Wednesday 27 March 2013

A Goodbye to David Miliband

After the speculation, kremlinology, rumours of plots, and Closer-style commentary, the brothers-at-war psychodrama the media loved to obsess about is over. In the biggest piece of expected news since, well, last week's budget David Miliband is to announce (and has in fact, pre-announced) his resignation to head up International Rescue in New York.

There is very little that can be added to the coverage already oozing from the commentariat's every pore. And because it's not the done thing to speak ill of the dead, even if it's only a political career that's snuffed it, I'll leave it for someone else to ask the tough questions about extraordinary rendition, the business interests, and expenses.

Weirdly, I have always quite liked David. Not enough to vote for him when it mattered, but he was a strange attractor for those of a wonkish, geeky bent. But I never understood his appeal beyond that milieu, especially as it was the other Miliband who was supposed to 'do human'. And of all the candidates who duked it out for the Labour leadership, it was David's candidacy stamped most clearly with continuity. As far as I was concerned, his position was too managerial, too technocratic, too tied to an austerity agenda, too close to those who would reduce the influence of unions, and too willing to fight the next election as if it was 1997 again. Unlike the candidacies of the two Eds, I did not think he'd learned the lessons of the crash and what it meant to politics. And when you had "crafty" Tories "letting it be known" to the press they feared a David leadership, well, faint praise coming from that quarter certainly damned him in others.

Another problem with David was the absence of any hint he would challenge powerful interests. Could you imagine Labour under David making the running against Murdoch? Attacking the Tories for their millionaires' tax cut? Committing to reversing the Tory privatisation of the NHS? Or sticking up for the very poorest by opposing the 1% cap on social security payments and the spiteful bedroom tax? Would David have proved any more effective in appealing to those swing seats Labour needs to capture in 2015? It is, of course, a question that will never be answered. But every activist in their marrow knows it's much harder to sell the technocratic politics of detail on the doorstep than a different but credible way of doing things, which, of course, will be the actual choice come the next election.

As far as the party is concerned, there will be a bout of mourning for some, and others will take David's departure as a body blow against the Blairites. But the truth is that current has long been a busted flush. It has no organising centre, no network of would-be stalking horses ready to defenestrate Ed when the time comes. In fact, the prominent figures most associated with that most ancien of regimes are entirely dependent on the leader's largesse for their position. As the axis of politics has shifted so too have the balance of factions and groupings within the party. Ed-Ed's position is unassailable and - at last - unions are playing a more active role at all levels of the organisation again. Even Progress these days reads like a proper social democratic journal (well, most of the time). If anything, what David's resignation underlines is the final extinction of the Blairite/Brownite paradigm. The shadow they cast over the party's dynamics have finally faded for good.

For those who still hold a candle for David, I'm sorry, he won't be back. He's done. But there's still a difficult job to hand. There is a labour movement to be rebuilt, a party that needs to be much larger, and the most ruinous government since the 1930s to be defeated. So, as you were.


Gary Elsby said...

Well, I suppose that's one way of describing current events.

The assumption, I suppose, is that those clownish Tories want to roll over and die and the two Ed's fight on for the red corner?

My pension is going up,my tax allowances is going up, I'm having a vote on Europe, freeloaders are being exposed and all this, before the Tories write their manifesto.

Would the Heir to Blair have been any better at Leader and do another 3 terms as his hero had done?
Of course he would. It would be silly to think otherwise.

Of course, his little kid brother who won the contest, didn't have anything to do with rendition or dropping the 10p tax level or advise on anything that was, "Gordon's fault" (that's Ed's line doing the rounds).

Personally, I think it is quite devastating to see two brothers torn apart because of this issue.
We know only too well in Stoke-on-Trent (Central) that cheating went on to accommodate support for David, as we also know that cheating went on by Trade Unions to shore up Ed.

Labour lost the election because of this and I see no reason why Labour should win any time soon either.

I should vote Labour for what specific reason?

Adam H said...

Gone and soon forgotten as far as I'm concerned.

Three sets of managers, one party.

New Labour / LibDem Orange Bookers / Tories.

Phil said...

As a owner of a small business, I'm glad you're thriving under the Tories, Gary. They know how to look after their own ;)

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the recent abstention/support for the retoactive workfare legislation tell us in which direction the party's really heading...?

Phil said...

No - as Byrne has made clear elsewhere Labour have always supported a system of sanctions for social security since its introduction in 1911. They have made clear that they will keep them when they implement their job guarantee for anyone on the dole for six months or more.

Anonymous said...

I'm talking about 'Workfare.' The Labour benches abstained in the vote granting the government retroactive immunity from a legal decision against workfare.

This demonstrates support for Workfare and hostility to the rule of law when applied to the political class. When push comes to shove, Labour supports the Tories. The rest is rhetorical cover. They're still the Party of JP Morgan.

jimboo said...

Davie boy resigns as director of Sunderland,a smattering of applause is deserved.

Phil said...

Well, no. The justification for the abstention , which I didn't support by the way, was about the principle of sanctions itself. Byrne and co believed that defeating the government meant all sanctions granted since 2011 - not just those forced into workfare schemes, but those who did not perform the requisite numbers of job searches too - were open to challenge and the large bill that would entail in compensation. He also argued those payments would have been made good from further benefit cuts, a position there is no reason to doubt thanks to the axe the Tories are taking to social security.

The problem is how do we ensure this doesn't happen again, that we can eradicate the poison from political debate on social security, and challenge the stubbornly high levels of public support for 'get tough' welfare measures. And, I'm afraid to say, angry rants on the subject might feel cathartic but it has zero impact in moving it all along.

Phil said...

Yes, even David draws a line when it comes to fascists.