Ed Miliband has faced some vicious opposition over the past five years. Not just from the Tories, the press, big business and the establishment, but from the rival fringe parties claiming to be on the left. It’s because Miliband wants to create a new post-Thatcherite settlement for Britain. The Labour manifesto clearly signposts that intention.
Miliband understands that the growing chasm between the incomes of rich and poor and obscene levels of wealth inequality have shown that political collaboration with the wealthy has not delivered any “trickle down” to the poorest at all. As a society, we cannot afford to indulge the millionaires’ something for nothing culture.
We all know by now that despite the fact that our economy was in recovery from the consequences of the global crisis by the last quarter of 2009, due to the competence of the previous government, the Tories duped the public, using a narrative founded on panic-mongering and malicious lies about an “economic firestorm” and “financial mess” to formulate further justification for redrafting the social contract on behalf of the elite, and extending an exclusive, undemocratic politics of privilege.
(See A list of official rebukes for Tory lies to appreciate something of the full extent of recognised lies the government have told the public.)
The cosseted elite are now engaged in an all out war to maintain the socio-economic status quo. Firstly they know that Ed Miliband has edited their script, abandoning the free-market fundamentalist consensus established by Thatcherism in favour of social democracy.
Secondly, the right-wing media barons who set the terms of what is deemed politically palatable, and who frame the parameters of debate in Britain have never forgiven Ed Miliband for his endorsement of Leveson, which they regard as an unacceptable threat to their power.
Thirdly, they know Labour under Ed Miliband is likely to win the 2015 election.
The fringe “alternative left” parties in competition for Labour votes have focused debate on the issue of cuts they claim Labour are proposing, which perhaps purposefully misses the more important point: Miliband’s whole approach to government isn’t about austerity at all: it’s about changing the status quo by shifting the balance of how the economy works and adjusting who the economy works for.
It struck me, listening to the televised debate earlier, that Miliband needs to reclaim the word “progressive” from those parties such as the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens, especially given that his economic plan and redistributive tax policies are the most progressive of all the opposition parties.
Indeed Miliband has bravely chosen to rehabilitate the word “taxation” and reintroduce the fundamental post-war settlement tenet that in order to have civilised and sustainable public services, everyone has to contribute their share, and the burden should not be placed on the poorest via consumption taxes (VAT for example) and policies such as the punitive, unfair bedroom tax. Wealthy people and big businesses, after all, use our infrastructure: roads, railways, schools, hospitals and other services. Yet far too many consider the very idea of paying income or corporation tax worthy of moral outrage. The real outrage is the Thatcherite consensus that social responsibility and duty should be regarded only as a moral framework for the vulnerable: the obligations of only the poorest.
During the televised debate, the fringe party leaders regurgitated electioneering lies, too. For example, Natalie Bennett deliberately misquoted Rachel Reeves, and not for the first time, claiming that Labour “ignored” the plight of those on benefits. (See Anyone worried about protecting the welfare state should concentrate on kicking out the Tories – Debbie Abrahams, which addresses this misquote, Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP and Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments – by Kate Green.)
Miliband was accused by Farage of introducing Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), adding a “creeping” and “back door” privatisation element to the NHS, under New Labour, when in fact it was John Major that introduced PFI in 1992.
A priceless claim from Farage, since he does not want an NHS. Farage wants an Americanised private insurance system.
Sturgeon parroted the lie that the Labour Party had “voted with the Tories” for cuts totalling “£30 Billion,” accusing Miliband of being “Tory lite.” As was pointed out by Miliband, and again, later, on Question Time by Yvette Cooper, the Hansard record shows clearly that the vote was not about cuts, nor did the motion contain any reference to any sums of money.
However, the debate surprised me in that Miliband was not attacked quite as vigorously or as much as anticipated. Farage drew the most fire, causing deep discomfort amongst the audience and other leaders with his dogged and prejudiced pursuit of single issue politics, he was accused, rightly, of being divisive. Farage managed to further alienate UKIP by patronising Sturgeon and Bennett on the issue of immigration, and accusing both the studio audience and the BBC itself of “heavy left-wing bias.” Laugh out loud.
Leanne Wood responded scathingly to Farage’s anti-immigration rhetoric with: “Well I would disagree with my friend on the far right,” which met with applause and cheers from the audience, at her capturing of a neat double meaning.
Farage claimed: “My opponents are abusing me,” moments after he had himself been abusive towards the audience and other leaders, to which Wood responded with: “You abuse immigrants and those with HIV and then complain UKIP is being abused,” with deep disdain evident in her voice.
Miliband, described by many political commentators as the only prime ministerial party leader, responded in a measured, honest way to Farage’s drone about immigration with: “The problem is, Nigel, you exploit people’s fears rather than addressing them,” raising more applause and cheers from the audience and creating a moment of tangible solidarity amongst the left leaders. Farage’s usual swagger departed.
On the subject of defence, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru are clear that they would not renew Trident. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the general public are not inclined towards unilateralism, no matter how persuasive the proposition and reasoning is. Labour have long-standing and close ties with the CND, but their previous unilateral disarmament philosophy lost them two elections, they were therefore pushed to adopt a position of multilateralism. That’s a by-product of genuine democracy. This said, some 75% of Labour parliamentary candidates do not support the renewal of Trident.
By far the most memorable moment of the debate came when Nicola Sturgeon declared that she will do anything to “kick the Tories out” – including proposing a coalition with a party she’s spent years fighting and telling lies about – she’ll do anything, except of course to honourably put aside electioneering for her own party in an election it can never win, to kick the Tories out.
She had previously said: “If Labour won’t be bold enough I think people should vote for parties that would hold them to account.” As Ed Miliband pointed out, she meant vote SNP in Scotland, Green in England, Plaid in Wales, as she has previously urged the electorate, thus increasing the likelihood of another Tory government.
Sturgeon attempted to turn conventional wisdom on its head, despite her previous appeal to voters to fritter away the opportunity to get shot of the Tories, she proposed a Labour/SNP coalition, pleading: “We have a chance to kick David Cameron out of Downing Street. Don’t turn your back on that. People will never forgive you.”
Miliband, turning conventional wisdom the right way up again, gave a powerfully forthright response: “You fought Labour all your life, Nicola,” he said, adding: “I’ve fought the Tories all my life.”
“You want to gamble on getting rid of a Tory government; I can guarantee getting rid of a Tory government.”
“I’ve got fundamental disagreements with you, Nicola, because in the last few weeks you’ve revealed that you haven’t ruled out having a second referendum,” he said.
“We have profound differences – that’s why I’m not going to have a second coalition with the SNP, because I’m never going to put at risk our United Kingdom.”
Sturgeon has said that the SNP would not form a coalition with Labour, or agree a confidence and supply deal, without a deal on Trident, and Miliband has said categorically that it’s not on offer. That means that, effectively, that the SNP is reduced to supporting Labour on a confidence motion and then restricted in dealing with everything else on a case by case basis.
And if the SNP are genuinely not prepared to let in the Tories, they will support Labour on a confidence motion. It was difficult to miss the hint of pleading in Sturgeon’s pitch at the end the debate. Miliband is in the much stronger position.
Miliband reminded Sturgeon that the SNP worked with the Tories in Edinburgh, their vote in 1979 put Thatcher in office.
Sturgeon isn’t consistent: either it doesn’t matter whether Labour or the Conservatives win the election or it does. Half the time the SNP would like you to believe it makes no difference; the rest of the time they acknowledge it does. Which is why we see ludicrous contradictions like the SNP leader advocating a vote for the Greens – a vote that, if delivered, would render the SNP’s notionally-preferred outcome less, not more, likely.
So, my enemies’ enemy is not always my friend, except when he can be useful. Now that’s a career politician who claims far too loudly that she isn’t. Ho hum.
And one more thing. Mr Cameron: