Why Miliband still matters

18th June, 2014 8:57 am

Ed Miliband looks awkward in most pictures. He is a geek, more interested in policy detail than grand claims. He would rather do a Rubik’s cube than watch football. He’s not the guy you want to have a pint with. In fact you won’t even find him in a pub holding a pint. People don’t know what he stands for. And he looks awful when pictured trying to eat a sandwich.

All of these statements are broadly true. Last week when he was pictured holding a copy of the Sun newspaper, the Labour leader only served to reinforce the negative stereotypes: that he’s no different from the rest; he doesn’t look Prime Ministerial enough; he’s craven to the same vested interests he claims to be taking on. Fair criticisms, all of them.

But all this raises a broader point I want to address, one that even the Labour leadership seem incapable of addressing: why exactly should someone support Miliband? Why support this guy as leader? And if you’re on the left, why not instead vote Green? Well, here is my response.

Ed Miliband's New Year's Message 2014 - YouTube 2013-12-30 11-21-35

Ask Ed Miliband what issue really animates him and drives his politics, the answer will almost certainly be: inequality. He understands that growing wealth inequality between the rich and poor is corrosive to society, and he realises that Labour didn’t do enough when they were in power.

But to really understand Miliband requires understanding how he works. Ed Miliband is a consensus-seeker. He doesn’t like confrontation, prefers not to pick fights and likes to build a broad tent. This trait is a boon in a party that has traditionally been riven by factionalism and is liable to start a circular firing squad at any given opportunity. Everyone in Westminster confidently predicted Labour would start massive infighting after being driven out of power in 2010, but it is a testament to Miliband’s hard work that the party has been kept together.

But this consensus-seeking attitude has its down-side too: Miliband doesn’t look like a strong-man on stage, he doesn’t act ruthlessly, and his bravery in apologising when he’s made a bad judgement (over the Sun picture for example) is spun by the newspapers as weakness. This problem is compounded by his unwillingness to do any ‘stunts’ (remember Cameron’s “hug a hoodie” or riding with huskies?) to challenge perceptions. He knows the media loves stunts, but also that he would look even more awkward doing them.

This makes it difficult to sell him to a jaded electorate, but doesn’t mean he is devoid of ideas. The real reason Miliband matters, and why the progressive left need him as Prime Minister, is because he is far more radical than any Labour leader in over a generation. Unlike most people, I read his speeches. If you don’t believe me, try Duncan Weldon (now of Newsnight).

The brief summary goes like this: Miliband says that since the days of Thatcher, the neo-liberal market model has only exacerbated the rich-poor divide and the economy has stopped working for middle-income and poorer workers. This isn’t just a British problem but also an American one, which deregulated and boosted its financial sector in tandem with the UK. Miliband wants to challenge this by upending how the economy works for people.

For many on the left, this all seems obvious. But doesn’t just challenge the establishment consensus, it also requires some pretty radical plans. But the intellectual heavy-lifting and the will is already there, the big policies will come over the next year as policy commissions wind up their work. There will be much more meat on the bones (though the party has already unveiled far more policy than any opposition at this point).

This policy stuff matters, not only because it represents a break from the past but because it will have huge consequences. And it frustrates me how many people lightly dismiss it because they can’t comprehend Miliband or think he’s too weak. Furthermore, he has united the party around a direction that may survive even if he doesn’t.

Of course, for the radical left this is not enough. For them it will never be enough.

The Green party for example campaigns nationally against all cuts to spending, but when they won control of Brighton and Hove council (their first), they implemented cuts just like Labour councils. The alternative would have been to set an illegal budget and cede control to Eric Pickles. They did the very thing they oppose, nationally, because it’s easy to make promises when you don’t expect to be in power. If the Green party were to ever be in government, they would split apart immediately like the Lib Dems. It’s easy to claim you are an alternative to the establishment when your ideals don’t have to come into contact with a diverse electorate.

The case for Ed Miliband isn’t that he is the least worst candidate, it’s that there aren’t many in Westminster who understand the scale of the challenge Britain faces in weaning itself off Thatcherism. Miliband is the only serious politician trying to work against it, which is why much of the press is so ideologically opposed to him.

Of course Miliband doesn’t have the charisma or presence of Blair. But many of the same people who criticised the latter for being full of gimmicks and no real substance now criticise Miliband for the opposite. I’d rather have a geek running the country than a showman.

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  • Dave Roberts

    You have summed the whole thing up Sunny when you examined the record of the Greens In Brighton. Faced with reality the rhetoric falls apart. If he becomes PM in less than a years time he will be faced wit the same dilemma and will have to respond in the same way unfortunately.

    • BillFrancisOConnor

      Completely correct. The Greens are awful in Brighton and were even worse when in government in Ireland (2007-2011).

      • treborc1

        Which is why people are voting UKIP, as if you did not know, we are not voting green because well to be honest we do not see it.

        What we do see are factories in which people will work, sod the dirt dust or smoke, work, wages, pay, and life, then we all die of dust inhaled cancer at 80 better then dying at seventy of consumption

      • Dave Roberts

        Shure oi didn’t know dat!

  • Colin McCulloch

    “The case for Ed Miliband isn’t that he is the least worst candidate, it’s that there aren’t many in Westminster who understand the scale of the challenge Britain faces in weaning itself off Thatcherism. Miliband is the only serious politician trying to work against it, which is why much of the press is so ideologically opposed to him.”

    Except Miliband isn’t trying to bring down Thatcherism (at the moment), he just wants to rein in the worst of it and give the poor a bit more money. Laudable, but not nearly enough. Neo-liberalism doesn’t have problems; it is the problem. Miliband knows this, I’m sure, but doesn’t yet have the conviction or nous to take it to the country.

    Miliband is, I believe, at heart a socialist. Perhaps he will surprise us all once in power and Labour will go on to truly reform the UK into something a bit more tolerant and equitable than the current dog-eat-dog society we live in at the moment.

    • Steve Stubbs

      Well let us hope he does not then outline his real plans in the manifesto. Or else he will make Michael Foots disaster look like a triumph as the electorate treat us to a majority conservative government.

      • Colin McCulloch

        If Ed was to be as bold as we wish, he would propose policies along the lines of:

        Statutory living wage.
        Public ownership and delivery of rail, mail, energy and water.
        Keep the NHS a publicly delivered service with no privatisation.
        Higher tax bands for higher earners.
        Clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance.
        Building genuinely affordable housing across the country.
        An end to the free schools fiasco.
        Rolling back of the punitive welfare “reforms” that don’t hit those they’re targeting anyway.

        No more G4S or Serco out-sourcing of our core public services.

        Just about everybody I speak to agrees with these ideas – are you honestly suggesting that the above are so radical that we would be crushed by a Tory counter-offer of privatisation, tax cuts for the richest, selling off of public assets, an end to the NHS and final destruction of the welfare state?

        • treborc1

          They are not radical they are socialist, what you need now are socialist in government or a labour party, what we have are a one nation trip to the Victorian period in which people aged 12 worked down the coal mines.

          Watch out for labour promoting school children to work and see what it’s like, whoops sorry they did that already.

    • Dan

      “Perhaps he will surprise us all once in power and Labour will go on to truly reform the UK into something a bit more tolerant and equitable than the current dog-eat-dog society we live in at the moment.”

      I would love to believe that, but I don’t have much hope. Based on how cowardly and weak-willed Ed has shown himself to be, I can just see him as prime minister giving into the Progressites and the super-rich when they start squealing about how unfair it is for them to be punished. I fear the likely outcome is that a Miliband-led Labour government would be even more timid and Tory-lite than the current opposition party.

      • Richard Dargan

        I don’t think taking powerful interests on such as the press and the energycos is exactly ‘cowardly or weak-willed.

        We have had too many political ‘leaders’ whose sole achievement has been to look good in a photograph, and have been desperate to say whatever they think their listeners want to hear, or have been like cushions bearing the imprint of the last person who sat on them.

        At least Ed is someone with ideas – and a streak of ruthlessness that is needed. Look at the way he took the party leadership.

        Suggest you have a look at Atlee who was sneered at as someone who was ‘modest with much to be modest about’ (or something like that) – and see what his Government did between 1945 and 1950 to reconstruct the country after 6 years of war, and the legacy of the depression of the 1930s. Miliband seems to be in that mould.

        • Barry_Edwards

          Churchill, the Tory press and, probably much of the Labour Party, expected Attlee to lose the 1945 election and be replaced. He had the last laugh by winning and headed a government that carried out major reforms despite having no money to spend. A socialist government does not need a large chequebook to act, it just needs to be certain of its priorities.

          • Richard Dargan

            I agree – cockiness on the part of the Right can be a dangerous thing for them.

            In 1945, however, there was a strong desire for change from what had been going on before the war with too many wasted and blighted lives from the thirties. There was also the matter of the returning servicemen who felt they had some right to a better life – after all, it was they who had been risking their lives for the future of their compatriots, so why should they not benefit?

            Atlee had courage and the determination to get ‘his’ 1945 reforms through. I think Ed also has this sort of mettle.

    • This is bang on. And unfortunately hoping for a surprise is also not good enough. If Miliband intends to carry through a set of radical policies which really does bring the Thatcherite era to an end he will need mass support and understanding. This requires him and the whole shadow cabinet to be far more forceful and incisive in their attacks on the Tories and far more sustained and coherent in presenting an alternative vision. The fact that he thought it appropriate to be associated with the Sun newspaper suggests that his grasp of what is required is worryingly limited.

    • Michael Bater

      The Labour Party is an Industrial Capitalist Party, that flirted with the free market it it’s Neo Labour days, & EdM is trying to take the party & the country back to this state slowly, to bring people along with him.

      It will take time to change attitudes of away from the neo liberal Free Market system, back to a Capitalist system

      Before anyone argues that they are the same, Capitalism & Free Market-ism are vastly different!

  • hesychast

    I agree entirely. The problems of the modern world need people like Ed.

    On the presentation front. I often want to wear a T-shirt saying “The Geeks Shall inherit the Earth” with a stylized picture of Ed on it. But I fear it might be counterproductive (but perhaps something “brave” like that would be better?). Without telling PR people how to do their job, I have no idea, I do wish they were able to do “stunts” that show politicians as they are rather than in the mould people imagine they should be in. I think many people would be happy being led by a nerd – as long as its a nerd that is comfortable with who he is – I and most of my friends are nerds and when they are comfortable they actually look kind of cool. A bit like in this Daily Mash article http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/arts-entertainment/iron-maiden-fans-somehow-immune-to-self-consciousness-epidemic-2013042666810

  • Dave Roberts

    Off topic but not by much. A piece on page 15 of The Guardian this morning. ” Top teachers needed to help poor white pupils, say Mps”. It seems that the Commons education committee as heard evidence that ” pupils from white British backgrounds who are eligible for free school meals have the worst exam results, a higher rate of absence and spend fewer evenings per week completing homework than peers from other ethnic backgrounds”.

    So what has happened and are the parents, grandparents uncles and aunts the people who are deserting Labour for UKIP?

    • treborc1

      How many time has this been said it was said under new labour it was said under Harold Wilson it’s the bog standard excuse from labour and the Tories better teachers, next it will be a million better teachers from Poland.

      • MrSauce

        I, for one, will not object to my children being taught by a skilled Polish teacher. I will welcome it. I would prefer it. I would take an Indian and a West Indian as well. Throw in a Chinaman, or woman, too.
        Far better that than the useless shower of teachers that I suffered at school.

  • Chilbaldi

    This could also be applied to Tony Blair: “a consensus-seeker. He doesn’t like confrontation, prefers not to pick fights and likes to build a broad tent.”

    But Tony Blair looked better on stage and on camera.

    • treborc1

      Not only looked he also had a voice and he had a plan and he had ideas they may have been lies but sadly he had a story.

      He looked like a politician with a purpose sadly we found out later it was to fill his bank account.

      Miliband had to look back to the Victorian to get a name to call his party then he got it wrong it should be the two nations not the one nation.

    • Tokyo Nambu

      “But Tony Blair looked better on stage and on camera.”

      And to the voters, who elected him with a working majority sufficient to see out an entire term three times.

  • Mike B

    I voted for Ed in the leadership and have never regretted it. Of course mistakes happen but that always is the case. I am more at ease with the general direction of Labour policy than I can remember being since I joined in 1983. Don’t get me wrong I have disagreements as well but can any of us project into a counter reality of Labour sticking with a Blairite agenda? We have an incredibly difficult election to fight next year. We need all our efforts to be put in that direction. It is a sad truth that the likes of Clem Attlee would be getting just as bad a press as Ed.

  • Jack Dees

    Spot on again Sunny but image is important as well unfortunately.
    We need policies soon.

    • thewash

      We have policies – with more to come. What is needed now is vision, something people can identify with and when coupled with specific policies – vote for.

      • treborc1

        tell me the policies we have I will truly be interested no caps or band wagons but bog standard policies.

        To build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, to abolish the “bedroom tax”, to
        reintroduce the 50p tax rate, to create two new banks, to devolve £20bn
        of funding to city regions, to cap rent increases and, most recently,
        to link the minimum wage to median earnings. Having once been accused of
        having vision but no “retail offer”, the Labour leader quips to friends
        that he is now accused of having a retail offer but no vision.

        The 2000 homes are basically not a policy because if the recovery goes ahead labour will not need to bother companies will do this.

        the 5p tax hike has already been debunked because Ball’s has already stated it will be for a very very short period so that is spin.

        Creating banks well OK lets see what happen and how long before they are taken over by one of the others.

        £20 billion to the city regions well I think that maybe the idea but it will soon be whittles down with two billion needed just to keep the NHS going.

        Capping rent , well we will see demand will decide that one.

        The min wage was to be the living wage but has returned to the Min wage it’s still way to low even with the few extra pennies he’s willing to allow.

        That it at the moment more a promise not really policies.

        • hesychast

          “The 200,000 homes are basically not a policy because if the recovery goes ahead labour will not need to bother companies will do this.”

          No it won’t. The private sector has never built in the numbers required. House building dropped off a cliff when government got out of the game. We will have to let councils borrow even if times are good and I think they know that.

          • treborc1

            the British Government commissioned a report on the lack of supply in the housing market. The Barker Report on housing supply concluded that it was necessary to build an additional 70,000 houses per year to reduce the real price rise to 1.8% per annum. An additional 120,000 houses per annum was required to reduce long term house price inflation
            to the EU average of 1.1%. The government commissioned a further report by Professor David Miles of Imperial College on the mortgage market. Among its recommendations was that Building Societies should obtain more mortgage funds from the money market in order to increase the availability of mortgages.[15]

            The Barker report had also concluded that an additional 39,000 housesper annum were required for UK house building to match household formation.[16] Barker was quoted as saying there were only a net 134,000 new houses for more than 179,000 household formations per year.[17] The figure of 134,000 built in 2002 was contradicted by the National House-Builder Council [18]which reported that there were 160,800 houses built in 2002. In 2006
            they report 185,000 new builds, which is above the original Barker report estimate of 179,000 household formations a year. In the 1990s, anaverage of 158,910 houses were built each year (NHBC figures) against 172,000 for each of the five years to 2006.

            Seems they were building above the requested numbers.

            But 200,000 houses built by whom Labour what labour will put money into house building interesting they have only do that on council houses, but these are not council houses.

            You can build a million right now and we still be short.

          • MrSauce

            There are plenty of houses up North.

        • thewash
        • John Ruddy

          “very very short period”

          5 years is very very short now?

          • treborc1

            Ed Ball’s has hit back at accusations that Labour
            is anti-business for bringing back the 50p top rate of income tax for
            those earning over £150,000, suggesting it should be only a temporary
            measure.

  • BillFrancisOConnor

    On a day when I hear that hospitals in the NHS could run out of money either this year or next – I wonder if the presentation skills of the leader of the opposition really does matter.

    • Rex Hale

      I see your point (triviality vs. substance), but one could argue that these presentational skills matter more and more when there is an important fight to win and allies to recruit…

  • markmyword49

    “likes to build a broad tent”
    Erm!!! Didn’t the last Labour leader but one take this route and look where that got the UK
    All the policy coming out is piecemeal and knee jerk in response to whatever is the latest media storm. The big policy should be out now. The voters need time to look at the policies and put in their ten pennorth. Ten months is a very short time to do that.

    • Tokyo Nambu

      “Didn’t the last Labour leader but one take this route and look where that got the UK”

      Er, it got the UK three terms of a Labour government with a large majority which implemented a wide range of broadly progressive policies.

      Remind me, when are the other occasions that Labour was in office for thirteen years with a decent majority throughout?

    • JoeDM

      The last Labour leader but one won 3 general elections on the trot.

      • markmyword49

        He didn’t do it on his own. He was the figurehead for an organisation.
        I’d cheer for the thirteen years if the two administrations had managed to actually profoundly change this country. They didn’t. They continued the liberal free market agenda introduced by Thatcher whilst trimming a little at the edges. I don’t see much for them to be proud of aside from the introduction of the minimum wage and possibly upgrading the NHS.
        They left the benefits system in a mess. They took away many of our freedoms in the name of security. They took us into conflicts that the majority of the population either opposed or were lukewarm about. They didn’t change the NHS into a service fit for the demographics. They continued to back a foreign and defence policy that clung to the coat tails of the USA. They left the public sector to pay exorbitant charges for badly negotiated PPI projects.
        All in all it was a wasted thirteen years.

  • nana

    if i hear one more commentator or labour mp or lord mention ‘the progressive left’ i will scream.’serious politician’.so why did UKIP in Doncaster,Milibands Constituency,get more votes than Labour.the northern heartlands are sick of career politicians,now we have political dynasties.enough.this london based political elite of this party,have kicked the white working class for years.it’s ‘all animals are equal ,but some animals are more equal than others’.

  • EricBC

    The main problem you do not address is that there is such a need for your apologetic. Your piece is conclusive proof in itself that there is a crisis of leadership.

    You acknowledge, in fact you list in detail, his multiple deficiencies as a leader but you tell us he should lead. After reading your piece, I find myself moving more towards the position that he should resign.

    Anthony Painter replied to me on this site last week saying, ”Thanks for telling me what I really mean. Very helpful.” He, like you, appear to think that what you write just has the meaning you intended. Well, that is a quaintly Late Modern point of view which has past its sell-by fate.

    The meaning which your piece conveys to me is that there is great disquiet about Miliband’s leadership for good reason and you are rationalising to convince yourself (as much as others) that all is fine with his leadership. But you are in fact, not merely failing in the attempt but making things worse for Miliband.

    We have a leadership crisis.

  • RWP

    I worry that he will not get a fair hearing on all the positive points correctly listed above – and he won’t get a fair hearing because he is “boring” and a “nerd”.

    To get people’s interest, you have to first get their attention – that is where he is falling down.

    It’s time for some the big hitters in the shadow cabinet to step up and help get the message out.

  • Max

    I am at my heart a young (possibly too idealistic) socialist. I would love to see a radical lefty leading labour, however, I think that Miliband has real policies and real conviction. Sure, I would prefer him to take a more radical stance on a lot of things, but Christ, he seems to be about the only politician who cares more about sorting this country out than aiding his own career.

    This article is spot on about the Green Party too. Lovely ideals, but totally impractical. I doubt they will ever lead this country, but Miliband’s Labour has a real chance to change things for the better! I hate Blair, he destroyed the core principles of the Labour party and dragged them far too close too the Tories. If we want to bring back real Labour, we need Miliband!

  • ColinAdkins

    Prefers a Rubix cube to watching football. Hardly, or at least I think he was in the Red Menace team which played the MSF team which I organised. As for a pint most of the team had a drink with us afterwards but kept themselves to themselves save for Mr Burnham (which is why I voted for him in the leadership election) and Mr Collins (Times Political Correspondent). Oh we won so please don’t tell the Tory press in case they allege trade union dominance over the party!

  • Robin Wilde

    As a student I meet a lot of people who believe the same things as Labour but who state they’re voting Green. None of them seem to know policies or the consequences thereof. They simply want to show that we’re all the same (though they can never tell me how we are) or that we always lie (though examples are thin on the ground). They seem to me to be the very people of whom Neil Kinnock spoke when he said:

    “Some of our number become like latter-day public school-boys. It seems it matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game. We cannot take that inspiration from Rudyard Kipling. Those game players get isolated, hammered, blocked off.

    “Those people who think that power and principle are in conflict only demonstrate the superficiality, the shallowness, of their own socialist convictions; for whilst they are bold enough to preach those convictions in little coteries, they do not have the depth of conviction to subject those convictions, those beliefs, that analysis, to the real test of putting them into operation in power.”

    I know the Labour Party can be disappointing. Sometimes, for the sake of the chance to put some policies into practice, others have to be dropped or postponed. But voting Green is not the answer.

    We saw what happened before when the country’s left wing split. It wasn’t the socialist utopia of the Bennites. It wasn’t the European social democracy of Jenkins, Williams and Owen. It was a hard-right government which utterly failed to be held in check by the opposition, who seemed more interested in fighting one another than defending the interests of those whose jobs were lost, who became homeless, whose communities disappeared.

    The luxury of voting Green can be afforded when we have a Labour government. But while we have a Tory government enacting the bedroom tax, inflating a dangerous housing bubble for purely political gain, and slashing budgets indiscriminately, aided and abetted by Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, every socialist and social democrat in this country has a duty to get rid of them by the quickest possible means, and that means voting Labour.

    Give Ed a chance. He might just surprise you.

    • Tokyo Nambu

      This. Every word.

      Self-indulgent Greens voted for Nader in 2000 to “send a message” to President Gore. How did that work out for them, I wonder? The only people who benefit from a vote for the Green Party are the Tories. If we’d got AV it would be different, but we haven’t.

  • Steve Stubbs

    Interesting mixture of policies that would work, ones that might work, ones that will never work, and some extreme wishful thinking in parts. Given the track record of the author, I am not surprised. Didn’t see any costings though, and given the policy that requires reduction of the debt, let alone the deficit, how it would all be paid for whilst cutting public spending is just not even looked at.

    4/10 – see me.

    no smiley face

    • thewash

      Costings? Why? Why should Labour provide costings when the other parties don’t?

      This far out from the election the number of policies provided by Labour now, is way in excess of anything you can see from the other parties.

      • If you dont cost it up front your oppos will ask for you to do it and if you dont have an answer ready they will say you made it up or you have said too little

      • Steve Stubbs

        Well yes, except that a badly thought out or badly costed policy becomes the target for all the opposition to shoot at. Thats why most sensible politicians play their cards close to their chests as much as possible. Get it wrong and it exposes them to ridicule. Perhaps the way is to espouse principles, and turn them into policies when the manifesto is published.

        • thewash

          You seem to want it both ways – costed policies now and stated principles costed in the manifesto. Which is it to be?

          • Steve Stubbs

            Read what I said again. I said that a badly thought out or badly costed policy becomes the target. Lets have policies that are thought through, that are properly costed. Then they stand up when tested. Failing that, stick to principles.

            What we have had so far are sound bites pretending to be policies. No detail – no costings.

      • David Lewis

        Costing policies is far more important for Labour than any other party simply because of Labour’s history in the treasury.

        People have very short memories which is why it is so odd that Ed Balls is still where he is.

  • Dan

    “But to really understand Miliband requires understanding how he works. Ed Miliband is a consensus-seeker. He doesn’t like confrontation, prefers not to pick fights and likes to build a broad tent.”

    I’m sorry, but that just isn’t good enough in today’s political climate. The Right are constantly picking fights and bullying the poor, benefit-claimants, immigrants, public-sector workers, etc. The only way of countering that is for the Left to point out that it’s actually the super-rich and employers who are responsible for the country’s mess. This is not the 1990s anymore, and people are not going to be fooled by some happy-clappy Blair-like idea that EVERYONE, rich and poor, can be a winner — people know that, in order for most people to get better off, there’s going to have be some losers, and Ed is failing in his duty to make the case that the rich should be the ones who are forced to make sacrifices, and is instead leaving the field clear for the Right to say it’s those at the bottom of the pecking order who should make the sacrifices.

    You say inequality is what animates him more than anything else … in that case, why doesn’t he bloody well SAY IT? Why isn’t he shouting it from the rooftops? We had a report the other day saying the poorest fifth of Britain is one of the poorest in Europe. Why wasn’t Ed drawing attention to that, saying it’s a scandal that that happens in a country where there are so many people with such obscene wealth? Instead, we just get triangulated, incoherent, fence-sitting statements on “fiscal credibility” and how it’s “not prejudiced to be concerned about immigration”, mixed in with only the occasional populist measure like price freezes or rent controls (which just end up looking like isolated gimmicks because he’s too scared to make a broader argument that there’s an element of fat-cattery at the top of capitalism who have gone rogue and have no morals and just want to screw over as many people as they can). No wonder people have no idea what he stands for.

    • MikeHomfray

      Largely because our electoral system forces parties to try and cobble together an electoral majority

  • gunnerbear

    “Ask Ed Miliband what issue really animates him and drives his politics, the answer will almost certainly be: inequality. He understands that growing wealth inequality between the rich and poor is corrosive to society, and he realises that Labour didn’t do enough when they were in power.”

    Didn’t do enough? Under Gordon Brown we had pension raids, a wrecked energy market, terrible public sector productivity even as PS wages went up and up, the sell off HMGs gold at one of the worst possible times, the throwing open of the doors of the UK to all and sundry, falling educational achievement (as measured in the harsh competition in the real world not ‘prizes for all’ schools)….plus of course we had a PM that simply, brutally did not and was not up to the job.

    • MrSauce

      Not ‘one of the worst possible times’.
      In fact, THE worst possible time in recorded financial history.

  • gunnerbear

    ” and his bravery in apologising when he’s made a bad judgement (over the Sun picture for example) is spun by the newspapers as weakness.”

    Because it was weakness…..Ed. has to appeal to millions and millions of voters…and the Sun reaches millions and millions….not just those voters who don’t like the Sun and will probably vote Labour anyway.

    I’d have had more respect for him if he’d had the stones to call in his critics – even in public and say,

    “Yep, I know you don’t like the Sun but if the other two are doing it, and with millions of votes at stake and in a World Cup year…..guess what….there was no way I was going to turn it down. It’s a grubby business sometimes but I’m a democrat and proud to grub for votes. I was putting down a marker.

    If you don’t like it….fair enough….but understand, I’m supposed to be standing as PM for the whole of the UK not narrow interests.

    And if you think you’re annoyed now….wait until we’re in HMG and real life decisions have to be made about spending and cuts and taxes and all the other stuff HMG does. Now are you behind me or not…..”.

    • Steve Stubbs

      Never ask that last question – the answer is usually not. Last PM who tried that was Heath (Who runs the country, me or the miners? Answer – the miners)

      Which of course lead to Mrs Thatcher with her determination to break the NUM. She however, unlike Heath, succeeded.

      • gunnerbear

        I was thinking more of Ed talking to his internal ‘tribal critics’ rather than the population as a whole. Sorry for not making that clear!

    • Doug Smith

      “the Sun reaches millions and millions”

      Miliband wasn’t reaching Sun readers, he was reaching Murdoch – letting Murdoch know he’s prepared to play ball. Cameron and Clegg were doing the same.

      Yet Miliband is supposed to be standing against powerful, vested interests.

    • Appealing to millions of voters can be done in other ways than by sucking up to the Sun. There has never been a better time than now to build on the widespread disgust with the tabloid press.

      • David Lewis

        If there was widespread disgust, they would not sell so many copies. Wishful thinking.

        • Most ppl buy it for the sport and soaps. Dont suppose anybody changes the way they vote because of it

      • Rex Hale

        Rubbish.

        Sun sales, per day, around 2 million
        Guardian sales, per day, less than 200k

        The tabloids are doing just fine.

        • David Lewis

          Is there any explanation for this?

          • Doug Smith

            The Sun is cheaper.

          • David Lewis

            I wonder what proportion of Sun readers are aware of the existence of The Guardian, let alone its price?

        • You and David Lewis should reflect on what I actually said which was that there never has been a better time to build on widespread disgust with the tabloids. The fact that the Sun sells two million copies does not disprove this. In 2009 it sold over 3 million. Then think of the many millions more who do not read tabloids and who are anyway only part of a minority who read a daily newspaper at all. Then think of all those who take the Sun for other reasons than its rabid politics which many of them treat with healthy scepticism. Then think of the fallout from the Hillsborough tragedy and the hacking revelations and the folding of the News of the World. Certainly many readers will not be won over by an attack on the ethics and behaviour of the tabloids but this has generated a widespread disgust for which there is plenty of evidence; a more courageous and principled stand by the labour leadership would help to build the broad coalition which is required to win the next election. The unwavering Tories amongst the tabloid readership are not necessary for this and should not be pandered to.

          • PoundInYourPocket

            Remember the 92 headlines…

          • Well its arguable that Kinnock lost it rather than it was ‘the Sun wot won it’ . In any event it is dangerousillusion to imagine that cuddling up to the Sun will prevent similar headlines next year!

          • PoundInYourPocket

            Remember the 92 headlines…

  • David Lewis

    `The case for Ed Miliband isn’t that he is the least worst candidate, it’s that there aren’t many in Westminster who understand the scale of the challenge Britain faces in weaning itself off Thatcherism. Miliband is the only serious politician trying to work against it, which is why much of the press is so ideologically opposed to him.’

    This assertion I suspect is widely held at the centre of the Labour party and is the encapsulation of why Ed will lose the election.

    • reformist lickspittle

      What’s wrong with it?

      It is absolutely true in all respects.

      • Tokyo Nambu

        Really? “Thatcherism” is an empty phrase. Thatcher was a cunning hard-right prime minister, whose ideology such as it was owned more to the endless parade of second-rate obsessives she had in her cabinet and (perhaps more) to her shopkeeper father than to anything profound. Her political success was precisely because she was willing to tack and compromise, rather than sticking to hard and fast policies, and her later failure was because she started to become less pragmatic.

        She had no great vision, nor any solid ideological centre. My vague-relative — uncle’s mother in law, something like that — was at one stage close enough to Thatcher that she got a box of chocolates each Christmas, which we dutifully ate. They were rubbish, all hard centres, and never had a key so you didn’t know what it would taste of until you bit into it: just like Thatcher’s politics. She had the social conservatism of the generation that grew up during the war, and a set of politics that were mostly a tactical reaction to the industrial conflicts of the 1970s. To try to make out that, twenty-five years after she left office, her legacy is an identifiable -ism is just intellectually slipshod.

        Given there isn’t a well-defined “it”, to say that Miliband is working “against it” could mean anything or, more likely, nothing. Thatcher was far more defined by what she was against than by anything positive, and to define yourself by opposition to _that_ is vacuous.

        • reformist lickspittle

          Ok then, replace “Thatcherism” with “neoliberal consensus”?

          • Tokyo Nambu

            How about “my opponent smells of wee?” Apparently, according to Sunny and you, Miliband is the only politician in Westminster not guilty of Thatcherism / “neo-liberalism” (whatever that means). It’s all news to Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot, I think.

          • reformist lickspittle

            Oh dear.

            And I thought you were in serious discussion – for once 😉

            The idea that we are at a similar crossroads to 1979, when a long standing consensus has become stale and discredited, isn’t exactly that controversial or revolutionary.

      • David Lewis

        You have just very neatly completely confirmed my point. Quod erat demonstrandum.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Where are the policies?

    Lots of commentators rattle on about Ed being a policy guy, a detail guy, a deep thinker, analytical, zen-like intellectual calmness.

    If that really is true – great! Ultimately everything rests on successful execution and that takes good policies, based on sound analysis, well executed. Good intentions are nothing until you actually put them into practice and deliver.

    Trouble is, we don’t seem to be seeing those policies and analysis. We had ‘Pre-distribution’ which if I were being cynical seemed to boil down to pay people on low incomes more, which personally I didn’t think was that insightful or novel, I kind of thought that was one of the fundamental aims of Labour party. The difficult bit, as ever, is how do you do it? What policies does it take to achieve it – then it all goes silent.

    Same with househuilding, we have this bold pledge, to what, be building 200k per year by 2020? But come on work with the electorate here, what are we going to do differently to achieve this? Give us a flash of this analysis and insight that shows how we’ve recognised why we failed before, the causes and what it takes to fix it, to deliver that target.

    If I were being optimistic I hope the manifesto launch might be like firework night, 4 years of behind the scenes preparation culminating in the release of an a explosion of well thought-out, detailed, costed policies backed up by rock-solid analysis, wowing the crowds. Policy area after policy area, amazing the electorate with an optimistic solution to society’s problems.

    Or perhaps it’ll be the shadow cabinet holding a few sparklers.

    • Tokyo Nambu

      “We had ‘Pre-distribution’ which if I were being cynical seemed to boil down to pay people on low incomes more”

      If only. It appears in fact to be one of those long-term, aspirational, wouldn’t it be nice policies in which the groundwork is done for making the UK a high skill, high wage, high value add economy in which the currently poor are swept up by (one can’t help saying with an ironic smile) the white heat of technology and become the cutting edge knowledge workers of the future.

      The problem is, you have large numbers of people who have been the victims of multi-generational deprivation which has entrenched not only low educational achievement, but also low educational aspiration for children (hence why the white poor have pretty much the worst outcomes of any group). Fixing that is not a matter of just saying “hey! cool kids learn coding!” or something, and it requires massive and well thought out intervention to deal with deep-seated issues. One of the key predictors of getting good skills is having a parent with the same, both because of the practical help but more subtly because of the example they provide of the benefits of having skills. To improve skills over those communities is going to take 20 years. In the meantime, paying people more, so they can live better and support their children better, isn’t a bad start.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        This better pay through skills theory has its flaws though, it’s inherently limited by the structure of the jobs market and the services people demand. Regardless of how highly you education your population there will always be jobs that are necessary but are low skilled.

        I certainly agree with you about educational aspiration but I think the other factor that needs to be thrown into the mix is around the jobs market and the types and skill level of jobs that are available.

        • Tokyo Nambu

          “inherently limited by the structure of the jobs market ”

          One of the most destructive things of Labour policy since the war has been the presumption that job markets are a fixed, zero-sum game. Hence all the nonsense about “protecting jobs” when in fact what they’re attempting to do is preserve (often) low-skill jobs in declining industries so that they can pretend to 25 year old men that the jobs will be there fore the next 40 years. Job markets change, and job markets can be changed. We don’t have to chase to the bottom as a low-skill economy, and part of that is industry and employment policy which focuses on higher-skilled jobs in higher-value industries.

          • Quiet_Sceptic

            Yes and no.

            The irony is that a lot of industries which people perceive as being old or in decline were often vastly more skilled than the service sector jobs which replaced them.

            The change had nothing to do with skills or productivity, only that the old industries made goods which were tradeable and so were in competition with countries with lower production (labour) costs. While the new service industries which replaced them enjoy protection from import competition.

            Then you still have the issue that a society has lots of jobs which are essential but low skilled – how do you up-skill fruit picking, or bin collection, or street cleaning, or delivering post, or shop work, or services like catering, or cleaning, hospitality?

          • Tokyo Nambu

            “The irony is that a lot of industries which people perceive as being old or in decline were often vastly more skilled than the service sector jobs which replaced them.”

            I don’t think anyone serious denies that, do they? It’s just that a lot of high-skill manufacturing skills aren’t needed over one person’s working life, not just in this country, but anywhere, either because the process doesn’t exist any more, or because it’s automated. That may or may not be a good thing, but it’s true nonetheless. And that was always true: the manufacturing landscape in 1954 didn’t look a great deal like that in 1914, just as that in 2014 doesn’t look like 1974.

            “the old industries made goods which were tradeable and so were in competition with countries with lower production (labour) cost”

            There were a lot, I mean a _lot_, of people employed in the manufacture of steam locomotives in the UK up until the 1950s. For a short while, those jobs went overseas (instead of buying from Vulcan and North British, the Indian and Chinese and African railways built their own steam locomotives). But not for long. And even had steam locomotives continued to be built, the skills required would have been completely different. The same applies to cars, ships, guns…the jobs didn’t just move, they changed, profoundly.

            “Then you still have the issue that a society has lots of jobs which are essential but low skilled – how do you up-skill fruit picking, or bin collection, or street cleaning, or delivering post, or shop work, or services like catering, or cleaning, hospitality?”

            Well, to start with, I was _disagreeing_ with the contention that up-skilling is a total solution, and wrote “paying people more, so they can live better and support their children better, isn’t a bad start.” But some of those jobs are going away or changing beyond recognition: shop work, for example, is in rapid decline.

          • Quiet_Sceptic

            Yes and no.

            The irony is that a lot of industries which people perceive as being old or in decline were often vastly more skilled than the service sector jobs which replaced them.

            The change had nothing to do with skills or productivity, only that the old industries made goods which were tradeable and so were in competition with countries with lower production (labour) costs. While the new service industries which replaced them enjoy protection from import competition.

            Then you still have the issue that a society has lots of jobs which are essential but low skilled – how do you up-skill fruit picking, or bin collection, or street cleaning, or delivering post, or shop work, or services like catering, or cleaning, hospitality?

      • PoundInYourPocket

        Nice phrase that one “white heat… ” heard it before somewhere.

  • PoundInYourPocket

    It’s interesting that the Labour Party have just dicovered “inequality” as a concept; just as they refuse to talk anymore about “poverty”. Presumably the aim now is to reduce “inequality” which as we know from the ONS data can be done by making the middle classes a little more comfortably off, whilst leaving the poor where they are. That shifts the income distribution in the “more-equal” direction. It’s also interesting that Labour have started to push ideas about “inequality” just as everyone else has already agreed that inequality is bad for capitalism. The neoliberls are already ahead of him in their disciourse and won’t offer any real opposition. What would be truly radical, and in opposition to the neoliberals, would be to actually raise the income of the poor at the expense of the middle/upper classes. That would alleviate the real poverty we have in Britain, and it would be radical.

    • gunnerbear

      At what income level do you become ‘middle class’?

    • Daniel Speight

      We can only wish that the Labour leadership’s discovery of “inequality” had come sooner. Never the less it’s at least hopeful that in 2014 they are at least using the word again. Remember that Roy Hattersley said that during the 1997 election campaign he was told by one of Blair’s bag carriers that the word was no longer to be used.

      Of course fighting inequality while supporting a neoliberal economic policy is close to impossible as we saw during the new labour period in office when the figures got worse. Keith Joseph, Thatcher’s ideological guru, knew this. Before her election he was giving speeches telling Britain that it needed more inequality.

      What we mustn’t forget is a large part of Blairite/Progress wing of the party still believe in neoliberal economics. Alistair Campbell was quite open about this just a couple of years ago on This Week. Now most of them are obviously not going to say that’s what they believe, but at the same time they will not offer any alternative. Just read Painter’s or Marchant’s posts and you will get an idea of where they stand. Miliband needs to find the courage to break from these people and make the fight against inequality central to his policy announcements if he wants to win in 2015.

  • PoundInYourPocket

    Sorry but your post has an artificial tone to it. Did you write it, or was it the party BBC micro doing its work? Or pehaps you are a budding author that reads the Spectator. But what gives you away is the phrase “young socialist” as no one has used that phrase since the 60’s and you seem unaware that there haven’t been any in the Labour party since 94.

  • robertcp

    Ed Miliband has done a good job as Labour leader. This why Labour is still leading the opinion polls in the fifth year of this parliament and has a chance of being back in government next year, although probably without a majority. A Blairite or someone more to the left would have meant something like the disasters of 1979 to 1983.

  • Grouchy Oldgit

    Ed will lead Labour into the next election. Labour supporters can either get behind him and have at least a chance of winning. Or they can keep mud-slinging and suffer another 5 years of Dave. Ed needs to focus on policy and on being himself, and fire his know-nothing PR advisers. Having the facial expression of Mr Bean he should also avoid eating in public and force-posed photo-opps at all costs.

    • Dan

      There would be little difference between another Tory government and a Labour government based on their recent pronouncements. I genuinely don’t understand the mindset that cuts are OK as long as the people carrying them out are wearing red rosettes.

      • MikeHomfray

        I think there would be enough for it to matter who gets in next time

  • deyika

    ‘Why Miliband still matters’. Wow. If this is the strident defence of Labour Party Leader less than a year from the General Election, I look forward to watching the desperate leadership election battle in the autumn with feet up and popcorn in hand.

    Sure Ed Miliband maybe the nice guy that that you would rather not have a beer with, whose policies are undefined (expect for keeping the Coalition spending plans, being ‘harder on immigration’ and having a ‘Welfare Cap’) but will deal with INEQUALITY, and is a difficult sell to Labours core supporters but no-one’s perfect.

    At best, Sunny points to a Labour government led by a ‘John Major’ type figure whose ‘radical policies’ will face a hostile Establishment. That will need a steelier spine than demonstrated in the ‘Sun’ fiasco.

    ‘Why not vote Green instead?’

    Are Green Party policies not progressive enough for Labour supporters? Do you think Caroline Lucas has better appeal than Ed Miliband? Did the minority Green Brighton Council’s plans get defeated by a Labour/ Conservative Party alliance?

    The answer is ‘Yes’.

    Wake up Sunny, it’s a new day is dawning.

  • deyika

    ‘Why Miliband still matters’. Wow. If this is the strident defence of Labour Party Leader less than a year from the General Election, I look forward to watching the desperate leadership election battle in the autumn with feet up and popcorn in hand.

    Sure Ed Miliband maybe the nice guy that that you would rather not have a beer with, whose policies are undefined (expect for keeping the Coalition spending plans, being ‘harder on immigration’ and having a ‘Welfare Cap’) but will deal with INEQUALITY, and is a difficult sell to Labours core supporters but no-one’s perfect.

    At best, Sunny points to a Labour government led by a ‘John Major’ type figure whose ‘radical policies’ will face a hostile Establishment. That will need a steelier spine than demonstrated in the ‘Sun’ fiasco.

    ‘Why not vote Green instead?’

    Are Green Party policies progressive enough for Labour supporters? Do you think Caroline Lucas has better appeal than Ed Miliband? Did the minority Green Brighton Council’s plans get defeated by a Labour/ Conservative Party alliance?

    The answer is ‘Yes’.

    Wake up Sunny, it’s a new day is dawning.

  • MrSauce

    Well done for finding a picture of Ed where he doesn’t look like Mr Bean.

  • RedMiner

    “Of course, for the radical left this is not enough. For them it will never be enough.”

    Ah yes, people having a job at which they’re paid a fair wage and not exploited as Workfare or, as per today’s announcement, disguised as trainees – ie: more unpaid free labour for the richest companies in the world at the taxpayer’s expense, is now portrayed as being an unreasonable demand.

    The sick and disabled being treated humanely, having their conditions assessed medically and not with the quack WCA, and the terminally ill not being sanctioned for refusing Workfare is now portrayed as an unreasonable demand.

    We’re now to be comforted by abstract commitments to equality, as though merely stating the fact is sufficient in itself. Ed Miliband says Thatcherite/neoliberalsim no longer works for poor workers does he? and how does he address this? by stopping their benefits if they don’t submit to their labour being abused as ‘training’ as they fill the lower echelons of the employment market with Workfare placements and sham apprenticeships in trolley locomotion and shelf stacking.

    How dare the radical left demand a day’s wage for a day’s work? how far we’ve come that such a basic principle can be portrayed as extreme. How pitiful is mainstream Labour that it now appropriates the language of Tories with its parroting of ‘hardworking taxpayers’ and ‘one nation Britain’. The Labour Movement has a rich seam of history and language of its own that Labour now appears to be ashamed of. Perhaps it finds it quaint or overly idealistic, no doubt it regards it as irrelevant.

    Just like the poor and those silly left wingers who keep insisting on reminding people what the Labour Party was founded for.

  • Robin Thorpe

    I like Ed Miliband, I think he is an honest and intelligent human being who wants to make a difference. But then I am a middle class nerd just like Ed Miliband. The people in my office don’t like him however and think he is a bit weird. That doesn’t mean that he can’t lead Labour into an election victory but it does mean that other people within the parliamentary party need to speak and get noticed as well. Labour need to show that they have a strong team who will work together to improve the lives of the people who live in the UK. This will undoubtedly mean giving those shadow ministers more freedom to speak their mind and show people their human side.
    As others have said, the fact that Sunny thinks it necessary to write this article perhaps suggests that there is a leadership problem. I think that this is true if you consider leadership only in the narrowest sense defined by a persons inherent attributes. Arguably more important is the strategic decisions that the leader makes; yes they need to be communicated effectively, and this is where the front becnh team need to come in, but the direction of travel is the key thing that defines whether the leader is successful. I back Miliband’s judgement on this.

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