Sep 252013

Ed Miliband clearly, cogently and coherently defined a generation yesterday.

As Peter Oborne succinctly points out:

[...] Mr Miliband is not the leader of some virtual political party, constructed by focus group experts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He represents a great political movement, and it is his job to speak on behalf of the underprivileged and the disenfranchised.

These words from Mr Oborne made me want to weep.  At last, I might add.  At last.

As all great leaders must, Ed Miliband’s challenge is to define generations.  To define epochs.  To define political cycles.  Through his words, through his demeanour, through his desire – and ability – to talk directly to the people, he can open up, for such a generation, a series of freedoms currently boxed in by a quite different stratum of society.

That is to say, by those Oborne’s newspaper might be suspected of supporting.

And for those Oborne describes as underprivileged and disenfranchised.

I think, with his latest speech, Mr Miliband is achieving the challenge he has set himself.  More importantly, the challenge he has set us.

We cannot doubt his sincerity – nor, indeed, his accuracy when he describes the Britain we see around us.

At least for those of us who do not live in the nicer parts of the leafy Londons of this world.

So the first step has been taken.

All that remains – the most important, the most inevitable, the most unavoidable step we must dare to take – is discovery!  Discovery as to exactly how to forge a winning majority.  And, as Spanish football writers would always underline, it’s not enough just to win.  You have to win beautifully too.

Through your words, through your demeanour, through your desire and ability to directly communicate.

The discovery in question will help define whether Mr Miliband’s generation is big enough to enfranchise the underprivileged or not.

What a wonderful goal!  What a wonderful challenge!  What a wonderful political party Miliband (Ed) is allowing to emerge!  When a Labour leader can proudly and unreservedly state what he has now revealed in public … that truly is a discovery well worth witnessing.

We have rediscovered a flag to wave.  We have rediscovered a party to fight for.  We have rediscovered we are proudly unbowed.  And that, Mr Miliband, in itself, for now anyhow, justifies your leadership a thousand times over.

Jun 262013

I’ve just read Peter Watt’s book “Inside Out”.  I read it in just two sittings.  It’s been quite a while since I last read a book in such a short period of time.  It’s not a long book; round about the same as my favourite Fitzgerald book in length.  It’s a good read because it makes you see something you thought you knew in a different way.  Probably a completely different way.

Peter Watt has been ghost-written in this tale; but no ghost-writer was ever so true to the necessary mechanics of a story as Isabel Oakeshott.  There were no laborious diaries to rely on and the buccaneering flavour of what often plumbs the abyss of personal tragedy is accentuated by such an absence of unnecessary detail.

It reads a bit like a Jeffrey Archer bestseller – and I mean this kindly: in its exhortingly page-turning style, you cannot fail to breathe the roller-coaster atmosphere that a “good versus evil” politics of the tribe inevitably engineers.

I have never met Mr Watt but I do feel, in his manifest self-awareness, in his sometimes painful appreciation of his own foibles, he earns himself the moral right to pass judgement on others who obviously did him a severe disservice.

I am late to his “Inside Out” Labour Party – the book itself was published in 2010 – but through the awful narrative which describes the arc of destruction which the need to generate party-funding on a rolling basis clearly generates, I understand better the actions of people like Tony Blair – accumulating the millions they unhappily do, once out of the financial holes they previously sensed.  What drives men and women to work to guarantee their economic independence to such an obscene degree?  Perhaps the kind of situations Watt lived for two terribly rough-and-tumble years.

And yet, to his credit, he appears to have recovered a massive attachment to a life of sense and sensibility.  It is not right to call it a tragedy, after all – in this piece of literature, the good guy redeems himself a thousandfold.  Family, as well as a certain detachment from tribal Labour, allows him to acquire an even keel, even as the ship of an amoral state collapsed around him.  That he didn’t go down the route of vengeful politicking – unless, of course, you count this book as an example of his game – is also to his credit, underlining as it does the importance of human relationships in politics.

And this last matter is what I think I will take away with me.  Politics is a helter-skelter where the best politicians do invent it as they go along.  Yet the very best of them all – the ones who really hit the heights, the ones condemned to ultimate injury and deception – are not only off-the-cuff imagineers of the kind of dreams we would all like to believe, they are also firmly attached to ideas and opinions which only history will ever be able to decide if they finally lead to ennoblement or infamy.

What I like about “Inside Out” is that it tells a terrible tale of a terrible party machine from the point of view of someone who refuses to abandon it.  And he even likes to ensure we perceive the evil which spews forth is far more due to an ingrained dysfunctionality of structures than the people themselves.

I begin to wonder if Mr Watt mightn’t deserve – mightn’t even be harbouring thoughts of – a return to a more active role in this tribalism that is the British body politic.  But whilst the rest of us might gain, he himself – he and his loved ones – would certainly suffer the consequences.

I really wouldn’t wish it on him – or them – again.

I once came close to real despair in my own working-life, mainly due to the half-lies and half-truths of a highly dysfunctional man.  I can appreciate myself, therefore, from very particular experience, what dysfunctionality can achieve; what it can lead to; what it can break.

So for me, this book has connected on two very important levels: ten years ago, when I distrusted my own perceptions and felt the evil breath of helter-skelter.  And now, when distrust of what I see and sense is just about the last thing which occurs to me to feel.

In the end, when I put this short book down and reflect, I realise I truly like the man who allows himself to be portrayed in this way.

Fitzgerald’s book wrote it better, of course – but, even so, the words were never more precisely, nor appropriately, said.

For all of us, that is:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further … And one fine morning –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

To sum up, “Inside Out” has its layers of anger, its layers of pain, its layers of betrayal – its layers of traditional tribalism.  But it also has a melancholy acceptance that some things can only be survived, not vanquished.

To not be bitter – or, at least, to know how to contain any remnants of bitterness – is a mighty achievement indeed.

Difficult enough in the disconnected lives of us serfs; almost impossible in stratospheric politics.

Fancy telling us your secret, Peter?  Bottle it, brand it – and you never know, there’s a new politics on the horizon.

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!

Mar 272013

Such is the latent paranoia politics engenders in one that on hearing the news David Miliband was stepping down as MP, I tweeted the following:

Careful! What if this is a Progress plot to focus attention on Ed M? Get rid of D, next on list is E. Then once E has gone, D comes back!!!

If truth be told, I have good memories of Mr Miliband (D).  I once attended, on a very hot London evening, an Intelligence Squared debate in which he participated.  He was very Blair-like, it is true, in his delivery – but his delivery seemed rather more searching and childlike in its desire to get at some truth than Blair ever managed to achieve.  Perhaps I was seeing him earlier on in his trajectory; perhaps Blair was more solidified and fixed by the time I lived under him.  I was, after all, still in Spain until 2003.  And two elections are bound to take their toll on the ability of a top-flight politician to continue in that childlike mode of discovery I, even now, associate with people like Miliband (D).

That Miliband (D) is still on a journey of discovery is, however, made manifest by last night’s news.  As the title to this post says, a charitable turn of events.  The fact that the charity in question is called International Rescue didn’t half bring to the surface a flood of Miss Penelope and Brains jokes.  The fact that an ex-Foreign-Secretary should be taking up a global responsibility in New York doesn’t half make me wonder about succession planning and the role of General Secretary to the United Nations!

Though only idly.  After all, Louise Mensch has also moved to New York …  (There’s competition in such company, I think; a city full to the waterways of the aggressive.)

What’s absolutely true is that the attention lavished last night and this morning on Miliband (D)’s departure from these shores far more than matches the attention lavished (not) on those ordinary Labour Party members and supporters who cut their connections with the Party over the workfare debacle recently.  And perhaps, in such moves, we could inscribe Miliband’s journey also: it’s arguable he’s doing nothing more than following many other political activists of firmly held opinion from the arena of multi-issue political parties into far more satisfying, focussed and pointedly charitable single-issue environments.

What you and you and you and you did last week in relation to your support for Labour, and as a result of attitudes and behaviours you really didn’t approve of, Mr David Miliband has decided to do today in much the same way.  We all, after all, have our markers in the sand.

Is this the beginning of the end of political parties?  It may be.  Fragmentation may inevitably be the pattern from now on in.  On the back of Mr Miliband’s sonorous resignation, others may follow suit; others may even cross the floor of the Commons.  Not a sudden decline; not one visible to its actors; just a slow and steady fall into an uncertain abyss where one’s voters simply begin to ignore one.  As one tweet which flitted past me last night seemed to say: “And why should the David Miliband story affect me exactly?”

A mainstream journalist (either the Telegraph or the Mail) even seemed to suggest that the change of role in question was more a “non-job” than a “dream job”.  I think, perhaps, more than anything else, this shows how complicitly foolish those in the Westminster bubble have become.  If, as I suggest, Miliband is following millions of other human beings out of party political activity, this doesn’t mean he is necessarily abandoning the political process itself.  Governments less and less exert power over how we do stuff.  More and more they are tied up by their unspooling obligations.

It may be that Miliband is as ambitious as always, but has seen that parochial little Britain really just doesn’t shape up any more.

And the future for Labour?  I’ve already said what I think.  And I’ll summarise it all with a final tweet from last night:

Labour’s leadership doesn’t need this or that figure. What it needs is hundreds of thousands of such figures. They’re called members.

May 042012

The Independent reports this story thus:

A source close to Mr Blair was quoted in Public Affairs News magazine: “He wants to re-engage in the UK. He has things to say and he thinks it’s the right time. The question is how he re-enters the UK scene without re-entering domestic politics and interfering with the Labour Party.”

He has Ed Miliband in a bit of a bind here – though at least from the outside looking in this would appear not to be the case:

Last night a spokesman for Mr Miliband said: “Tony Blair is a very big, successful Labour figure who won three general elections. He talks to Ed regularly and we would be delighted to see him re-engaging in British politics.”

So how could he re-enter domestic politics without interfering with the Labour Party?


I’ve got it.

He could set up his own party.


Well, actually he could.  He has the financial resources, connections and presumably long list of favours to call in (I don’t say this in bad faith but, rather, as a political reality any long-serving politician is bound to acquire); he has the considerable confidence that moving between the revolving doors of business and politics provides one with; and, whether you now like him or not, the ability to talk the hind legs off a horse.

If Mr Blair didn’t care to mess around with internal Labour politics any more, he could quite easily impact on British politicking in many other ways.  In a society where private power is more dominant than public democracy, anyone can enter the spheres of political influence without climbing the greasy poles of party structures.

So perhaps, if I read the situation correctly, Mr Blair will enter British politics – as, since the last general election under this band of millionaire ministers, it has now become – in much the same way as the Osbornes and Camerons of this world.

The difference?  Perhaps he has had time to reflect on his unalloyed successes and contextualise them decently in terms of his undeniable failures.

We are where we are precisely because he taught us – after a good dose of Thatcher’s political spanking – that personality politics did not have to be such a dangerous matter.  I’m inclined to believe it is, mind – now always will.

We are where we are not only because of the legislative groundwork Blair laid.  We are where we are because in a crowdsourced and collaborative age, politicians like Mr Blair continue – with their force of personality – to impose their very particular (perhaps peculiar) visions of society on its citizens.

There is, however, an alternative.

If you missed it yesterday, read this post from yours truly which highlights great political thought on either side of the Atlantic.  To rid ourselves of right-wingers who use the deniabilities of “charismatic authority”, we do not necessarily need to use the same tools and structures as our enemies.

We do not need powerful figures in order that we may exert a mediated power through a sad and sorry papering-over-the-cracks.  We simply require organisational structures which through confidence, trust and sensible belief allow us to exert that power directly.  Does Mr Blair have a place in such a proposal?  Does Mr Blair care to belong to the past or the future?

I’m really not sure.

Surely it will depend far more on Ed Miliband – and how fundamentally he has really changed Labour.  If Labour will truly become a political party of the 21st century, where people control and organise what happens in structures that follow and interpret rather than force and impose, then Mr Blair himself will need to show he understands the profundity of sociocommunicative – as well as sociopolitical – change in such a democratic environment.

If, on the other hand, Miliband has managed (whether by design or by inertia) to change very little, Mr Blair need not alter an iota of his political behaviours.  The Party will remain essentially as he had left it, and its levers of power will act in very familiar ways for him.

At the mercy of a savage Coalition government, perhaps we will all – in some way, then – prefer the devil we know to the devil we most recently voted for.

It all depends – quite curiously – not so much on Mr Blair and his public persona but, instead, on how effectively Mr Miliband has restructured the internal workings of Labour.

Is it the organisation which still fits hand-in-Tony’s-glove – or has it properly (or even significantly) grown up and out of such a time?

Anyone out there any idea?

It’s not clear to me whether, indeed, this has actually happened.

Oct 132010

Paul writes eruditely as is his wont on the subject of belonging, being loyal and speaking out.  This paragraph in particular I like:

I think the essential dilemma that faces people in the context of an organisation about which they have concerns – whether to leave it or whether to have one’s say about those concerns, and how organisational loyalty plays its part – crystallises well the choices many rank and file political activists feel.

The article is worth reading in its entirety.  Simply to add that I’ve always felt that Paul’s loyalty lies precisely in that voice, unerring and true.  And as he points out in his reply to his local newspaper, which I republish in part below:

I have never made any secret of the fact that Ed Miliband was my least favoured candidate. To me he appeared to be the candidate most prey to the self-perpetuating trend, in the postmodern body politic, to seek electoral victory by saying to each section of voters what it is felt they would most like to hear, rather than entering into a proper dialogue rooted in economic and political values and analysis.

Conversely, I supported Ed Balls because he came closest to this genuine dialogue, and proper challenge to dominant vested interests, including the media.

Certainly I used some fairly colourful language in the context of the then ongoing leadership contest, but then I am not a political ‘yes man’; I often comment on Labour policy and its senior politicians when I think they are wrong; my blog is full of examples of this, and my forthcoming book focuses a lot on why and how the rank and file of the Labour party should seek to influence its leadership as it sees fit.

That is healthy for the Labour party, and I think Ed Miliband, if he were at all interested in how I described him a month ago, would appreciate that the language I used was simply reflective of that healthy internal debate, which went on within the party throughout the leadership campaign, and which will continue as we develop in opposition.

For this is the crux of the matter: how to develop without disintegrating, how to renew without rejecting everything that goes before, how to be true to oneself and yet at the same time useful to a greater cause – how to hold on to one’s voice and yet offer the comfort to others that a sincerely felt loyalty endows.

Loyalty means nothing if it is blind.  That’s why, however imperfectly, I count myself as a member of the progressive side of British politics.  We may criticise each other too often – but at least we reserve the right to do so.

Sep 292010

I wrote a few days ago on the choice that David Miliband had to make between losing further or winning on behalf of us all:

It’s easy to be gracious in victory.  It’s far more difficult to be gracious in defeat.  Your true measure can only be fully understood when you have to experience and express despondency in public.

Today, he indeed does show his measure as both politician and person.

In defeat, I like him so very much more than I did when I felt that he felt he had a God-given right to cruise to victory.  He is a different and better human being for having lost – at least in my (sometimes jaundiced) eyes.

If only we could have heard triumphal leadership acceptance speeches from all the candidates before our final votes were cast.  We might have realised many things we did not understand at the time.

I am sure David Miliband will return.  What’s more, I’m sure he will deserve to.

Meanwhile, a different Ed from the one who cares to dominate the news cheers me up immensely here as focus and real politics, rather than the psychodramas of distraction, return – at least for the man in question – to centre stage.

I’ve said it before and will repeat it here – Ed Balls was the only leadership contender who grew in my estimation as the campaign progressed.

Ed Miliband may grasp his opportunity to impose his cunning intuitions on the rest of us.  Meanwhile, people like Ed Balls will swallow their pride and reservations on behalf of the people who really matter.  His pitch to parliamentary colleagues, but also ourselves, also to the rest of the country, here.

Politics is a dirty business.  Neither you nor I can change that.

And what I fear (so unhappily) is that Ed Miliband – despite knowing this all along – has chosen to keep it from us, has chosen to keep from us the fact that he knew.  His chubby-faced exterior, the sort you’d be happy to see your daughter going out with, hides a fierce recognition that the world is a horrible place, where people with power do unspeakable things to people who suffer from being at the bottom of the pile.

Unfortunately, it is precisely that certainty on behalf of the interests of others that I fear will drive him to hubris.

Perhaps that is always the fate of any politician of worth.

One thought to close tonight’s post.  I do wonder now if David wasn’t our Goliath after all.  I do wonder if Ed used us in some subliminal way and encouraged us to believe that he was the hard-done-by of the two Miliband brothers, when in reality it was the other way round.

I do wonder if, in fact, the more kindly of the two wasn’t the man whose smoothness I feared.  That is to say, what I interpreted as the smoothness and polish of a professional salesman a la Blair was, in reality, the kindness of an elder brother suffering politely – indeed, almost regally – what he knew like no one else to be the insufferable and ruthless triangulations of a younger brother on a hiding-to-nothing.

Ed Miliband has already shown himself able to publicly snub his supporters in the interests of electoral popularity as he puts the unions firmly in their place.

And he’s only on Day 4.

I realise now that David Miliband was nothing like Blair.

My mistake, I’m afraid.

My mistake.

Further reading: LabourList tonight follows up on the meme of Ed Miliband the Ruthless in this short editorial from Mark Ferguson.

Sep 262010

Yes.  You already know I’m a lapsed Catholic.  So what has this got to do with me?  Wikipedia on what Vatican II really meant to proper Catholics:

“By the spirit of Vatican II” is meant to promote the teachings and intentions of the Second Vatican Council in ways not limited to literal readings of its documents, but not in contradiction to the “letter” of the Council[24][25] (cf. Saint Paul’s phrase, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”).[26]

The spirit of Vatican II is invoked for a great variety of ideas and attitudes. Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong used it with regard merely to an openness to dialogue with others, saying: “We are guided by the spirit of Vatican II: only dialogue and negotiation can solve conflicts.”[27]

In contrast, Michael Novak described it as a spirit that “sometimes soared far beyond the actual, hard-won documents and decisions of Vatican II. … It was as though the world (or at least the history of the Church) were now to be divided into only two periods, pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. Everything ‘pre’ was then pretty much dismissed, so far as its authority mattered. For the most extreme, to be a Catholic now meant to believe more or less anything one wished to believe, or at least in the sense in which one personally interpreted it. One could be a Catholic ‘in spirit’. One could take Catholic to mean the ‘culture’ in which one was born, rather than to mean a creed making objective and rigorous demands. One could imagine Rome as a distant and irrelevant anachronism, embarrassment, even adversary. Rome as ‘them’.”[28] Such views of the Second Vatican Council were condemned by the Church’s hierarchy, and the works of theologians who were active in the Council or who closely adhered to the Council’s aspect of reform (such as Hans Küng) have often been criticized by the Church for espousing a belief system that is radical and misguided.

So.  A battle of wills, if nothing else. 

But, of course, Vatican II was much more than a battle of wills.  In the end it was a consummated change of style, a clear change of attitude – in a sense, even a change of hierarchy; a change wrought by a good person who had clearly not been raised to high office with the objective of changing anything. 

More from Wikipedia on John XXIII, the shaker and mover of the Church during Vatican II:

Far from being a mere “stop gap” Pope, to great excitement John called an ecumenical council fewer than ninety years after the Vatican Council. Cardinal Montini remarked to a friend that “this holy old boy doesn’t realise what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up”.[7] From the Second Vatican Council came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism: a comprehensively revised liturgy, a stronger emphasis on ecumenism, and a new approach to the world.

Now let us turn to another just as political church of the people.  Ed Miliband has just turned 40 years old.  The similarities with John XXIII are not immediately apparent.  But even so, I do wonder if, in an analogous way, Ed Miliband hasn’t been being installed by certain people as leader of a similarly broad group of believers like the Labour Party, with the expectation that he will do a job in a certain way – in a way not essentially dissimilar to the “stop-gap” and “puppet” John XXIII.

Why do I think this?

Let’s ask the questions.

A broad church in need of a kick up the backside?  A creaking hierarchy which, for far too long, has abused the trust and served itself of a generally ignored grassroots and base?  An ideology in need of comprehensive renovation?

A leadership long in the tooth, tired and hollow?

Yes, I hear you.  Ed Miliband is about as young as any leader can get these days.  Some of his supporters, however, are most decidedly not.

But I shouldn’t be surprised, even so, if – in this second decade of the 21st century – Mr Miliband doesn’t manage to turn this hidebound Labour Party of ours upside down in much the same way that – in the Sixties of the last century – John XXIII did to Catholicism.

Perhaps that wasn’t the reason why many voted for Miliband.  They weren’t looking for a real change-maker – just a man who could dress up the Party comfortably enough to win again.

My intuition does inform me, however, that such an eventuality – the eventuality of profound and persistent internal change – may be just what we get.

Perhaps that explains the moderately muted applause when the Labour leadership conference discovered yesterday which Miliband had won the coveted prize of Labour leader.

It wasn’t because they were disappointed that David hadn’t won.

No.  Disappointment wasn’t the driver.  Rather, I suspect, it was more a gentle lilt of apprehension.

It was, I would suggest, because they all realised that the change Ed Miliband had been airily promising whilst only a candidate would now impact sooner or later on their own precious structures now he had actually become leader. 

Maybe positively, maybe negatively (for them as individuals, I mean – as owners of little Party fiefdoms) – but either way, a change which would need to be understood, managed and negotiated.

Change is always a trying circumstance, whether good or bad, whether constructive or destructive.  And most change, even when it clearly constructs, inevitably destroys something which previously existed.

All those in the hall were in some way Party faithful.

All those outside watching were in some way interested onlookers.

All those in the country who cared to follow the announcement, meanwhile, could only smile and say to themselves: “These are the processes of change we’ve suffered in our workplaces every single day of the past thirteen New Labour years.  Now it’s your turn.  Now you’ll see what it’s like.”

What Ed Miliband promises the Labour Party now is what John XXIII did to the Roman Catholic Church almost half a century ago. 

Stir up that hornet’s nest.

And not a moment too soon.

Sep 262010

There is a difference you know between the “squeezed middle” and the “squeezed middle class”.  President Obama preferred sticking with the latter recently:

President Obama vowed on Monday to “reverse the overall erosion in middle class security” as he stepped up his efforts to reconnect with Americans suffering from a weak economy and high unemployment.

Compare that with this from Ed Miliband this morning:

My aim is to show that our party is on the side of the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on. My aim is to return our party to power. This is a tough challenge. It is a long journey. But our party has made the first step in electing a leader from a new generation.

Yet reporting by the mainstream media has consistently chosen to use the extra word “class” in headlines – even where the word has not been reported in the main body of the articles themselves.  (Check out the web address to see how the articles were originally headlined, for that information often gives the game away.)

Here we have the Daily Mail from as long ago as August this year.  Whilst here we even have the Telegraph, publishers of this morning’s article from Miliband, also using the extension “squeezed middle class” instead of the more inclusive “squeezed middle”.  The BBC currently read the language more accurately, although Google’s search pages would indicate that journalistic shorthand and general conceptual carelessness did initially intervene just as much here as is clearly the case elsewhere.

As Paul quite rightly points out:

squeezed middle is not just middle class middle incomes in UK are £13k – £30k #lab10

Interestingly, and to be fair to Sky, they would appear – at least online – to be reporting Miliband to the letter.  Lord knows, they should do, mind: the message has been out there for four months at least.

And we pay journalists to get these things so inexactly inaccurate, do we?

So what conclusions can we draw from all this?  Well.  Firstly, as I said yesterday – don’t underestimate Ed Miliband.  He is hungry to right wrongs.  He is far cleverer than he would appear.  And he is aware of how to play the media game like perhaps no other leading Labourite.  I was proud to vote for Ed Balls because he took the fight to the enemy.  But in doing so, he painted himself into a number of corners of sorts because he was so upfront about his policy-making objectives.  Ed Miliband has made no such mistake.  He has been far more generalist.  If he’d been more specific, he might have won more handsomely – but then he would now have far less room for manoeuvre.

He is, in fact, a populist – and populists are unpredictable.  Populists are unknown quantities.  Populists can change the lie of the playing-field overnight.

What’s more, he’s a populist who believes in his own destiny.  Or, at least, he is beginning to believe.

Ed Miliband has also carefully identified a way of making the middle classes and the working-classes one.  His carefully wrought “squeezed middle” covers us all.  We all feel squeezed.  We all feel in the middle of the pincer grip the Coalition’s partners have set up for us.

That we can all identify with the “squeezed middle” is probably why some of the right-wing media are loosely interpreting it as the “squeezed middle class”.  They know there are votes to be eked out of those hills – and they know Ed Miliband knows how to do it.

“A future fair for all” was the Labour Party’s slogan at the last general election – and it was probably the very best bit of Labour’s campaign.

In the hands of Miliband, that idea and that message may very well come back to haunt the Coalition partners.

The “squeezed middle” has only just been identified.  Now it is our job to ensure everyone knows – we all know – how to belong.

Update to this post: via a tweet just now from Paul Evans, further background to the “squeezed middle” concept can be found here in an article by John Healey.  Whilst a much more comprehensive exploration of the idea from a number of political thinkers, including Healey, can be found in this useful .pdf file from the Open Left project at Demos.

Sep 252010

It’s easy to be gracious in victory.  It’s far more difficult to be gracious in defeat.  Your true measure can only be fully understood when you have to experience and express despondency in public.

David Miliband may wish to retreat from what will feel like the most frustrating of moments.  A minimal difference has meant that a once-in-a-lifetime prize has been lost to – of all people – a younger brother.

But it is now in David Miliband’s hands to do far more for the Labour Party than his brother ever could.  In that defeat I speak of lies an opportunity to forge a different politics.  A different politics his younger brother asks for but cannot deliver by himself.

David Miliband has acquired tremendous political and human capital.  It is now his choice entirely.  It is now up to him. 

He may heed the call or not.

And whether he does or not will not ultimately alter the matter a single jot – for either way, whatever he decides to do in the end, we will inevitably have his true measure as both human being and politician.

Sep 252010

Ed Miliband has one significant advantage.  The Tories underestimate him.

Never underestimate someone who’s suffered the pain of loss.  The only thing that separates a winner from a loser is that a loser gives up before they have a chance to win, whilst a winner just keeps on plugging away.

Ed Miliband promised very little in terms of policy during the Labour leadership campaign.  He is no hostage to fortune.  In that he learned so much from Blair.

The mainstream media are already trying to make out he is owned by the union block votes.  Union block votes don’t exist any more.  And the only trades unionists who have a right to vote in Labour Party elections are those who choose to pay extra for that right.

Like most members of political organisations, they vote both with their ideals as well as their pockets.

As I tweeted a few seconds ago:

So handful of millionaires in Cabinet is democracy whilst millions of individual unionists is a block vote. *facepalm to MSM*

The shorthand that political journalists use these days is so inexact as to render it essentially useless.  (And then they bemoan the current penuries of mainstream media – and wonder how it has got to this.)

What Ed Miliband did promise, however, is change.  To come from behind and beat your brother as he has done so is, in a sense, an example of Greek tragedy.  Or, at least, it could be so if the Labour Party was looking to turn in on itself.

But with someone like Ed Miliband at the helm, responsible as he was for writing Labour’s last election manifesto, an election manifesto which formed part of a team that clearly lost, there is nothing that should strike more fear into the enemy than precisely this fact: that is to say, a man or woman who returns so willingly to battle so soon after such a comprehensive defeat.

I did not perceive it during the Labour leadership campaign itself.  But Ed Miliband is hungry to right wrongs.  And the biggest wrong he is hungry to right is that which he almost surely feels (whether consciously or not) he inflicted on his own party.

That which allowed an intellectually challenged Coalition to take control.

That which lost so many good MPs their seats.

That which installed a deceitful ideology in power and which – unchecked – will serve to wreck the future of generations.

Don’t underestimate a loser Mr Cameron.

Hunger is a powerful driver.

At the very top of our pyramid of priorities.

And one that marks us forever with a terrible desire to make up for lost time.

Sep 252010

Harriet Harman on what a returning Labour Party member said to her on rejoining the Party recently.  It seems that Mr Clegg is a true weapon of mass destruction! 

Poor Lib Dems.

Meanwhile, congratulations are in order to Ed Miliband.  The new leader of the Labour Party and Britain’s next PM.  A man who now has the opportunity to give the Party back to the members as well as the voting public.

And I even got to hear Nick Robinson actually say: “That’ll teach me!”

(Reminder to self: never ever go on body language again to predict the results of a political vote.)

Sep 222010

Paul and Tom are right.  We need to keep the communication lines open.  We need to appeal to others.

Now that the Labour leadership election is over, this curious phoney war – where the only people able to do any useful attacking (and that in a generally coded internecine fashion) were the candidates themselves – will also shortly consume itself.  In a sense, what we have had over the past four months is a kind of honeymoon of Obama-like proportions.  The Coalition government has had its ups and downs but Labour has had no real focus point around which to congregate.  On the other hand, the fact that there has been no real focus point has meant that the evil part of the newspaper industry (to use a Reaganesque adjective) has simply failed to throw any lasting punches.  Whilst you’ve still not got a leader, it all seems so irrelevant.  You can continue to mean anything and everything to every man and woman. 

Which I guess is what happened to Obama.  It can’t be all that difficult to gather around you the lashing forces of dissatisfaction when your message is simply “Let’s get them out!”.  It must be far more difficult, however, to keep your rainbow coalition together once the process of definition begins.  Once, that is, the choices begin to close down your options and freedoms to appeal emotionally to all and sundry.

Thus it is that here in Britain the progressive side of the political spectrum has had an easy ride during this Labour leadership campaign.  Unfortunately, as Obama has shown, the job of opposition and then getting elected to office does not necessarily require the same skills as that of government itself.

It will soon be the turn of the British Labour Party to go through this process of definition.  The newspaper industry, that evil part I mentioned, will be looking to fire off the first salvos as it attempts to caricature whichever candidate comes first, in the hope that – through some Pavlovian process of squalid parental imprinting – the first impression serves to negatively define the next five years of Coalition opposition.

But as Paul and Tom indicate, what we – now in opposition – must all be conscious of is that the country demands a coalition to fight the Coalition.  And that coalition must be built on a recognition of plurality, of sense and sensibility.

I’m not only talking about an internal coalition within the Labour Party itself – though the Lord only knows how difficult this has sometimes been to achieve.  I’m also talking about reaching proactively out to people and organisations one might not normally wish or aim to be associated with.

There are plenty of people inside the two political parties now in government who will tell you privately what they dare not say in public.

I’m not suggesting it is now our task to prise them away from their natural homes but, rather, that we should understand how our message must be wrought to allow them to bring pressure to bear on their own political colleagues.

I mentioned a while ago that the Coalition would recreate the poison of the Cold War.  In some smaller and more parochial way of course.

I think this is true.  I think that too many people in both the Tory Party and the Lib Dems are now going through a process of hiding away in the privacy of their own homes and families pronouncements and beliefs they will not be able to make public.  The cruel dynamic of “you’re either with us or against us” will dominate political discourse on the right of the political spectrum for many years to come.  Perhaps not their bloggers or writers, who – thankfully – have always shown a penchant for the maverick.  But, certainly, in local and backbench politics such an atmosphere can only begin to prevail.

So where should the coalition we create to fight the Coalition stand in relation to all of this?  Arguably, tendentiously perhaps, in the context of a desire to subvert.  Yes.  You heard me right.  Constitutionally of course, but with an absolute clarity of purpose.

A casual talent for oppression – which, in its obfuscation and pretty words this Coalition has in those industrial quantities I think I heard referred to yesterday – needs to be recognised for what it is from the start.  Only if we manage to generate our own caricature from that start can we hope to have any chance of convincing our coalition to be anything more than a rainbow.

This is the Cold War Part II then?  You better believe it.  Time to play “hunt the dove, fight the hawk”.

For understanding it thus and where politics will lead us will then allow us to acquire a road map of formidable proportions.

A road map I’m pretty sure we are going to need over the next five years.

Sep 162010

I cast my two sets of votes, as Labour Party member and Fabian, about two minutes before the BBC’s “Question Time” special aired tonight.  The invited cast was, for a change, all from the same political party – though, after the triangulation of the New Labour years you might be forgiven for thinking this had happened before.

As those of you who regularly read these pages will already know, during this Labour leadership campaign I have promised myself that I would see as little video coverage of their activities as possible – and spend most of my time filtering the excesses of marketing and soundbites from my fevered brain.  I also promised myself I would wait until the very last moment possible to finally deposit my virtual ballot papers.

However, I couldn’t not watch “Question Time” tonight, so found myself in a dilemma of almighty proportions.  In the end, resolution was easy.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I decided to vote two minutes before the programme aired.  Everything after that, for me at least, had that kind of feeling you get when you watch a footie match where you know the result and it’s your team that wins.

For this tweet summed it all up for me:

@BevaniteEllie still say EB might not be next leader but will be next Labour PM… He was great tonight

Ed Balls has grown into the role over the campaign.  He gives that air of knowing all the answers – but even when he doesn’t, he makes you feel he’ll be more than happy to dig them up.  He is pugnacious, he fights your corner, he makes you feel included.

He’s in favour of learning lessons and applying them to the future – which, of course, is great in a potential leader of a party in need of renewal.  He’s big enough to take things on the chin.  He doesn’t wriggle – he doesn’t need to.  He is clever and he is acquiring the ability to be humble too.

I voted Ed Balls, of course.

You can tell really, can’t you?

Meanwhile, the only other commentary I would find myself obliged to make tonight is that I really don’t get Miliband (E).  He gives the impression, at least in my opinion, of needing to grow up.  And fast.  There is an air of the sixth form monitor whom teachers seem to rely on about him that I fear very much.  I fear the Peter Principle, I do.  I fear it mightily.

I fear we will all come to understand it only too well, if he wins the election as they say he will.  By which time, of course, it will be far too late to do anything useful about it.

So what about the other candidates then?  Miliband (D) is a smooth operator (his “moral economy” soundbite makes you wonder whether he does God or actually is God), but he’s inevitably tainted in one of the two major roles he’d have as Prime Minister – that is to say, as Labour leader.  He’d make a good presidential candidate – to use a Fraser Nelson phrase he’d make a great “statesman without a state” – but we don’t have a presidential system.  (Or at least we don’t right now.  Who knows what the Coalition might bring?) 

He most certainly would not have the Labour Party in his pocket.  He doesn’t even seem to realise that people can get fired en masse and then rehired the following month these days. And you want to lead a party of the workers?

Andy Burnham was the most disappointing of all the candidates tonight I think, though.  Whereas Ed Balls’ soundbites sounded wise not rewound, Burnham’s “hollow and disconnected” New Labour mantra was repeated for about the two zillionth time this campaign.  Also, his political ineptness when he attempted to stride the heights of honesty and sincerity by virtually saying Labour would have cut almost as savagely as the Coalition just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Finally, Diane Abbott continues to wield her political purity with astonishing disdain.  I’m just so very glad she doesn’t have a chance of winning.

Sorry Diane.

And that’s me done and dusted.

Sep 122010

Wanting a truly measured overview of the Labour leadership candidates and our choices?  Then click here and prepare to be enlightened:

The YouGov poll [£] in today’s Sunday Times puts Ed Miliband very narrowly ahead of his brother, due to a big swing among trade union members. Among the general public, though, things are different.

30% of voters think David Miliband would make the best leader, 16% think Ed and 54% don’t know. The question seems to have excluded the other candidates, but another poll from just over a week ago covered all five. It gave David 19%, Diane Abbott 10%, Ed M 9%, Andy Burnham and Ed Balls 5% each, and 51% don’t know.

There’s obviously no strong public preference: most people know little if anything about the contenders. David Miliband’s profile after three years as Foreign Secretary is still not all that high, reflecting the dominance of the last government by Gordon Brown.

So we’re still painfully short of information about how people think the five come across.

As you may have guessed from my previous post, such carefully weighted considerations – which dogged me for the whole of the first part of the Labour leadership campaign to the extent that I refused even to watch the candidates and compare their performances on video – have fallen dramatically by the wayside today.  Presumably, along with my good intentions.

I shall revisit my criteria in the light of Tom’s excellent piece but – in the light of that strange effect representative democracy sometimes has on us – not the emotional surge which finally led me to make up my mind.

My mind is made up even as I procrastinate to the very end.

I never did walk out of any examination before the bell.

Sep 122010

“All good leaders follow the led!”  Yes.  An oxymoron of a phrase if there ever was one.  But I realise, now, that I have my touchstone for the Labour leadership campaign.

There seem to be a number of rather unpleasant comments floating around at the moment, which – if true – insult us all.  Forrest Gump is a story of notable triumph over considerable adversity.

None of us should care to use the object of such a tale, however fictional it may be, to smear another’s character.

By doing so, more than anything else, we uncover our own prejudices. Prejudices which revolve around the relative virtues of individuals: in both their particular qualities and their innate usefulness to society.

A sad day in the leadership campaign, I have to say.

Meanwhile, David Miliband’s team interprets the future from a concept of people management located firmly in the past.  Unable to perceive the sea change that will rock British politics over the next few years, it is clear that he and his advisers can only construct themselves in terms of their opposition, and how they choose to currently run things.

Essentially, in exactly the same way as the large companies which sponsor them.

On the other hand, I find myself looking for a good leader, a responsive leader, a manager and facilitator rolled into one: that is to say, a leader who knows how to follow the led.

Which leads me to my final score.  Ed Balls first choice.  Andy Burnham second.  And Ed Miliband in third position will do me just fine.

But let it be understood I was only going to preference the first two choices until today’s childish news of these kindergarten slurs.

In fact, we might say “Bad Day At Red Rock” all round, Mr Miliband (D).  I mean if you’re that prepared to threaten us so we feel obliged to follow you before you’re duly anointed, just think how you might act after the event itself.

I now shudder to think.

Sep 112010

This tweet has helped generate an interesting train of thought:

‘Right wing papers don’t win elections 4 the Tories but by being timid and pandering to them, we lost our true values’ @edballsmp #CoopParty

The truth of the matter is that what the Coalition is now implementing is what those right-wing papers wanted all along.  But what’s also going to be just as clear is that just because you read a right-wing newspaper on a daily basis – and vicariously get to kick the immigrants/scroungers/students/hoodies whilst they’re down – doesn’t mean you’re actually as happy for such policies to be fully implemented.

I’m pretty sure that most of us need to let of steam in one way or another.  Tabloid and extremist media allow us to do this safely in the privacy of our own homes.  I’m not, however, quite so sure that all of us who read right-wing media would be entirely happy if its exponents obtained full control over all the levers of power.

This latter circumstance would, nevertheless, appear to be what has happened in the recent general election in Britain.  As we who can vote for our next Labour leader do so, we would be well advised to fully understand Ed Balls’ succinct wisdom above – and vote precisely for that leader who best represents the real sea change that is taking place in British politics.

That of a voting public which comes to the heavy realisation that voting really does make a difference.  And when you vote from the heartlands of British decency as you read your seething tracts of casual middle-class hatred, you slowly comprehend that what you shout out in your sitting-rooms isn’t quite what you wanted for your sons and daughters.

“Make your bed and lie in it!” comes to mind.

“Never again!” I might respond.

As might a whole new generation of voters – made up of old and young alike – who suddenly understand that representative democracy is worth fighting for and the future doesn’t have to be a re-run of all those other people’s pasts.  Thus it is that I am reminded of Eliza Doolittle, as I paraphrase her famous words:

“Just you wait, David Cameron!
Just you wait …”

Sometimes real change can only come about by giving those who act in bad faith the opportunity to show their true colours.

We shall see.

Whatever else I have learnt today, I have learnt that Ed Balls really does know his stuff.