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‘Red Ed’? The younger Miliband will go straight for the middle ground

9:00 am - September 26th 2010

by Sunder Katwala    

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Most discussion of Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign has been about three questions: the psychodrama of his decision to stand against his brother; the vague and usually unsubstantiated claims that he was lurching ultra-leftwards (please answer Next Left’s Red Ed challenge if you wish to propagate this), and, in the last fortnight, whether he could really win the horse race.

Ed Miliband’s political and policy agenda will surprise those who project a caricature on to him.

Since this focuses strongly on how Labour values can connect to majority concerns, it is no surprise to see that he begins with a pitch to the “squeezed middle” in the Sunday Telegraph.

Read Ed Miliband’s piece here.

That is not about positioning as centrist. This is at the core of his thinking about what Labour is for, for similar reasons as those set out by John Healey last week.

There will be no abandoning of “mainstream” opinion – but there will be a focus on trying to make sure that the idea of Middle Britain does not exclude those who really live there, such as those on the median income of £21,000 in prosperous southern towns like Reading, in seeking to build the broadest possible coalitions around insecurity and aspiration.

If Ed Miliband were simply a “soft left” “heart over head” candidate interested in talking to the party and not the country, then why on earth did he ask John Denham MP to lead on long-term policy work for his leadership campaign? Denham, the hard-headed Southampton MP is respected across the party, and has had most to say about Labour’s “southern discomfort” and English identity challenges over several years.

Sure, Denham did resign from the government over Iraq, also winning respect for the way he worked his way back to ministerial office including as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. His primary domestic focus has been on how Labour ensures that its arguments on inequality understand and connect with a robust public “fairness code” which sees reciprocity and contribution as central to the deal.

Ed Miliband spoke from the start of the campaign about “a welfare state based not just on need but on contribution”, and has been influenced by the Fabian Society’s work on public attitudes to fairness and inequality (including the potential tensions berween them), and our advocacy in The Solidarity Society about the need for contribution and reciprocity to be central to any inequality agenda which hopes to take the public with it.

John Denham will join Jon Cruddas, Gisela Stuart, Yvette Cooper and Kwame-Kwei Armeh to debate Can Labour speak to England in Manchester Town Hall on Sunday night at 6pm on the Fabian fringe.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

“If Ed Miliband were simply a “soft left” “heart over head” candidate” I agree with you and all, but a quick point: generally, the left tend to be a lot more hard headed and logical about politics than the more centrist types. It’s because they have a better defined ideology.

We’ve all heard these words before though. Every politician says they’re going to make things easier for the middle class. Principally the middle class just wants to be allowed to keep more of their take home pay. But take, for example, your person earning £21,000 in Reading. The government currently takes around £545 a month from them (£382 in Tax and NI, plus another £163 in Employers NI which is a tax ostensibly paid by the employer but has been shown to be paid by the employee through lower wages).

If Ed does anything to lower that burden, then he’ll have my interest.

Schools and healthcare have to be paid for.

Useful OECD chart here showing how heavily the UK was taxed compared with other OECD countries in 2007, prior to the international financial crisis (scroll down):

Ed Miliband seems to be saying very sensible things so far.

If I’ve understood this right, Sunder, what you’re saying is that having spent the leadership campaign focusing on the needy and worst off, young Ed is now going to court popularity by promising the middle class universal benefits they neither want nor need.

Such a line might just conceivably wash at a time the country was swirling around a jacuzzi full of cash. But in these straitened fiscal times it sure as hell won’t.

Besides, who in their right mind would thank a pickpocket for giving them a tenner back having just relieved them of a somewhat bigger wadge?

“Mainstream” now simply means “designed to appeal to the basest instincts of those few thousands of voters in suburban and dormitory southern England, which is where most of the marginals are”.

“Wallace” (The Wrong Candidate) says (no doubt for the benefit of the “mainstream”, the banking spivs and the Media Murdochia) that under him the party won’t “lurch to the left” (that word “lurch” being one beloved of the hacks to describe any policy to the right of Mandelson) and won’t give too much of a hearing to the unions.

So that’s yet another Labour leader who’s going to be no bloody use to most of us, then…


…by promising the middle class universal benefits they neither want nor need.

But it has been repeatedly shown that the more right-libertarian leaning upper middle class consistently underestimate just how many taxpayer-funded services they do in fact use.


Services, perhaps, yes. But things like child benefit they don’t need – or more accurately, they only need it because the government takes so much money in tax they struggle financially with it.

Take table 14a from the ONS effect of tax and benefits on household income. £4.6bn of child benefit money goes to the richest 50%, of that £1.4bn goes to the richest fifth. This is what’s meant by benefits the middle/upper classes don’t need. The poorest 50% do take £6.1bn from child benefit, but it seems massively inefficient to spend £10.7bn in order to provide them that.

International comparisons, as usual, can be illuminating:

Denmark is confirmed as the OECD’s highest-tax country, followed by Sweden,

Does that mean Denmark is an impoverished, stagnant sink hole?

Err .. no. In fact Denmark is one of the most affluent countries in the EU according to the official EU estimates:

On independent official estimates, Denmark has one of the most equal post-tax income distributions going. Worldwide, Gini coefficients (a measure of the equality of income distribution) range from approximately 0.232 in Denmark to 0.707 in Namibia.

But surely it’s bound to be a really miserable place? Err .. No:

Denmark is the ‘happiest place on earth’

This is a very apt subtitle for an article in the Indy.

“The election of Ed Miliband means that the wretched cult of callow political youth has now infected all three main political parties”.

Couldn’t agree more. I mean, like, you’ve like got to appeal to the yoof vote, innit.

And Bob B, there’s more to quality of life than socialists think. Apart from affluence, Denmark has things we can never have. It’s less than a third as crowded as England, so 1 family in 4 has a holiday home by the sea.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    'Red Ed'? The younger Miliband will go straight for the middle ground http://bit.ly/cgesHe

  2. Dave Pardoe

    RT @libcon: 'Red Ed'? The younger Miliband will go straight for the middle ground http://bit.ly/cgesHe

  3. Derek Bryant

    RT @libcon 'Red Ed'? The younger Miliband will go straight for the middle ground http://bit.ly/cgesHe

  4. Danny Lauricourt

    It seems the Mail are wonderfully unimpressed- http://bit.ly/cgesHe

  5. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: ‘Red Ed’? The younger Miliband will go straight for the middle ground: Most discussion of Ed Miliband’s l… http://bit.ly/9gzJZy

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