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.


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