I hope my intro makes Johann Hari’s article more interesting to Americans. I’m sure British politics seems just as arcane and incomprehensible in its finer details to you as American politics does to me! The biggest mystery to me in the US Presidential election was how did McCain wind up with a total idiot like Sarah Palin as his running mate? Every time I saw her speak on Youtube, I would start laughing in disbelief.
The gal hadn’t got a clue, but McCain hadn’t much either from what I saw. Had he been elected, he could well have died in office because of his history of heart problems. In any case history was made: Obama is the first intelligent president since Clinton, and less flawed personally than his predecessor. He’s hamstrung by the Republican filibustering minority in the Senate, and I don’t know if there is anything he can do about that. I still want to read Obama’s first book, Dreams About My Father. I’m told it’s a good read. Man, I was celebrating over here when he won, but it seems many Obama supporters are feeling less enthusiastic now.
We had a similar experience in the UK with the election of Tony Blair as Labour Prime Minister in 1997 after 18 years of rule by the Conservatives. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”…or so we we thought. But I never had any illusions about that slimeball Blair.
The British Labour Party will elect a new leader on September 25th, 2010. The contest seems to have narrowed to the two brothers Miliband, sons of the Marxist writer and academic Ralph Miliband, whose last study was entitled Parliamentary Socialism (his most well known book was The State in Capitalist Society). The brothers are secular Jews, but neither has any particular attachment to Israel (neither brother is a member of the pro-Zionist pressure group Labour Friends of Israel). Ed, the younger brother, is 40, and David is 45.
David is the continuity candidate and will give us all that was rotten about Blairism redux. If he cannot put any political distance between himself and Tony Blair, he will probably be unelectable in 2015, as the electorate decisively rejected in 2010 all that he stands for – rising social inequality at home, further privatization of the economy, kowtowing to the banks, fawning over the very rich and the expensive and disastrous foreign wars abroad.
The Labour vote has been falling continuously since they were elected in 1997. In 2005 Labour got 35.2% of the vote on a low voter turnout (part of the disaffected core Labour vote stayed at home, or in some cases voted for the British National Party), but because of an iniquitous electoral system, they still romped home with an overall majority of over 60 seats in the House of Commons. This time Labour got 29.1% of the popular vote on a higher voter turnout than 2005: the game was really up for Labour.
Of course Labour no longer had their spinmeister leader Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, who took the Labour leadership unopposed in 2008 and then failed to hold an election to give himself a mandate, didn’t handle the all-powerful media as well as Blair. There was no decisive outcome of the 2010 election, and certainly many of the 23% of people who voted Liberal Democrat will not be happy to see their party, which held more radical positions than Labour on taxation (some say: I have my doubts), social inequality, defense and the war in Iraq, in bed with the Tories and effectively their junior partner.
I see Blairism as a deviation to the Right in relation to postwar Social Democracy up to the end of the 1970s, and as a direct heir of Margaret Thatcher, the ardent monetarist and disciple of Milton Friedman.
Ed Miliband is more of a traditional social democrat. He also has a real personal warmth not shared by elder brother, and that is a great asset in politics. Ed has a better record than David on climate change, and that is crucial to me.
If the leadership contest is now between David and Ed Miliband, like Johann Hari, I hope Ed wins, but it is David who has all the big financial backers and campaign money, more than the other four candidates put together. No democracy there…
My first choice for Labour on Left policy, her anti-war record, her personality and and her long political experience (member of Parliament since 1987) would have been Diane Abbott, but she hardly has any support from the Trades Unions, so she hasn’t got a chance. As a 57 year old Black woman with no serious money behind her and a campaign team of 2 volunteers (compare David Miliband’s campaign team of 90 fulltime paid staff), she was always going to be real outsider. Andy Burnham and Ed Balls are also running for the Labour leadership.
Johann Hari: And The Next Leader Of The Labour Party Should Be…
At Its Core the Disagreement Between the Brothers Is an Argument About Whether Blairism Is the Best a Labour Government Can Ever Aim For.
Friday, 3 September 2010
The Labour Party is infuriated that the climax of its leadership race has been overshadowed by Tony Blair’s brief break from taking millions off the economy-crashing bank JPMorgan Chase, fawning over his “good friend” and murderous tyrant Colonel Gaddafi, and agitating for the bombing of Iran. But they’re wrong. At its core, the disagreement between David and Ed Miliband is an argument about whether Blairism is the best a Labour government can ever aim for. The entry of the gurning ghost of Tony Blair is a clarifying third act.
Now that it’s effectively a race between the Milibands, it’s easy to ask: how different can two nasal policy wonks who emerged from the same womb really be? Yet this campaign has shown that they want to lead very different Britains.
David Miliband is being funded by exactly the same interests as Blair. To pluck just one, David Claydon, a senior figure at the investment bank UBS, has handed him £50,000, as part of a gaggle of bankers who made it possible for him to outspend every other candidate combined. He is backed by all the senior Blairites because, like Dr Who regenerating in a bright white light, he is the same politics with a less lined face. At the hustings, it has become clear that with David you will get all that was good about New Labour – much higher spending on public services than under the Tories, for example – and all that is bad.
Whenever other candidates pointed out, in the spirit of trying to figure out how to do better next time, that at the end of the New Labour years, inequality was higher than under Thatcher, our emissions of warming gases were up, and there are now 20,000 unidentified corpses in Baghdad morgue alone, he snapped that it’s wrong to “dump on the record”.
It’s not enough to say the debate should be solely “future oriented.” The next Labour leader will face similar decisions. What he did in the past will shape what he does in the future. And David Miliband’s record in government suggests he will always ask: what would Tony do?
As foreign secretary, he aggressively and unrepentantly defended the Bush administration’s actions. He told the BBC’s Hardtalk: “Divide and rule is rightly a maxim one applies.” Perhaps most shockingly, he made extensive and expensive efforts to cover up the British security services’ earlier complicity in the torture of British people abroad.
He went to court to prevent us from being told how judges had laid out in detail how British resident Binyam Mohamed was rendered by the CIA to Morocco where he was subject to medieval torture, including the taking of a scalpel to his genitals, with MI5 feeding questions to the torturers. He says he “abhors” torture – but why then cover up MI5’s role in it? Do Labour members want to see their leader forced to testify on all this before the new torture inquiry?
Ed Miliband is different. At every hustings he said – to tics and tuts from his brother – he’s glad he was against the invasion of Iraq from the start, and when US foreign policy is in future heading in the wrong direction, “Britain should get off the train”. His record in government suggests that this is true.
While his brother was defending the Bush administration’s atrocities, Ed was traveling the world as climate secretary, pleading governments to go much further and faster than the US allowed. At Copenhagen, I saw how he was one of the few politicians who grasped the scale of the climate crisis and sincerely tried to get a deal.
They also differ closer to home. Blair said this week that Labour lost because “it stopped being New Labour” – the argument that David Miliband’s team are echoing. He named two policies that he says lost the party support. The first is the decision to increase taxes on the richest 1 per cent from 40 per cent to 50 per cent. Yet in reality, according to YouGov, some 62 per cent of Brits want to go further and introduce the higher rate at £100k. Only 25 per cent are against.
The second deadly policy, he says, is that Gordon Brown started “identifying banks as the malfeasants” after the crash. Yes: Tony Blair thinks people didn’t vote Labour because the party was too critical of bankers. In truth, again, 76 per cent say Brown was too soft on the banks. Remember: these are Blair’s own examples, not mine.
This is a perfect illustration of the argument that Ed Miliband has been making throughout the leadership debate. He has claimed that New Labour’s initial instincts from 1994 have hardened into “ideological dogmas” that would leave the party “beached by history” in this decade. The more New Labour hardened into a rightwing caucus, the more it shed votes: by 2005, on Blair’s watch, it was down to 35 per cent, and only “won” because of an undemocratic electoral system that may not be there next time.
So what’s Ed Miliband’s alternative? Peter Mandelson and others have offered up a silly straw man, claiming he believes Labour should “abandon the middle classes”. In fact, he has a more subtle point. If you want to appeal to the middle class in Britain, you have to know what it is – and people like Mandelson seem to have forgotten in a blur of yachts and guacamole dips. The median wage in this country is £20,831. Only 10 per cent earn more than £40,000. So Ed Miliband wants policies that help the real middle – not the top 1 per cent that Blair, Cameron and company bizarrely class as “ordinary voters.”
This, the real middle class in Britain, has been stressed for a long time as their share of national income has been steadily transferred to the rich. Over the past 30 years, the proportion of GDP paid in wages has fallen from 67 per cent to 54 per cent, while the proportion going to the rich as income from dividends has skyrocketed. They work the longest hours in Europe, but their wages are, relatively, shrinking. There’s a real redistributive will out there, waiting to be tapped.
Labour has lost 5 million voters since 1997. One million went to the Tories. Four million went to the Lib Dems and smaller parties, or to disgusted abstension. Three million were manual or unskilled workers. So it is basic electoral arithmetic that there are four times more votes to be won back there in winning back liberals and low-income workers than in becoming a Cameron clone. As Ed Miliband put it: “We can neither win an election with the working-class vote [alone], nor can we take it for granted.”
Of course, the Blairites say this can’t win. Yet the polls show it was their totems – Iraq, the deregulation of high finance that made the crunch inevitable and the bank bailouts necessary, and on – that were the last government’s most unpopular policies.
By contrast Ed Miliband’s agenda – to appeal to Britain’s true middle and the lost low-income workers by arguing that they should have a greater share of the wealth they generate, while not killing a million people abroad – polls well. To suggest this is “Bennite”, or a return to 1983, is bizarre: it’s mild European social democracy, of the kind that is pulling Germany out of recession faster than the US.
So yes, we should thank the Ghost of Tony Past. He has reminded us that if you want more of the same, vote for the candidate he calls “my Wayne Rooney.” But if you think this country could do better, brother, there’s an alternative.