I think I was crunching the occasional snail underfoot as I walked past the old zoo entrance, practically home. It was almost eleven o’clock; I’d set off for Liverpool at just after four. I’d got to the event’s location crazily early, but I was never one for wanting to arrive late. The event was at the Devonshire House Hotel. And Red Billy was right: if you’re in the Labour Party, and count yourself as in, what separates you from your journeymen and women is a shade of difference, not a chasm.
This was an evening of fulsome agreement on occasions, modest agreement on others, gently expressed disagreement in some cases – but no displeasure nor unkindness of any kind.
So can politicians ever exert any kind of real influence? Perhaps not. Perhaps not. But what they can do, what Ed Miliband clearly exudes, is a tone of decent everyman we could all do well to emulate.
And in a world of Goves, Osbornes and Hunts, this is not a small matter at all.
The noose of choice is beginning to tighten. Politics was ever thus. No. Politics isn’t war converted into rhetorical tussle. More exactly, politics is a kind of civil war, converted into very real pain. The stories behind the pain the Tories are causing us, recounted at this evening’s Q&A with Ed Miliband, made themselves manifestly apparent: from LGBT prejudice of a dreadful nature to a story about the absence of clearly defined disabled care for an adolescent with autism, we could see laid out plain for all to see the results of a Tory nation-state where each person must tussle alone with their very private sadnesses. From street musicians who understand by their very travelling the importance of preserving – and restoring – our municipal spaces to those who admire the theorising of Miliband’s father, and yet simultaneously appreciate his son’s distancing from such theory (“My father had a very different job from mine” is about as clear as any disavowal can get, staying as it must within the confines of family love), here we had yet another demonstration of how Labour is becoming a community not of slavish agreement but, rather, of intelligent discussion around the trains of thought that Miliband (Ed) is bringing to British politics.
For this is what is happening: Ed Miliband is tremendously ambitious. Not for himself (except inasmuch as this allows him to lever his goals); instead, for a country he clearly does anything but hate. And in order to realise this degree of ambition, he has had to think his way through how he might reweave the very fabric of everything we do in Britain. He is not looking to turn the world upside down in his pursuit of change; his is not a wild Goveian brandishing of insults. Rather, he is aiming to restore a natural balance which decades of neoliberal hedge-funded tax-havened offshoring has deliberately fought to upset.
It has become so natural for us to believe there is no money to be had that we have swallowed hook, line and share offering the entire lying tale utterly whole. But just think back to post-war Britain: think back to the constraints of that time. Think back to how a very different Labour government reconstructed a severely damaged but still not bowed nation-state.
If it was possible then, why not be equally ambitious now? After three destructive years, both to body and human spirit, there is no reason at all to believe we can’t be.
And so to my final question: is Ed Miliband the right leader?
Absolutely not. And neither do his clever trains of thought take him in that direction.
The right enabler then? Maybe, just maybe, he is. For if I am right in my analysis, as that political noose I mention tightens evermore hurtfully, it could now just be our turn to take up a very different slack: the slack of the spaces where our contributions as members, registered supporters and general sympathisers can make Miliband (the enabler) exactly what an old body politic needs.
Evidence this could already be happening? Maybe this: one of the most sympathetic and reaching-out of interventions came from a modern trades union representative who called for collaboration between the Party and trades unions to share the cost – both intellectual and financial – of developing materials to get Labour’s messages across. The idea was phrased cooperatively; the tone was understanding; the intention was clearly to talk positions through.
This is the new Labour of Miliband (the enabler). A community of sincerely thoughtful souls who are looking to forge a decent Britain. The One Nation idea may not fit quite perfectly with other movements in our fraughtly disuniting kingdom but as a metaphor for Miliband’s new Labour, if today’s event is anything to go by, the fit could not be more productive.
Maybe parties, like governments, can never do anything more useful than set a tone. But if that is the case, the enabling Labour on show in Liverpool this evening has shown us it is already half the way to its more than admirable goal.
The eagerness of the righteous, translated into a latterday speech the 21st century understands.
And that, in the end, is the level of ambition Ed Miliband believes in.
The question now is: do you also dare to hope again?