Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Cold War returns

Everybody expected a rapid, full-frontal attack on the new leader of the Labour Party - indeed, the Daily Mail is even now spooling up the hate machine because Ed Miliband has the nerve and effrontery to be the father of a child with a woman to whom he is not married, a fact that is clearly related to his political abilities and a matter of public interest and not at all a vicious attack on someone for blatantly party political reasons. Quite how they can justify digging out his children's birth certificates in the name of journalistic enquiry baffles me - this Glen Owen at the Daily Mail is not going to be challenging Woodward and Bernstein any time soon.

For the past few days, we've had the Tory news briefers, online sycophants and lazy, tame journalists regurgitating the nickname 'Red Ed' in an attempt to convince us all that Ed Miliband is actually the sleeper part of some deep cover operation and if elected, he will immediately put a call through to Moscow to check in with his Soviet controllers. Obviously, there might be problems getting a connection to the Supreme Soviet, what with the Soviet Union having fallen to bits almost two decades ago, but trying to inspire fear is the best that the Tories can throw at Ed at the moment. I think they've been watching re-runs of A Very British Coup on 4OD and dreaming of the good old certainties of the Cold War. Clearly, they'd be far better off reading some of Chris Mullin's more recent work - particularly this piece in the Independent. The wilder commentators - clearly spurred on by their Conservative cheerleaders - have even been portraying the double election of Ed and Ken Livingstone as equivalent to the election of Michael Foot as leader following the 1979 poll defeat.
You can understand why they are doing it - then, we had an increasingly unpopular Tory government imposing vicious cuts to the public sector and their popularity shrunk over the next couple of years until the Falklands War intervened and allowed the Blessed Margaret to look more Boudicca than Marie Antoinette. The subsequent election was a Tory landslide. This is the narrative that the Conservatives are trying to frame. As Chris Mullin puts it
If there is one thing we surely learned from Mrs Thatcher, it is that repetition of simple messages can pay dividends
What I say three times is true.
The reality of Ed's politics doesn't matter, it is the perception that is all. What you do is almost less important than what you say, if the media prefer to carry your version of the truth - and the print media seems to prefer the Tory version. Hence, we have mute acceptance that deep cuts are essential now, with little consideration of the weight of opinion - not just from Labour, but including serious international economists - that this might be wrong, simply because the Tories and the Lib Dems have shrewdly all sung from exactly the same hymn sheet.
Thus it is with Ed Miliband. He is being painted as 'Red Ed', in an attempt to use lazy journalists with little grasp of actual politics in a rather pathetic attempt to smear him as some sort of crypto-communist. He isn't. He may be a little left of centre, but he's in a long line of social democrats - you know, the sort of people who used to join the Liberal Democrats twenty years ago, before they were captured by their own right wing.
Then we come to Baroness Warsi's ludicrous attack on the process, claiming that Ed owes his position to the votes of the unions - something that some journalists also picked up on, demonstrating a distinct lack of understanding of how the party leadership election actually worked. There were no block votes by the unions, instead, every union member who pays into the Political Fund received a ballot paper. I did, from Unite and even John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP, received one from the Musicians' Union and I'm delighted to see that he is happy to pay into the fund and contribute to the future of the Labour Party.
The votes that carried Ed over the finish line came from ordinary union members, like me. As it happens, my union helpfully advised me to vote for him - as indeed did my local party, of which I am an officer - but I followed my own mind and ended up voting for his brother. Am I going to complain about the result? Not a bit of it. We have a process and this is the result it produced - we should celebrate the fact that there is a broad Labour family that includes the unions (who founded the party in the first place and provide a good share of our money) and other affiliated societies and that Ed Miliband was elected thanks to thousands of votes from ordinary people. He ran a strong campaign, coming from behind in the reckoning to just squeeze home at the end - rather as David Cameron overtook the favourite to take the Tory leadership, David Davis, back in 2005. I see no reason for Ed Miliband to be the creature of the unions. I hope he listens to them, but I'm certain that he won't feel bound to accede to their every request.
Mr Cameron, as somebody once said - you were the future once. The game just changed. We've now got a new leader, who has freedom to maneouvre in opposition, given that there is no other party able to be credible in opposition. We now need to unite and heed Ed Balls' words

Winning the votes and applause of party members will count for nothing if we cannot win the attention and trust of people outside the conference zone in Manchester.

By the end of the year, as the cuts begin to bite, economic uncertainty grows and Ed's profile rises further, the likelihood is that we will be ahead in the polls and looking forward to significant gains in the May elections. But if Labour activists see cause for celebration in that prospect, I see warning signs. Protest votes may put us ahead in the polls, but they are dangerously fickle. In 1979, Labour moved back ahead in the polls shortly after losing office but it counted for nothing at the next election. We were defeated in 1983 not only because we were divided as a party, but because we had comprehensively lost the argument on how to run the economy. In 1992, we were united as a party – thanks to Neil Kinnock's leadership. But we still lost because – in the search for credibility – we had shackled ourselves to the Tories' flawed economic consensus and failed to set out a distinctive argument on how to deal with inflation and unemployment....

...This leadership election has shown that there is a remarkable degree of ideological unity within the Labour party and a determination to set out a radical and credible plan around which we can all unite.

But our policies were too often seen as out of touch with the electorate, and over recent months the public will have seen a party that was talking to itself. If we want to show the party has changed, the best demonstration is to get back to talking to the public about the issues that affect their futures, not spending more
time talking to one another about our own. From the doorsteps in our constituencies to debates in the Commons, we must win the argument for our country's future, and persuade people to make a positive vote for the alternative we offer – not just a protest against the coalition. And the whole party will unite behind Ed Miliband as he leads that charge.

Unite we must.
(Part of this originally appeared briefly on Saturday night, owing to me being a little hasty in publishing - apologies to anyone who followed a Twitter link to the new story and couldn't find it. I'm always cheered when somebody asks me about something like that - at least it proves that at least one other person out there reads this blog.)

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