s reaction to the resignation of Andy Coulson:

Among those saying that this raises “real questions” about David Cameron’s judgment is Ed Miliband. He may be right, but it is also a misjudgment by the Labour leader to enter this fray. It is a sign of a weakness on his part to want to score quick tactical hits on the Tories. That sort of character attack is better left to the media and his juniors. He would be a more prime ministerial-looking figure if he held himself aloof.

Also, when one takes into account the appointments of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor (and making Phil Woolas a shadow front-bench spokesman) one wonders whether people who live in wooden huts should be firing incendiary bombs.

Given Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, it’s not surprising to see him resorting to this sort of opportunism. Especially since at the moment, because of his policy review, Labour doesn’t really have any policies that he can talk about. Yet he should still be aiming to get the tone right, and come across as a potential Prime Minister. He’s not doing that at the moment.


It’s all about the Balls

January 21, 2011

First of all, it was great to see Ed Balls looking so solemn after Alan Johnson resigned as Shadow Chancellor yesterday.

A cat trying very hard not to look as though it had gotten all the cream, Ed Balls was one happy man yesterday. As he said in the news clip that smirk is taken from, he’s been involved in economics for 25 years, and would have loved the Shadow Chancellor job when it came up in October. He would probably have been given it as well, if Ed Miliband didn’t hate his guts.

I also get the impression that Ed Miliband wanted Alan Johnson as Chancellor so that he, as leader, could have more of a role in dictating economic policy. With Balls as Chancellor, that just won’t happen. Miliband has been trying to change tack slightly on spending cuts, saying that Labour needs to talk openly about them. I can’t see this line surviving unscathed now Balls is Shadow Chancellor.

Still, Labour’s front-bench team looks better with Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor. The only downside for Miliband is that he now has a Machiavellian, too-intelligent-for-his-own-good, ruthless Shadow Chancellor who will spend his time trying to become his successor as Labour leader. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before. 

One more thing: not quite a Fantastic Headline, but a Fantastic sub-heading from the Daily Mail:

Miliband forced to hand job to Balls

Which is wrong, on so many levels. Not least that he wasn’t forced to give Ed Balls the hand Shadow Chancellor Job. He could always have appointed Yvette Cooper, or even Liam Byrne, if he was really opposed to Ed Balls becoming Shadow Chancellor.

Anyway, that’s enough Ed Balls puns. The man has suffered enough.


My initial thoughts on the shadow cabinet

October 10, 2010

I’ve been at my parents’ house this weekend and went to two wonderful gigs (for more see the upcoming Musical Mondays). As usual, a brief break from blogging has meant I’ve now got lots of new blog posts I want to write.

For now, I’ll give my initial thoughts on Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet (as promised, we will be doing a thorough postmortem of the leadership election now all the posts are filled).

The appointments are a bit naff to be honest, aren’t they? They all seem to be more about strategy rather than who is actually best for the position, as Seph Brown has said. Alan Johnson is a David-ite and a good communicator, but isn’t necessarily the best candidate for shadow chancellor. He has said that his first act will be to buy a basic primer on economics. You can bet that will be quoted by the Tories every time he tries to attack their economic policy. The Shadow Chancellor position should go to someone who actually knows stuff about economics - which means either Ed Balls, or preferably Yvette Cooper, seeing as she topped the MPs’ poll. Instead, both the latter two have been put in positions where their talents won’t be of best use.

Also, Andy Burnham in charge of the general election campaign? The man who led the worst leadership campaign, if you discount Diane Abbot, and who seems to think that Labour lost the last election because they didn’t spend enough time bashing immigrants. I thought Ed Miliband didn’t want to outflank the coalition from the right on this issue? And as for appointing Phil Woolas as a junior minister, well, words cannot describe the irritation I feel, so I won’t bother.

I’ll doubtless post on this a little more in the weeks ahead. For now (I want to post this before midnight) I want to finish by saying that these appointments are those of someone trying to be too clever by half. There’s a lot of square pegs in round holes. Ed Miliband, see me after class. You can do better.


And the elder shall serve the younger…

September 30, 2010

As Cory wrote on Sunday, Ed Miliband has been declared leader of the Labour Party, winning the Party’s leadership contest by the slimmest possible of margins. It was the result that we had hoped for and predicted (although now is probably the time to confess that any impression of confidence in our predictions was entirely illusory, up until the declaration it really was to close to call). Watching the result announced at the Labour Party Conference, on Saturday, was, to even a vaguely interested party, a supreme test of nerves. The announcement was choreographed to produce the maximum suspense. The candidates were lead into the hall and seated, already aware of the result, although no one else was, all eyes on them trying to discern a hint as to the outcome. In fact, their faces completely belied the reality: David Miliband strode in, grinning and glancing at the people around him; Ed, on the other hand, looked like a man who wanted to go off and have a good cry. Immediately, Twitter exploded with tweets declaring the contest for the elder brother, even Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian, and the BBC’s Nick Robinson were fooled. There then proceeded an exercise in suspense that beat X-Factor, or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? into the ground. The announcer went through the vote distribution of each section of the electoral college, for each round in turn, and for each of those rounds David came out in front until the very last round when Ed pulled ahead with 50.35% of the vote, compared to David’s 49.65%.

This is not going to be an article to discuss the policy implications of Ed Miliband, as leader, or his current performance, except to say that I broadly support Cory’s analysis of what he needs to do next, and that those who elected him were aware of his relative inexperience and we can expect him to grow into the performance side of the role. Don’t forget that David Cameron was in a very similar position at the start of his tenure as Conservative Party Leader. Instead I am going to look at the response to Ed Miliband’s election. The notion of two brothers fighting for the leadership has captured the public imagination and arguably this has worked in his favour over and above Ed Balls and Andy Burnham. His victory, as well, touches on some very visceral emotions: he followed his older brother, almost exactly, at every stage in his career before finally supplanting him, at what could have been the moment of his greatest triumph- it’s almost an archetype. David Miliband has now stepped down, his defeat apparently total. Both Paperback Rioter writers are older siblings and we can appreciate the emotional impact. Ed Miliband’s victory doesn’t just have an emotional significance, though. David was often viewed as the natural successor to Gordon Brown, not just because of his seniority, but because he seemed to have been anointed even before Brown stepped down in May. Ed’s victory marked, therefore, a defeat not only for primogeniture, but also for the media and political establishment that had placed its weight behind his brother. The fact that this contest has not gone their way could not be more apparent from the subsequent reaction. To the “left,” John Rentoul penned an extraordinarily petulant article in the independent backed by angry twitter responses from David Aaronovitch and friend of Paperback Rioter, Darrell Goodliffe, makes a very good case for replacing the electoral college with one person one vote, comprising of all MPs, members and affiliates. This is an excellent suggestion- provided that affiliate organizations were allowed to maintain an independent identity- but it must be emphasised that Ed Miliband’s majority would have been greater under such a system, as it would reduce the weight given to the parliamentary section that favoured his brother. It is also worth remembering that David had the advantage of greater name recognition and overwhelming media support with endorsements from multiple tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. These endorsements, pushed for the days and weeks prior to the ballot, would have far greater potential to influence Union members than an endorsement from the union hierarchies delivered with the ballot. All talk of a “stolen victory” is hot air.

The tactics used to undermine Ed Miliband’s leadership represent an unwelcome importation of American style politics. Baroness Warsi, an emerging Sarah Palin figure, was given multiple platforms to air her facile analysis of the result and to implore Miliband to flagellate himself for not being a Conservative and the personal attacks have already begun (it’s always with the birth certificates!). Conversely, the virulence of the media response is in some ways encouraging, suggesting genuine fear on the right, of his potential to win an election and the direction he could move the country in. The Labour Party and its new leader need to hold firm against these attacks and start to actively take charge of the agenda. Make no mistake, Ed Miliband, is no messiah, but his election is a very hopeful development for British politics.


Red Ed Redemption

September 28, 2010

Ed Miliband gave a damned good speech today, and he needed to. After his brother’s excellent speech yesterday, many who had voted for Ed Miliband were probably wondering if they had made the right decision. This speech would have assured those who did vote Ed that they hadn’t necessarily backed the wrong horse. I’m not sure whether it would have convinced many ultra-Blairites of Ed Miliband’s merits, though there is very little Ed Miliband can do to appease the likes of John Rentoul and Oliver Kamm, short of advocating the bombing of Iran.

The speech tackled all the touchy subjects that he needed to address - his brother, Trade Unions, the “Red Ed” label, the deficit – and did so very well. It was really pleasing to hear a Labour leader talking about inequality (“What does it say about the values of our society, what have we become, that a banker can earn in a day what the care worker can earn in a year?”), saying that Labour had to become the party of civil liberties, and hear him support AV and an elected House of Lords. 

The Tories will complain there’s little of substance in his speech on the deficit - no specific cuts were talked about - but this was a leader’s speech, not a budget report. His position is a reasonable, realistic compromise – Labour won’t oppose all cuts, cuts would still have to be made under a Labour government, but the coalition’s position on the cuts is silly:

You (Cameron) were the optimist once but now all you offer is a miserable, pessimistic view of what we can achieve. And you hide behind the deficit to justify it.

A very good line, playing on Cameron’s “You were the Future once” quip to Blair. Hopefully we will see some substance soon, but this was good mood music for now.

Here comes the “but”

One of Ed Miliband’s team when talking to the Observer described him as “pragmatic”. I’d be nastier than that, and call him an opportunist. This is most apparent in his positioning on civil liberties: he voted FOR the introduction of 90 days without trial, which he used as the ultimate example of New Labour’s failings on civil liberties. Perhaps Ed Miliband only cares about personal ambition? He voted for 90 days without trial to ensure he could remain a loyal Labour MP and get into the Cabinet, and then rubbished it so that he could become Labour leader at the expense of his elder brother. That is an exceptionally cynical view of what he has done, but I am an exceptionally cynical person.

He also isn’t a natural communicator. The speech started poorly. Ed entered the room to an abominable indie song (I’m not sure which one, because I’m not that cool) and opened with an appalling joke of how David Miliband had “nationalised his train set” when they were kids. Ed’s speech got better and better after a stuttering start, and the potential is there to be a decent orator, but he can’t do jokes. He has the comic timing of a man falling into a well.

Can anyone honestly see him impressing in the TV debates? He seemed to preempt that in his speech by criticising X-Factor politics. The main problem with Ed Miliband’s style when he speaks to an audience is that it comes across as being far too formulaic. There were far too many examples of “I’ve met a normal person, lol!!!” in his speech, which was reminiscent of the first leaders’ debate. Maybe Ed has been playing around with the David Cameron random anecdote generator? Also, whenever he was asked a question by a “normal person, lol!!!” in hustings, he asked for their name before replying, which again feels formulaic. Just because it worked for Nick Clegg in the debates doesn’t necessarily mean it works every time.

Whatever substance there was in Ed’s speech will doubtless be overshadowed by David Miliband’s gaffe:

Despite describing Ed’s speech as “very strong” and “nerveless” after leaving the conference hall, ITV News claimed to have caught him on tape making a barbed comment to Harman, the deputy Labour leader, while his younger brother was still speaking on the stage.

David Miliband, who has stood by the Blair government’s decision to go to war against Iraq, looked tense and showed his displeasure as Harman applauded a key section of his younger brother’s speech in which he urged the party to follow America in drawing a line on Iraq.

With his own hands kept firmly apart, he turned to Harman and told her: “You voted for it. Why are you clapping?”

Now this really is a gaffe, as Michael Kinsey defined it (“A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth”). David Miliband does have a bit of a point here, but has expressed it in an extremely tactless and unhelpful way. I can’t see him being in the shadow cabinet now. Defeat in the leadership election obviously hurts, and a break from front bench politics would seem to be the best way forward now, both for him and Labour.


My Wishlist for Ed Miliband

September 26, 2010

Warning: The start of this blog contains some masturbatory self-congratulation. Please handle with care.

In our predictions for the Labour Leadership Contest, Paperback Rioter wrote:

The race between the Miliband brothers is tighter than Jamie Redknapp’s trousers. However, we predict that Ed will win on the back of second and third preferences (like Harriet Harman in the 2007 Deputy leadership contest).

In the event, Ed Miliband did win on the back of second preferences, and only by 1.3%, which is tight in anybody’s business. So a big pat on the back to us. A more detailed postmortem analysis will hopefully follow this week, but for now I want to pretend that Ed Miliband is Santa Claus and write some wishes for him.

I’m marginally happier that Ed Miliband has emerged victorious rather than David. A Labour Party led by David Miliband would probably not have been worth voting for, whereas Ed Miliband, judging by his words, is a better prospect for anyone vaguely left of centre. Not that he’s “Red Ed”, by any means: he was an integral part of Gordon Brown’s inner circle and wrote Labour’s 2010 Manifesto, which nobody will ever compare to the one written by Marx and Engels.

Still, a Labour Party with Ed Miliband may perhaps be worthy of my vote. So here’s a short wishlist of things I would want from him if I were to contemplate voting Labour again:

1) Don’t be afraid of shifting to the Left

Unelected journalists and media owners are trying to say that Ed Miliband won the election because of the undemocratic support of elected Trade Union leaders and their members. You’ve got to love the irony in that. His campaign is keen to stress that Ed’s election was not a shift to the left, but he should be bolder. There’s no need to redraft Clause 4 or start agitating for a revolution: Ed Miliband  just needs to put the things he has been saying during the election campaign into practise: continue critiquing capitalism and talk about social democracy.

Related to this point is: 

2) Don’t attack the government from the right

One of the most depressing aspects of Labour in opposition is that they have retained the same authoritarian, populist streak that they had in government. Ed Miliband has attacked Labour’s record on civil liberties, and it would be nice to see Labour take a more liberal stance on prison reform and immigration now he is leader. If Labour does not, it could be in danger of turning into a sort-of “BNP-lite”, with leftish economic policies and more right wing policies on home affairs.

3) Advance a credible alternative to the cuts

This does not mean opposing each and every cut. Labout must choose its battles carefully, but they must keep on making the point that a lot of these cuts are counter productive and unnecessary. Essential to this strategy is giving Ed Balls a high-profile shadow cabinet position, preferably shadow Chancellor, who was best in the leadership campaign at challenging the coalition’s economic narrative.

4) Support AV

Every blogger needs his hobby horse, and this is mine. Nonetheless, it is essential that Ed Miliband campaigns in favour of AV in the referendum next year. For a start, it would be silly for him to oppose the system that made him Labour leader, and one that was a manifesto pledge (the manifesto he wrote, of course). New Labour’s record on constitutional change was rubbish, and it is an issue that Ed Miliband could lead on. Also, Labour would be working with the Lib Dems in favour of AV, and this would show they could work together. This would show that a Lib/Lab coalition after a future election is a workable possibility.

I would have included getting Jon Cruddas in the Shadow Cabinet, but sadly he seems to have decided not to run for a Shadow Cabinet Place. These four things should do for now though, and I await the next few weeks with interest.


Our Labour Leadership Predictions

September 16, 2010

This is Cory and Hannah’s first collaborative post, as they start to morph into the Lennon and McCartney of political blogging. We jest of course: there’s no room at Paperback Rioter for that sort of hubris. Yet. Anyway, here are our predictions for the Labour Leadership contest, in reverse order:

5) Andy Burnham

Burnham’s campaign has undoubtedly been mediocre. His campaign theme of “aspirational socialism” is comically vague. The one substantive idea Burnham has had is a National Care Service, and to his credit he has produced a reasonably sensible plan for funding it via an estate tax.  This is certainly not a trivial policy; unfortunately it’s not original either.

Burnham’s main problem is that he lacks a natural base. He’s coming fourth in the MP recommendations, is unlikely to pick up many subsequent preferences in the other two electoral colleges (party members and affiliated societies) and seems to have little appeal outside the North-West. It’s laudable to position yourself as neither a Brownite nor a Blairite, but just being northern isn’t enough to be Labour leader.

Like Diane Abbott he has pitched himself in a very tokenistic way as the authentic working class voice; but unlike Diane, Burnham has emphasised his unreserved loyalty to whichever government he serves in. These two attributes of “working class voice” and “loyalty” could see him become a John Prescott figure, if you like, alongside one of the Milibands (preferably Ed). He reaches the demographics that they don’t, and is New Labour-ish enough to counterbalance Ed Miliband, if he becomes leader, without bringing any damaging right-wing policies. Depending on what happens to Harriet Harman, he could be a reasonable deputy leader, but chances are he will continue as Shadow Health Secretary, where he has been adequate enough.

4) Ed Balls

Paperback Rioter would like to put on record they have been, genuinely, very impressed by Ed Balls in this leadership campaign.  He has comes across as very straightforward and being very strong policy-wise, particularly on the economy, where he’s done a very good job on challenging the coalition’s narrative on spending cuts. As Hopi Sen wrote in his wonderful series “The Case Against…”:

Here’s an odd thing. When I ask Labour members who they’ve been most impressed with during the leadership campaign, who’s done most to improve how they’re seen, the answer is almost always – Ed Balls.

Again, when I ask people whose performance at husting most impressed them, the answer is again – Ed Balls. When I ask who’s done best in opposition? Ed Balls.

 In fact, Paperback Rioter would go as far to say that they would be happy to see him as Leader and thence Prime Minister (stop laughing at the back). Unfortunately, neither of those things is likely to happen.  

For a start, he’s very divisive even inside his own party. His role as Gordon Brown’s bruiser made him a lot of enemies in the Labour party. For every person who says that he has come across as personable in the hustings, you can generally find another who says he’s an arrogant so and so. He’s coming comfortably in third for the MP section, but is trailing with the members and affiliates, and is even in danger of being knocked out first. (This could, paradoxically, give his second preferences a decisive role in the outcome.)

He’s also very unpopular with the general public; most of which is manufactured by the Conservatives and the conservative press. Ultimately, like Brown, he’s not a leader for the 21st century celebrity-media era.  The vilification of Ed Balls seems to be driven by fear: as Sunny Hundal puts it he likes to punch Tories in the face.  The Tory Press will demonise whoever the next Labour Leader is, particularly if they start trying to propose any recognisably left-wing policies (ie any of them other than maybe David Miliband) but with Ed Balls they have a fatal head start. 

Assuming Ed Balls will not become leader, his strong performance in the contest, along with his economic background and hatred of Tories, could be enough to propel him to the role of Shadow Chancellor.  

3) Diane Abbott

Her campaign has been disappointing. In person she can make some very interesting, nuanced points, but her pitching has been awful, and she hasn’t gone beyond portraying herself as the token non-white, non-male candidate.  This is a shame because the contest could have benefitted from a truly radical left-wing voice contributing to the debate. John McDonnell would have been an infinitely preferable choice of candidate to Abbott, and would undoubtedly have performed better at hustings and debates. As Hopi Sen has set out in this quiet demolition, Abbot is not the ideal candidate to be head of the Labour left.

Abbott has no hope of winning this election. She only made it onto the ballot paper because of the interventions of David Miliband and Harriet Harman. At present she is coming a distant fifth amongst MP votes, but because she is the “left wing option” Abbott could do surprisingly well in the first preferences in the members and affiliates sections. She will probably pick up a significant minority of first preferences that should see her rise above Burnham, and by our reckoning probably even Balls, in the contest. This could potentially be bad news for Ed Miliband supporters, if she comes third and the result is in before she’s eliminated.

Still, Diane Abbott will soon be back on the This Week sofa, and all will be well with Thursday nights again.

2) David Miliband

The elder Miliband is the “obvious” choice in terms of experience. He held a major portfolio as Foreign Secretary, and has the head start with name-recognition. On the other hand, this also means he is tainted with the worst errors of New Labour.

David Miliband is also the most mercurial candidate; very difficult to pin down. He has backed a number of left-leaning policies, but has also been backed by the New Labour Core that he has tried so hard to distance himself from: Alistair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, Jack Straw and even David Blunkett.

In the hustings he has tried to square this circle by portraying himself as the unity candidate, capable of uniting both wings of the party. He has the support of Jon Cruddas, for instance, who we had previously thought better of. They co-authored this article. In it, there are platitudes drawn from the New Labour toolbox, aiming to have the maximum breadth of appeal but minimum commitment, however, there’s some left-wing platitudes in there as well.

His election as Labour Leader would hardly be a disaster for the party. Nevertheless, we don’t think he’ll win the race, and our prediction for Labour leader is:

1) Ed Miliband

The race between the Miliband brothers is tighter than Jamie Redknapp’s trousers. However, we predict that Ed will win on the back of second and third preferences (like Harriet Harman in the 2007 Deputy leadership contest).

So far, the polls say that David has the better chance of winning, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take them [NB - we wrote this last week before the latest polls that suggest Ed could win by a whisker. It's still far too close to say for certain, but we've stuck our neck out]. A poll of Labour councillors, for instance, is unrepresentative of Labour members as a whole. Also, because of Labour’s, er, questionable electoral system, individuals can have as many as five or six votes, depending on how many affiliated societies they are a member of. The only trend that we can be sure of is that Ed Miliband has been steadily gaining ground on David throughout this contest.

There is an element of opportunism in Ed Miliband’s campaign: such as his late conversion to full gay marriage after it became clear that his hesitancy over the issue was costing him support. He has the potential to be a very good communicator, and is telegenic, but there is an appearance of timidity in his interviews at the moment.

Ed Miliband does seem to have an underlying hint of steel, though.   Not every politician would have challenged his own brother, certainly not at such an early stage in his career, and his platform marks a radical break from Labour’s recent history which, contrary to many commentators’ views, is neither an easy nor certain strategy.  This boldness, though not without a hint of tactical positioning, bodes well for his potential as leader, certainly when compared to David Miliband’s dithering.

We think, and hope, Ed Miliband will win but it’s far from certain. An Ed Miliband leadership wouldn’t be perfect but we’d certainly be comfortable with it. His policies have been very promising, and he has shaped the debate more than any other candidate. Perhaps most importantly, a victory for him would be a symbolic break from New Labour. Although he seeks to distance himself from Blair’s patronage, a victory for David Miliband would be seen as a vindication of “The Project” and a mandate for continuity.  A win for the upstart, though it would hardly herald a Socialist Utopia, would indicate a desire for change and a fundamental re-evaluation of the direction of the Labour Party.


Blogging the Labour Leadership Contest Part 3 – The Sky News Hustings

September 7, 2010

The Labour Leadership Hustings on Sky News was rather interesting. I have seen so few campaign events this summer, because I thought that would be the best way to preserve my sanity, but I’m guessing that the slogans that the candidates used were identical to those at the other 7,284,357 hustings thus far. “Slogans” being the operative word – Adam Boulton only allowed each candidate to speak for thirty seconds. This barely gave them enough time to give a soundbite, let alone time to engage in meaningful debate.

Here’s my summary on how each candidate did, starting with who I found most impressive:

1) David Miliband

He’s articulate and animated, rather than passionate. There’s still an air of the Blairite about him and his policies, which he’ll probably never shake off. His definition of socialism (“we can achieve more together than we can apart”) sounds like something Blair would have said. Come to think of it, it could just as easily be a quotation from Glee or High School Musical. But his criticism of New Labour – that it was too top-down – was the most acute of all five candidates.

Another point of his that stuck out is his point on New Labour’s record: “If we trash our record, nobody will believe us in the future”, and listed some of the positive things Labour had done as a government, such as introducing the minimum wage and rebuilding schools.

It’s amusing that David Miliband still defends this record so staunchly when Tony Blair has already begun to trash it. If you were going to list ten Labour achievements, you’d be hard-pressed, but along with the minimum wage and Sure Start centres you would surely have the ban on fox hunting and the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. Odd, then, that Blair should list these as his two biggest regrets as Prime Minister.

All in all, David Miliband performed best in the debate, and is probably Labour’s best chance for a win in a 2015 election. Although that begs the question of whether a Labour party led by David Miliband is worth electing. We’ll have to wait and see.

2) Ed Balls

He continues to impress in this leadership campaign. He answered questions well, wasn’t starey-eyed, showed a sense of humour and was good on the economy. One thing he said that surprised me: he relayed a conversation he’d had with Tony Blair while he was PM, in which Blair said he thought the average income in Britain was between £40,000-60,000 a year. Which is an astonishing anecdote if true.

However, the debate showed the problems Labour will have when they make points on the economy. When Balls and Diane Abbott spoke of the need not to cut your way out of recession, the Labour supporters on one side of the debating hall were applauding. On the other side of the room, made up of independent voters, but there were lots of crossed arms and silence. Labour’s biggest problem is on the economy, and one this blog will be returning to.

3) Andy Burnham

He is perhaps lucky that I was in the kitchen whilst the immigration debate was going on, because some of the things he has said on the issue have been immensely irritating. Nonetheless, he is a good communicator who spoke of his passion for the NHS and dislike of the 10p tax abolition, both of which are laudable.

“ELITES” is what’s written in my notebook from his closing speech. Labour needs to breakdown the London based elites and stop pandering to rich elites. Metropolitan elites were also mentioned by Burnham. Instead, Burnham reckons they should give the job to a Northerner. They won’t stop pandering to elites or make a Northerner Labour leader, but someone needs to say these things.

4) Diane Abbott

Ah, Diane. The token lefty. Not surprisingly, on this Unlock Democracy quiz, I matched up with her views overwhelmingly. But as a debater and potential leader she doesn’t cut it. I stopped listening to her eventually, and just watched her gesticulating with her pen, jabbing it towards the person she was making her point to like it was the world’s worst taser.

Before I stopped listening she got applause for mentioning she voted against Iraq and said she could appeal to Middle England because of her appearances on This Week (which makes you wonder what type of mushrooms she’d eaten that morning).

5) Ed Miliband

I’ve not just put Ed Miliband bottom because he’s a poor communicator. He comes across as a very intelligent man who struggles to put his points forward in clear, straightforward language – like Gordon Brown in that respect.

I also got sick of him constantly repeating himself. The others had a number of points they wanted to make, and generally answered the question directly. Ed Miliband twisted every answer into trashing New Labour’s record. “Courage to Change” was his mantra, and I wrote it in my notebook in LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS. It’s now etched into my brain. He not only came across as one-dimensional, but this line of attack from Ed is not credible, as I’ve pointed out.

Simon Hoggart was fond of saying that Michael Heseltine was excellent at finding the clitoris of the Conservative Party. Ed Miliband has spent his whole leadership campaign trying to find the Labour Party’s clitoris. If I may be allowed to persevere with this extremely inadvisable sexual metaphor, it seems to me that he is whispering sweet nothings into Labour members’ ears, about Iraq, civil liberties and everything else, not because he really means them, but because Ed thinks that this way he can get into the Labour Party’s knickers. Once that has been achieved, he will abandon his left-wing admirers, making them feel angry, hurt and betrayed.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Voting began last week, and the Labour leader will be unveiled on the 25th. At some point this week Hannah and I will be sitting down in our smoking jackets, drinking brandy and smoking cigars, and making our predictions on the Labour leadership race. Watch this space…


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