You may have heard recently that the Labour Party has rediscovered itself as the revolutionary vanguard ever ready to play dictatress to the proletarians of the UK. Unfortunately the slogan won’t be ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ exactly because Ed Miliband has pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months, to protect the minimum wage, repeal the bedroom tax and to incentivise private companies to develop on the land they own. No promises to reverse course on tuition fees, certainly not on ‘free schools’, the coming sale of Royal Mail and the on-going privatisation of the NHS so ignored by most of the mainstream media. If you read The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express you will of course know this is the most radical position ever taken in the last thirty years. That is only demonstrative of just how deeply the termites have spread and how well they have dined. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson have condemned Ed Miliband’s positions for abandoning the New Labour script of triangulated means to compete for the Conservative vote and, naturally, taking the working-class vote for granted. The Blairites are totally on board for the Cameron prescription of fiscal conservatism (for the poor anyway) to restructure the welfare state and public services.
The right-wing commentariat are on the offensive to safeguard the existing order (or should that be disorder?) of bloated energy oligopolies and the particular approach Cameron has taken to pumping up a housing bubble in London. The bedroom tax has appeal because gutting the benefits system will make some in the public feel good that Nicky Welfare isn’t getting away with spending his £60 a week on lager anymore. That’s the only discussion we’re allowed about benefits. No one wants to talk about the fact that Nicky Welfare’s housing benefit doesn’t go on his drinking habits, but it does go straight into the pockets of a landlord. The housing crisis is not up for discussion anymore. The Conservatives and Lib Dems have been hard at work trying to patch up the system as it was when Gordon Brown was in the Treasury. All of them will talk the talk about the need to build more houses to stoke the chronic shortage and lift people out of dilapidated housing. There is no serious commitment to extending public money to building more social housing. Instead the government and the so-called left-wing opposition are signed up to selling off these houses thereby feeding the same processes of debt and property speculation which laid the basis for the last crash.
At the same time, the Labour Party has not reclaimed Clause 4 to recommit itself to the nationalisation of industries and assets. Instead Miliband waffles as the NHS is sold off bit by bit and even as the delegates vote unanimously in favour of renationalising the railways the Labour leadership looks for the door. Yet ‘Red’ Ed can’t help himself from affirming a vague commitment to an even more vague democratic socialism. It seems like just five minutes ago Ed Miliband was calling himself a “modern progressive social democrat” and affirmed a commitment to a “responsible capitalism”. It shows how far things have gone, Tony Blair knew what he had to say to get ahead back in 1983 when he described himself as a socialist influenced by Karl Marx. Keep in mind ‘Red’ Ed is the same leader looking to chuck out the troublesome unions, while he has taken the side of Boris Johnson in his support for a “use it or lose it” policy on land ownership. Even Margaret Thatcher maintained a 60p tax for nine years, but Ed is so ‘red’ for supporting the 50p rate. The truth is the spectrum has moved considerably to the Right and now the much lauded centre is hardly a bastion of moderation. At best Labour offers to hold back a bit more than the Conservatives: austerity lite, rather than austerity.
Meanwhile the liberal press is in just a bad shape as it agrees with the right-wing analysis for the most part. The liberals love the idea that the socialist movement and its project are long dead. To them Ed Miliband is a nuanced centre-left politician, better than Tony Blair but not as bad as Tony Benn. It’s just another variation on the Third Way paradigm of New Labour and New Democrats. There is virtually no difference in rhetoric as Miliband has been oh so very careful not to distinguish himself from the odious stench of Blairism. Nor has he set out to distance himself from the Brown mound. He doesn’t want to define himself or to be defined and yet he expects to win an election on the same old pablum. The conservative press have already laid down their script, as they had done from day one, Ed Miliband is a leftist and his failures are to be taken as failures of the Left. The liberals more or less have swallowed so much of the premise as to tie themselves to this conclusion. When it came to Syria the Labour leader was distinguished not by his success but by his failure to push through his ‘yes’ motion. It would’ve made his father proud. It might only be reasonable able to hope Miliband can produce more of these fuck ups once in office.
This article was originally written for and posted at the Third Estate on September 27th 2013.