Ed Miliband will address the big TUC march – and why it matters


by Owen Jones    
2:41 pm - February 10th 2011

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So, it’s official. Ed Miliband will be speaking at the TUC’s ‘March For The Alternative‘ on 26th March. Well, that’s what Peter Hain told me on Twitter today, and I’m willing to take his word for it.

Cue right-wing hysteria about ‘Red Ed’. In other countries, no-one would blink if the left-of-centre opposition leader joined his supporters in marching against an aggressive neo-liberal government.

We have got to the point that both Tory party and press barely recognise their legitimacy in public life. Well, whether they like it or not, trade unions are by far the biggest democratic movement in the country, representing 7 million workers.

It matters that the leader of the Labour Party will be among the hundreds of thousands who take to the streets in March. It will be the first big opportunity for all opponents of the Government to come out in force.

According to YouGov, just 30% of us approve of the Government, compared to 55% who disapprove – and that’s before most of the cuts have hit. Like all the other protesters on 26th March, Ed Miliband will be marching with the mainstream.

Ed Miliband will also show that Labour stands with all of those who will be hit by cuts: those who will lose their jobs (or even their homes); those who will see their pay drop, or their benefits slashed, or their pensions attacked; those who will have their services taken away from them; and all of us whose communities will suffer because of each of these things happening to people around them.

This is important because – God help us – if Labour ends up losing the next election, it will likely be due to the disillusionment of its own supporters. Between 1997 and 2010, Labour lost 5 million voters – and 4 million of those were under Blair. But the Tories only gained a million votes. Some went Lib Dem – tragically thinking that they were a progressive alternative – but many others simply sat on their hands.

If they see a Labour leader willing to stick his neck out and fight for them, they will be so much more likely to return to the Labour fold.

When we are holding Ed Miliband to account when he fails at his job – which is fighting the Tories’ class war agenda – it is worth reflecting that Labour has shifted in recent months. Can you really imagine Tony Blair or Gordon Brown joining addressing a TUC march against a Tory Government?

Of course, this doesn’t mean we stop putting pressure on Ed Miliband. Replacing Alan Johnson with Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor was a step in the right direction, but Labour has still to come up with a coherent alternative to the Tories’ cuts offensive. The strategy current remains one of accepting the logic of a sweeping cuts programme, but with the caveat that it is being implemented too soon and too fast.

We should also call on him to throw Labour’s resources as a party behind the TUC march. My own party in Hackney is on a real drive to get as many people demonstrating as possible. We need as many Labour party members and Labour placards on the demo as possible – to show that Labour really is on the side of working people facing a wholescale attack on their living standards.

But Ed Miliband’s appearance at the demo will be an important symbolic gesture, and one that the left should applaud.

Editor’s update: Ed Miliband’s office clarifies that he will address the TUC rally rather than march. Paul Waugh blogs on Peter Hain’s error. This post has been amended slightly to reflect that.

Update 2: Ed Miliband told William Green earlier: “My way of holding the Government to account is not through marching particularly.”

Update 3: A Press Association report on this quotes Sayeeda Warsi frothing away about “deficit deniers”. Meanwhile, YouGov reports that even Tories are suffering. The cuts haven’t even hit yet.

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About the author
Owen Jones is author of ‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’, to be published by Verso in May 2011. He blogs here and tweets here.
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Reader comments


If we can get a million people on a march, that will be great, and hopefully make some serious headlines and show that the cuts aren’t widely accepted as “inevitable”.

However, what the Labour Party should do is not, or not just, “throw Labour’s resources as a party behind the TUC march”.

The task is to translate having a million people in one place in March – which will scare the media and so much the better, into having two thousand people in five hundred places – primarily in shopping streets, town squares, and outside the offices of Coalition MPs,

After that, making sure everyone who agrees with the march against the cuts comes out and campaigns and votes against them at the May local elections.

It isn’t surprising that Ed Miliband will be doing the unions’ bidding on 26th March.

He owes his position to the unions. He is their placeman.

From time to time he will be allowed to deviate from the union line so as to give the appearance of not being a complete poodle. But few will be fooled by this.

Labour has shifted in recent months

Yes – it’s shifted from “government” to “opposition”. Now they will oppose the policies they once implemented, as the Tories and the Lib Dems implement policies they once opposed.

Can you really imagine Tony Blair or Gordon Brown joining a TUC march against a Tory Government?

Yes, I can, if they thought it would help their electoral chances. And then I can imagine them implementing the very policies they marched against as soon as they get back in power. Just like Ed will, if he lasts that long.

The old saw about how “no matter who you vote for, the government always wins” turns out to be true.

If we can get a million people on a march, that will be great, and hopefully make some serious headlines and show that the cuts aren’t widely accepted as “inevitable”.

We got about 3 million in total to march against the Iraq War. Remind me how that turned out again?

Oh good. Chasing the ‘lost voters’ by seeking to appeal more to the core vote, the true believers who abandoned the party because it became too centrist. I’ve seen this movie before. The first step is to elect a leader with a silly voice and an odd, political-wonk background.

I wonder whether this is the William Hague 3 election defeat version or the Michael Foot 4 election defeat version.

6. Wolf Ram and Hart

Except Ed doesn’t stand with those who are having their benefits slashed. Supporting time-limited ESA? A benefit you can only receive if you manage to pass a ludicrously unfair test created by Labour and enforced by ATOS. Here’s Ed ‘standing with us’ on a jolly to ATOS in January: http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/iain-gray-and-ed-miliband-visit-veterans-charity

Supporting ‘reform’ of DLA? Oh yes, Ed’s right there at our shoulder.

‘Disillusionment of its own supporters’. You said it, mate.

Labour will have to go a long way to show that it stands with all of those who their benefits slashed, given what appears to be the current position
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/09/liam-byrne-accepts-some-government-welfare-cuts-uk

However, it is positive that Miliband seems to be taking this step. Democratic organisation amongst ordinary employees is bound to be denigrated in the political discourse of a country where wealth and power are so closely correlated. So that constantly needs to be countered and pushed back against. As we’re seeing now in the Arab world, trade unionism is fundamentally a powerful force for liberation.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/10/trade-unions-egypt-tunisia

Oh good. Chasing the ‘lost voters’ by seeking to appeal more to the core vote, the true believers who abandoned the party because it became too centrist.

Remind me again the approval rating of your govt? If anything, the Tories have gone so far off to the right they’re practically hugging UKIP

8. So… abandoning the centre ground to pursue your core vote is a bad thing then?

And don’t take too much heart from polling 4 years out from an election. In February 1980 Labour were polling nearly 10 points clear of the Tories…

“And don’t take too much heart from polling 4 years out from an election”

Yep agreed on that.

Don’t take too much heart from the fact Ed is courting the core vote 4 years from an election. he is doing it to attract new members and money, and winning back the anti-iraq war voters It will start to matter only 1 year before it, when he’ll no doubt move into the centre ground.

“Remind me again the approval rating of your govt? If anything, the Tories have gone so far off to the right they’re practically hugging UKIP”

So because the Conservatives are right-wing, nobody can criticise Labour for being too left-wing? Or is it that only one party can ever be extreme at a time, and that, if the Tories have gone “far off to the right”, Labour must therefore be centrist by process of elimination?

So… abandoning the centre ground to pursue your core vote is a bad thing then?

Surely you should be asking yourself that. One minute you’re accusing Ed of abandoning the centre ground, but its your party that has comprehensively done that.

Also worth noting that the lib dems have claimed to be the centre ground for the last 25 years. Hasn’t got them anywhere – you need a core vote and support just as much.

And we know that Ed Miliband is traditionally a few years late for protests: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/ed-miliband-late-for-protest/

“So… abandoning the centre ground to pursue your core vote is a bad thing then?”

Surely you should be asking yourself that. One minute you’re accusing Ed of abandoning the centre ground, but its your party that has comprehensively done that.

Gnnngh. Just as an aside because I doubt you really want to argue this, that the unhappiest MPs in the House of Commons at the moment (Denis Macshane excepted of course) are the Tory right-wingers. And that’s because the Coalition Govt has turned out to be, well, a Coalition.

But even if it were true that the Govt has abandoned the centre ground and plunged off into a right-wing comfort zone that still doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for Labour to do the same. For the good historical reasons I’ve given. This is a bad idea, and it wouldn’t be any better if the Tories were doing the same.

I believe that this is usually when you start accusing people of whataboutery?

I’ll believe it when I see it. The Tory right has so misrepresented the Unions, and political parties are so paranoid about maintaining a completely middle of the road blandness before the electorate, that anything resembling a principled stand with social democracy and against cuts designed to beggar the vast majority of the people would be a cause for celebration. If he does turn up, Ed might be worth voting for.

@9, perhaps you’d care to nominate a tin pot dictatorship with which we can pick a scrap some time soon in order to whip up a bit of popular sentiment.

And 1980 was *three* years out from the next election, not 4.

Millipede’s part of the problem: marching with him is merely protesting for a *slightly less* punitive system.

And 1980 was *three* years out from the next election, not 4.

It was a four year Parliament, this will be a five.

Also worth pointing out the hague comparrison doesn’t stand. When Hague did it, Blair was firmly occupying the centre ground, and the lib dems were’t imploding.

I think we need to see what happens with the AV referenda before thinking about long term strategy.

are the Tory right-wingers. And that’s because the Coalition Govt has turned out to be, well, a Coalition.

The Tory right-wingers will always complain and will always whinge – that is their job. They were doing that before Cameron even became PM. Its hardly a revelation they’re unhappy. It doesn’t hide the fact that even the electorate now think Cameron is too right wing.

20 – no historical comparisons are ever exact. There are always different circumstances. However, the record for parties that reacted to an election defeat by moving closer to their base is not encouraging.

21 – it’s still irrelevant to the question of whether it’s a sensible strategy for Labour to move hard to the left. I don’t think it is, and I think there’s a parallel with how the Tories moved off to the right after 1997.

“However, the record for parties that reacted to an election defeat by moving closer to their base is not encouraging.”

Ok, what is the historical record for parties that fight an election on the centre ground, then win and move immediately to their core?

He will find another excuse to not be there, like with the student protests

See, it’s comments like this that make politicians scared of their own shadows.

How about Ed does what he BELIEVES in? Does what he thinks is right? I for one would rather see him do the right thing than the Daily Mail thing,

Yes, I’d like to see him there, but I’m a centre ground Blairite, so I think enough of us agree that this gov are cheese strings to support Ed if he wants to go.

I really hope he DOES go.

27. Forlornehope

Labour needs to start making the case for a higher level of public spending than that planned by the coalition. If we are to have civilised levels of benefits and services that probably means close to 50% of GDP. Only the simple minded and deluded think that there is a way this can be done without higher levels of personal taxation. Gordon is no fool and he couldn’t find any hidden pot of gold. Anyone on or above median income (about £25000 a year) is going to have to pay significantly more tax; basic rate income tax would have to be nearer 40% than 20% if VAT is to be cut back to acceptable levels. Sure, you can put up taxes on “the rich” and “big business” but all that they will do is move overseas as they did in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Until Labour starts making an honest and credible case for “tax and spend” everything else is just hot air.

24 – I can’t think of any that have. And I don’t believe that this one is doing that either. It’s certainly pulled the Liberal Democrats to the right of much of their support – but then it’s a coalition Govt, and that should hardly be unexpected. I don’t see that what the Tories are doing is dramatically different from what they’ve been saying they would do for years.

You can’t ‘prove’ the Tories are becoming more right wing because they’re cutting public spending and are becoming unpopular. That was always going to be the case.

If he wanted a platform that he could effectively stand on without the problems of what Labour would cut and how, then the NHS must be it. Although New Labour opened the door for Lansley’s changes Miliband could disown the policy and stand for a retrenchment of the NHS as a wholly publicly owned service.

There is certainly plenty of scope to stand up against Lansley’s changes. He’d have the support of every NHS employee and plenty of the public.

If Labour remain silent on the NHS, however, it will be a strong sign that they haven’t repented at all.

@1

A million people marched against the Iraq war.

What makes you think the present government will pay any more attention to this sort of thing than Labour did?

“Ed Miliband will also show that Labour stands with all of those who will be hit by cuts”

So now Ed Milliband’s position is that no cuts need to be made at all?

What a complete buffoon this man has turned out to be.

@Chervil

Thats the finest example of whataboutery I have seen in a while.

You are fully aware that Ed Milibabnd understands that cuts need to be made just that obviously as stated opposes the cuts the tories are making for being too far and too fast and in a lot of cases being the wrong ones.

I know solidarity is an alien concept to the dog eat dog world of the libertarian right but not so for the left.

The end of March will be far too late …hundreds of thousands of jobs / services will be long gone by then …

Of course it is good that he is making noises about being against cuts. The thing is, that the Labour Party isn’t yet against the cuts. Don’t be fooled!

Have blogged about the march at Political Dynamite http://politicaldynamite.com/2011/02/there-is-an-alternative-to-cuts/

Or Adam Ramsay’s piece on Labour is worthwhile reading too – http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2011/02/why-im-not-a-member-of-the-labour-party/

T

Good grief!!!! Miliband is finally coming out of his shell. I can only say I am elated and about time too. I have to say this sour-nosed grumpy old political hack was resigned to Labour selling out and taking a more middle of the road stance.

Should I start getting hopeful of a return to the values as laid down in the original Clause lV? Well one rain doesn’t make a monsoon, but it sure makes for a healthy downpour. I can’t see Ed Balls calling for mass nationalisation of the banks somehow – even if that option would offer untold remedies to the big bonus question. Nor should I assume the Shadow Cabinet will stand in defence of the campaign to protect the Post Office from privatisation.

But before we tear Labour apart, let’s praise great vistories and hail the decision of Miliband to stand alongside brothers and sisters in their struggle against this oppressive Tory regime. Let’s celebrate the fact the leader of the Labour party will march alongside workers as they struggle to keep their jobs.

So now you’ve found you warm coat and woolly hat for the demo, Ed – fancy adding to the numbers at the Faslane Peace Camp? I’m sure you’d get a warm welcome.

@5

Don’t be so quick to mock, because you’re comparing apples with oranges. Michael Foot’s platform included a brave and principled – but unfortunately electorally suicidal – alliance with the CND when the fag-end of the Cold War had yet to fizzle out, and William Hague knew he’d been handed a poisoned chalice when he was made leader because 18 years of Thatcher and Major had rendered the Tory brand utterly toxic.

If Ed Miliband is seeking to reconcile with the left of the party (I love how Tories automatically associate unions with “hard left” – they should meet my very genteel middle-class mother-in-law who happens to be a union rep) then it is a wise move, because it was from disillusioned left-wing voters that Labour under Blair haemorrhaged support prior to the Iraq debacle. If he can keep the centre on-side while doing so then he can command a very big tent – something that could not be said of the Tory right that Hague courted.

@30

Let’s be clear – the Iraq war was Blair’s baby, for which he has been handsomely rewarded by the Bush family (as was his predecessor). I hope the creature comforts the blood money bought him help him sleep at night. The majority of Labour support was very much against the war, and Blair is now gone. It will take a long time to build that trust back up, but at best we’ve got around four years.

@27. So we need to have tax levels of around 50% of GDP to have civilised levels of benefits and services.

Unfortunately currently our annual deficit is around 11% of GDP. Therefore to stop the National Debt from growing further (£1trn) and maintain these civilised levels of services tax would need to be 61% of GDP, which many may consider a bit excessive. On top of this at some point the £1trn of debt will need to be repaid, requiring yet more taxes.

Our national debt is over £80,000 for every person in employment. The average household will pay over £1,800 this year just to cover the interest on our national debt.

Can we really afford to have Government spending at 50% of GDP when we have such large levels of debt?

@37

Nobody’s arguing that the deficit doesn’t need to be tackled, the question is how it is to be done and how quickly. The Tory method (apparently embraced by the Orange Book LibDems) is to implement public service cuts based on ideological grounds as quickly as possible and tell everyone to hope that the private and voluntary sector will take up the slack – personally speaking I think they might as well tell everyone to wish for magical job-creating fairies to pop into existence.

As I understood it, the alternative put forward by Labour was to implement some cuts, but to do so gradually and to get the banks and big business to pay their share.

@37 Fungus

National debt isn’t the problem, it’s the structural deficit.

@39

Cherub, I’m afraid the £1trn debt is a problem. It does need to be repaid. resolving the large structural deficit simply stops the national debt from growing any larger.

The interest bill is only going to get larger.

Debt and deficits are simply deferred taxation. Unfortunately it will be the future tax payers who will have to pay for the services we are giving ourselves by our borrowing.

@38

Labour have been very light on detail as to how they would tackle the deficit. This is off course a very sensible policy as you don’t want to have to explain to the electorate the specific cuts you would make. Far easier to simply critiscise the ‘savage’ cuts the Conservative led Government are making. The Tories can cause the neccessary pain and then Labour can get back in at the next election.

Caneron was also very light on policy until just before the election. It does not make sense for opposition parties to be to specific on policy, especially unpopular policy.

Although it’s become a matter of survival to get the Tories out, Labour wasn’t without their own horrors:

http://perelebrun.blogspot.com/2011/02/trolling-labour-movement.html

Lest we forget Blair came after a 17-year “attack on living standards”. He did little to reverse that process.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Lee Hyde

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  3. sunny hundal

    .@Ed_Miliband will join the 'March for the Alternative' on 26th March says @PeterHain; @OwenJones84 welcomes him http://bit.ly/f7uwJ9

  4. LabourList

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  5. MerseyM

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  17. Wendy Maddox

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  18. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ed Miliband's office confirms he will be speaking at TUC rally #26March but not necessarily marching. Our post updated http://bit.ly/f7uwJ9

  19. Liam Marchant

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  23. Rachel Hubbard

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  25. Labour must speak not only for organised labour | Left Foot Forward

    [...] predictable headlines follow Ed Miliband committing to speak at the TUC rally on March 26th, Rob Marchant takes a more detached look at how the relationships [...]

  26. Protesters should not look to once-red Ed for support « Dnmufc's Blog

    [...] hand, without looking too much like a radical on the other. It seems, for example, that he will be speaking at the rally after the TUC’s March for the Alternative, but will not attend the march itself. [...]

  27. Andrea Simpson

    Ed Miliband will address the big TUC march – and why it matters | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/t4Z6DYS via @libcon





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