Monday, 2 September 2013

Reclaiming the 'Lesser Evil'?

There’s a great anecdote recalled by Tariq Ali when David and Ed Miliband faced each other for the Labour leadership. Towards the 1992 election David Miliband was a speechwriter for Neil Kinnock. Around this time the old man phoned Tariq Ali and asked him if he had listened to Kinnock’s latest speech. Immediately without hesitation Ali launched into a tirade against Kinnock, deeming his speech ‘empty nonsense’ to which Ralph replied “I think David wrote that speech.” On that note the pair enjoyed a good laugh. Contrary to what you’ve read, in the mainstream press, both the Miliband brothers were always a part of the right-wing of the Labour Party. Even as the two of them stood on stage and poised against one another for the big seat neither stood out. Three years later and we can say that if David Miliband had won then we would probably be on the road to war right now, if not indeed in the early phases of a readily expanding bombing campaign.

Last week I criticised the ‘lesser evil’ supposedly offered by Ed Miliband. Only three days later Miliband had delayed the vote on Syria and put forward a rather dull motion to slow the process with the hope of avoiding a split in his own party. Effectively Miliband was shirking from giving an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the fundamental question and wanted to hold off what seemed to be inevitable for a little while longer. In the end the modicum of opposition posed by the Labour Party converged with a rebellion in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. In the end, by 13 votes, David Cameron was defeated and so was Ed Miliband as both motions were cancelled out. It was the first time a government had lost a motion of this importance since 1782, ironically when the British were considering an intervention to snuff out the fledgling Whig Republic across the Atlantic. Later the British Empire would clash with the early USA as the Madison administration set out to annex Canada in a tradition we could summarise as ‘When in doubt, conquer Canada…’

In my last article on ‘red’ Ed I highlighted the cowardly manoeuvres he has pulled to secure his base even as he courts the Conservative vote. Just as Ed Miliband had sought to avoid a clear answer (which might rock the boat) on Syria, he had given contradictory answers as to whether or not he would repeal the Health & Social Care act of 2012 – the bill which amounts to an enforced path of gradually privatising the NHS. I think the main point that Miliband has lacked any guts still stands. Though it should be noted it was his bungling leadership which opened the space (perhaps unintentionally) for Parliament to effectively rule-out British participation in the Syrian conflict. Miliband may reap the electoral rewards for this as the vote has shown up just how inept and vulnerable the government remains. It could’ve so easily gone the other way. Indeed it would have if ‘red’ Ed had got his way, it remains the case that he believes Britain can do something about Syria he’s just not clear on what that something might be, or is, or should be.

So it’s nearly a week since my last piece on Miliband, have I changed my mind? Broadly not, as the Labour leader remains a problematic figure as he has from the very beginning. It remains the case that there is an on-going crisis in the political class as well as in the economy. The paralysis of Lib-Lab-Con over Syria is partly symptomatic of this crisis, and we as leftists can’t take advantage of the situation then we aren’t to be let off lightly. With all that in mind, good reasons for caution, we may praise Ed Miliband for a brief moment of originality which speaks rather kindly of his bungling way. Even if it’s a failure, it is a failure which would’ve made his father so very proud.

This article was originally written for and posted at The Third Estate on September 1st 2013 as a follow-up to Miliband's 'Lesser Evil'.

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