I suggested the following about eighteen months ago:
Is there any chance that Labour – with its “One Nation” mantra – has all along been triangulating not for a David Cameron (II) at all but, instead, for a UKIP – in one potentially unhappy shape or another?
The resulting plan being to convince all us progressive souls to continue voting as we were – on the understanding that Labour will keep slyly hidden from the rest of the electorate until after the next election its true instincts and values.
Ingenious approach, right? Even – in the light of disagreeable 20th century history – intelligently, usefully and wisely prescient.
So just forget Cameron & Co, and hope this is the case: that One Nation Labour was always designed with a UKIP in mind.
And in the hands of competent political operators (ie the sort of people I don’t ever find it easy to agree with or condone), this is exactly what could have happened. But, unfortunately, the reality is that uncorking bottles of evil-smelling liquids generally lets off uncontrollable gases – gases which then proceed to do all sorts of horrible things to the environment. As I concluded in that piece:
Because if this isn’t the plan, if this isn’t the explanation for the outflanking wearily quoted in full above, I really do wonder how anyone in my dearly beloved movement expects us to believe that One Nation Labour won’t itself become that UKIP we all fear – but all on its triangulatory and ingenious lonesome.
Meanwhile, today I’d like to go a bit further. In suggesting that One Nation Labour was aimed at preventing UKIP, even as it would become UKIP instead, I think there was something I got wrong. Ed Miliband, early on, rightly won all kinds of plaudits for calling out bravely on the big issues which frightened everyone else into a poverty-stricken silence. From phone-hacking to energy prices, what he said right at the beginning shortly became received opinion. And so his populism – for that is the right term – developed a measured and comfortable streak few populists have managed to achieve.
Unfortunately, this also laid the building blocks for a successful UKIP-ism: that is to say, whilst One Nation Labour was designed from the ground up not only to vanquish Cameron (II) but also keep the miserable elements of the United Kingdom’s unconverted prejudiced sides at bay, it was always going to be a highly risky project from start to end: triangulating into the murky waters of Farage’s primeval soup (he’d call it beer – but let me assure you that Farage’s favourite tipple comes more out of a cauldron than a cask) was always going to mean that attention once drawn could not necessarily be safely marshalled.
However, the problem for Miliband isn’t only the uncorked genie. It’s also that however hard he tries, his once measured populism will become tainted with overtones of UKIP-ism. Any populism, in fact, of any kind at all, will now only serve to draw us inexorably back, magnetised as we are, to the compass of the next few months that is Our Mate Nigel. Not only has Miliband failed to use One Nation Labour to do what it was meant to do (ie make of Labour a natural channel of potential UKIP support), he’s allowed the resulting failure to squeeze him out of the only discourse which unequivocally set him apart from all the politicians around him – not only past and present but inevitably, in the light of such failure, the future too.
The discourse in question being? The measured and comfortable – where not comforting – populism of a decently reconverted social democracy’s tinkering.
A reconverted tinkering aimed at a lot more than just the edges of the once allegedly permissible.
The once allegedly permissible which now, as it stands, in the face of terrible austerity multiplying, is manifestly insufficient.
Miliband’s blown it, I’m sorry to say. And not because he was the wrong man for the job; rather, because he didn’t carry it through as he initially perceived it.