Saturday 14 September 2013

On Ed Miliband's "Weakness"

Riddle me this. There is a man who ducks every serious fight, is running scared of backbench rebellions and right royally screwed up a pivotal moment of his political career at the very moment the world was watching. There is another man who launched himself into the front rank of politics by disregarding the ambition of his elder brother, and has since stood up to the media mogul British politicians have, for generations, genuflected to, and is setting about re-establishing the relationship his party has with its traditional funders. By any measure, regardless of the politics involved, who sounds tougher? Well, according to the media, it is our PM, Dave, a man who relishes making "tough choices" where the living standards of the poor and vulnerable are concerned. That, we're told is leadership. That's strength.

We all have myths we tell ourselves, and that is of true as politics as anything else. For example, when I used to peddle a certain left wing newspaper, I can remember saying to more than one comrade that of the thousands of papers we had sold over the years out there, somewhere, in Stoke-on-Trent are people who have read it, agree with it, and inevitably will act upon it. This hidden mass of sympathetic readers never materialised but it was something that helped keep you going and at least was plausible on the law of averages alone. Hope springs eternal, as they say.

If you step away from the toxicity of the Tory party and its paid little helpers that pepper the commentariat, the Conservatives are in a very weak position. Their economic recovery, which has been achieved by doing absolutely nothing for three years, is one that benefits the well-off at the expense of ordinary workers and our most poor and vulnerable people. Their party is menaced from the right by a populist pretender to the Tory crown. The party organisation itself is in such a state of collapse that it will find it a struggle to carry out the more labour intensive demands of campaigning. And to top it all off, despite not having any policies to speak of, *and* the avalanche of vicious attacks on Ed Miliband's character, Labour remains stubbornly ahead in the polls. The Tories need a crutch, something they can lean on to pretend that everything will be alright. The zombie facts regurgitated week in, week out at Prime Minister's Questions are one set of supports. And the other? Ed Miliband's weakness.

Of course, the Tories and Tory commentators know this isn't true. But where the defence of power is concerned, what trifle is truth? Their only hope is to be as negative as possible, to be as relentlessly base and divisive as they can get away with, to be complacent and pretend everything is healing on their watch. They do this because while they want to, the desperation of their situation simply means they have to.

Ed's imagined weakness is here to stay, sadly. But the best way to tackle it is by refusing to play their game. This government's record is appalling, and every one of their actions demands a positive alternative. At next week's conference that alternative must take form. Voters have to have an idea of what they'll be voting for in a little over a year-and-a-half's time. Because if Labour doesn't develop its own positions and sticks to them, the more the Tory story will play in the media and given the leader's propensity to take Westminster Bubble concerns too seriously, the more likely it is he'll succumb to battling them on their terms.


Speedy said...

I disagree, I think Ed's weakness is real as it is reflected by his indecisiveness. Labour needs to come out with a clear, headline grabbing manifesto NOW and then defend it up until the next election. It needs to be along 1945 lines, in so much as it needs to be radical and give people the hope they are crying out for, and the change - one they can imagine.

It needs to be based on one idea - let's call it The Fair Society - and needs stand out policies like:

1. Defence of NHS from privatisation forever and reversal of Coalition policies
2. Phasing out of private education and health, retaining schools and health services themselves but "nationalising" them and making them places of excellence, like the old grammars.
3. National work service for 18 to 25 year olds out of work
4. Separation of religion and state, banning of religious schools
5. A written constitution along the aspirational lines of the US
6. House of Lords full election (but keep the name - continuity also counts)

And achieve all this in 5 years. BB may no longer give a damn, but we still need to build a New England because the old one's fucked and the people can see it even if the politicians cant.

Phil said...

You might like that, I might like that. But what's the point in "boldness" if it doesn't win?

So goes the electoral calculus argument anyway.

Whether Ed is weak or not is ultimately a pointless exercise as it will get nowhere. What I am interested in is that a) he is clearly a more substantial and risk-taking leader than Dave, and b) the Tories are desperately flogging any negative meme they think will win them votes.

The new one today doing the rounds is vote UKIP, get Labour. You can smell their desperation.

Speedy said...

Yes I know, but even so I would like to see it "tested" - ok i came up with these in a "speedy" manner but not without thought: these improve the condition for the squeezed middle.

They hit the 5 per cent who wouldn't vote for them anyway.

They are radical without bringing national issues in to play, like nuclear disarmament or even nationalisation - policies that would have a "national" knock on one way or anther.

Therefore they are radical but popular (if presented well - and aggressively. I particualrly liked turning Eton into a "centre of excellence" say open to national competition). Of course they won;t change everything - the bourgeois will still win the postcode lottery etc, but they would go a long way to making a more equal society.

Although I agree no one would dare take the risk of offending the Daily Telegraph. However, they'll be against them anyway...