Labour’s centre-left credentials in the early years of the Blair reign were impressive: the introduction of the minimum wage, the abolition of the assisted places scheme, more help for pensioners, removal of the hereditary principle in the Lords, huge investment in the NHS, debt cancellation etc, etc. The problem is that almost all of the these radical and socially progressive initiatives were carried out during the first term. Ed Miliband is right, post 2001 Labour was, on the whole, competent but not radical, managerial but not inspirational.
As Labour goes through the often tetchy, sometimes divisive period of reflection and renewal, Ed will need to emphasise the party’s centre-left credentials and spell out exactly what his ‘fairness’ agenda will mean in terms of outcomes for the British people.
If he is to have any chance of returning our party to power he will need to be ‘bold’ Ed, not ‘timid’ Ed. His stance on banker’s bonuses is encouraging and he knows that given the present economic climate talking about such issues could be fertile ground for Labour and will make life distinctly uncomfortable for David Cameron and his front bench.
Cameron’s Conservatives – together with few Lib Dem frontbenchers – are made up of the “right kind of people”, his people – privately educated and from backgrounds of immense wealth and privilege. Under Cameron, the Tories still believe that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views. For these reasons, Cameron is reluctant to get into a debate about the super-rich and what they should or should not contribute via the tax system.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies the highest-earning 0.1% of the UK population enjoy an average annual income of £780,043. This is around 31 times higher than the national average income of £24,000. Given the present context, and given Ed’s avowed commitment to fairness and equity, surely a national debate (led by Ed) about whether the very wealthy should contribute a bit more through the tax system would be most welcome.
These past few years the public has watched on in horror and disgust at the city traders who deliberately bid down bank shares, bet on the failure of key stock and companies and even – it is suggested – spread false rumours in order to line their own already very deep and very full pockets. If the Tories wish to seek to defend these excesses – in the manner in which, at the opposite end of the scale they opposed the minimum wage and defended poverty pay – then they will find themselves on the wrong side of the argument.
Past poll findings have often indicated that the public view Mr Cameron as being on the side of the rich and not the ordinary ‘hard working’ families that he talks about so frequently. If my own recent experience on the doorstep is anything to go by – I am a candidate for Labour in the May local elections in Telford – then the use of the term the ‘squeezed middle’ is beginning to resonate with people, particularly at a time when petrol prices creep up to nearly £7 a gallon.
I am half way through Blair’s ‘A Journey’ and agree with him when he argues about the need for focusing on practical solutions to problems when in government. The truth in 2011 is that we are no longer in power and can therefore take the opportunity to once again campaign in poetry, to offer inspiring ideas, radical alternatives and a vision of a fairer, more equal country. I campaigned for Ed in the leadership election because for me he was the one candidate that ‘got it’, and would be a leader who understood that the party needs to reconnect not just with middle England but also with its traditional supporters who are confused by the political cross-dressin of modern politics.
Ahead in the polls, beginning to win the arguments over health, education and the economy and even winning the odd by-election. Given the scale of the defeat last May I think this is close to being an inspired start by our new leader. Underestimate Ed Miliband at your peril.