Red Ed? He may not even be a pinko

2:01 pm - September 27th 2010

by Dave Osler    

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On the one hand, sections of a jubilant  Labour left are turning cartwheels across the floor. On the other, the rightwing press is rehashing the kind of low level McCarthyite headlines not seen in this country since the early 1980s.

Both immediate reactions to the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader highlight the lack of balance or historical rigour that prevails in political commentary in Britain today.

To the extent that Ed is not his brother – who of course stood in apostolic succession to Blair – then those who do not favour the continuation of New Labourism in its most anachronistic variant will regard his success as the least bad possible outcome of an unnecessarily protracted contest.

But there is little point in coming to firm judgement until we see what Miliband does in his new capacity.  While it is good to hear him declare that ‘the era of New Labour has passed’, he has yet to specify with what it will be replaced. If there is to be a Milibandism, we so far have no real indication of what the parameters will encompass.

Ed’s parliamentary career has so far been short, and he was not around for the crunch votes of the first and second term. But it is fair to observe that nothing he has done since 2005 marked him out as a natural born boat rocker.

Perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he has been hiding his social democratic light under a bushel, thus accounting for the accusation that he is some kind of crypto-Bennite.

But look under his bed, and the reds are strikingly hard to find. An examination of his concrete track record suggests that little stronger than reheated Hattersleyism is set to feature on the Miliband menu.

Opinions will vary as to how far that can viable be described as a good thing, but it certainly does not constitute a ‘lurch to the left’ in any meaningful employment of the left-right continuum as a working analytical tool.

A minimal grasp of twentieth century British political history should represent some kind of prerequisite for punditry. Yet how many columnists would be able to fit Miliband into the spectrum of  Labour leaders of the past? Ironically, one of the best places to glean that information the book ‘Parliamentary Socialism’, penned by Ed’s late father Ralph.

In short, Ed Miliband does not want to be either a Blair or a Brown, which is to his credit. Neither is he likely to transmogrify into a Foot or an Attlee or a Lansbury. Callaghan? Kinnock? Let’s not go there. The question is how inspiring the public are going to find a Gaitskell or a Smith in the crucial years ahead.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments

Well, he could always try and be a Milliband? Haven’t the most successful leaders generally been unique and different, rather than identifiably the same as their predecessors.

My bet is still on Blair providing the model though, without that strange substance that Mr Blair had in 1997 at least…

The rise of Ed M reminds me most of that of David Cameron. Cameron had only been an MP for 1 term when he was elected Leader of the Tories; Ed had 1 term before becoming Labour leader. The only job either of them has ever had outside of politics was in TV. Cameron is a far better public speaker.

Think Nick Clegg only got elected as an MP in 2005 too?

2 – One possibly interesting difference between Cameron and EdM is that Cameron’s political career before he became leader was dominated by political failure – he became Lamont’s SpAd shortly before Black Wednesday and then worked for Howard in the run-up to 97. He lost his first election. He was then an MP in opposition, working for leaders that couldn’t win.

EdM, on the other hand, started working for Gordon Brown as the drive to 97 began to look inevitable. He was then a Treasury adviser during the New Labour zenith, was eased into an ultra-safe seat, very rapidly became a minister, was in cabinet within, what, 2 years of becoming an MP and is now leader. Whatever else, that’s not a CV marked by the scars of hardship.

What sort of difference does that make?


Very little difference I suspect.

Neither Cameron or Milliband has much substance that I can see.

The Diana-esque hysteria about Clegg was more to do with the fact that people were desperate to find someone they could believe in, who didn’t turn out to be a messianic control freak like Blair, a dysfunctional collection of personality defects like Brown, or extermist ranter like Thatcher.

Looks like we’ll still have to keep looking eh?

@3 He was an MEP for 5 years before that – and he isn’t in the running to become Prime Minister, unlike Miliband or Cameron. But there is an issue that the men running the country don’t have much experience outside of politics.

@4 I’d hardly classify Ed Miliband’s career as successful. He was a minister in a very catastrophic Brown-led government, failed to achieve anything at Copenhagen, and wrote the manifesto upon which Labour lost the election.

7. Chris Baldwin

Aren’t “reds” and “pinkos” the same thing?

You have a good point about the ignorance of Labour politics shown by many in the media. Any fool can see that Ed M’s no more left-wing than, say, John Smith or Neil Kinnock, but the media has constructed a false narrative that Labour was unelectable before Blair took over, as if the party in 1994 was just like it was in 1982. All the diversity of the pre-Blair Labour Party has been glossed over and lumped together as “Old Labour”, which apparently means Bennism or something like that.

EdM’s “safe seat” in Doncaster has heaps of baggage.

“New Labour and the curse of Donnygate” [8 August 1999]

“The worst local government corruption case since the Poulson scandal of the 1970s ended yesterday with hefty jail terms for a senior Labour councillor and the property developer who bribed him.” [13 March 2002]

“Government to intervene in troubled Doncaster Council” [19 April 2010]

Much more relevant than redness for many is his yoof.
A salient quote from Michael Brown’s article in the Indy today:

“When most of the citizenry is now older than those who lead them, public unwillingness to be lectured by their young leaders is bound to breed indifference and cynicism”.

I certainly resent being lectured to by smooth besuited tosspots from London with the life experience of a gnat. You can rest assured that many millions of others will feel the same.
Isn’t it peculiar that his age is little mentioned in blogs. What does that tell you about the demographic of blog readers?

Well said, a lot of older Labour supporters/ex-supporters found the Blairite period to have little in common with them, even to the extent that they were often vilified by nl or at least patronized as being insignificant.
As well as alienating them from nl, and politics generally, as there appeared to be nowhere else to go, it ignored a massive group known collectively as ‘the aged’ and even more importantly, that older people are no longer moving towards the tories.
Ed Milliband and the new LP would do well to recognize this massive failing (one of many) to win back those votes.

That should have read Ed Miliband

12. James from Durham

Has anyone noticed he looks identical to John Turturro? In Barton Fink.

13. James from Durham

I am not awfully old but I remember when new party leaders had some recognition. Even Brown, like him or loathe him, is a man of substance. There are things to like about him and dislike. When he became Labour leader, we knew who he was. The rot set in with William Hague and IDS, leaders who were almost unknown outside parliament. Now we have Cameron, Clegg and Miliband – who the hell are these guys? What have they ever done outside politics?

Now we have Cameron, Clegg and Miliband – who the hell are these guys? What have they ever done outside politics?

What did Brown do, or Blair, or Major? It really shouldn’t be surprising that the people who have the most successful careers in politics are those who devote most of their careers to politics. It’s like criticising a partner at a law firm ‘chuh -what’s he ever done apart from law’.

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