Why Ed Miliband was right to attend Saturday’s TUC march


10:45 am - March 28th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The television and press images of smashed windows from Saturday’s events must have made the Tories jump with joy. Some on the Labour right may also mutter ‘we told you so‘ for not predicting such incidents in advance. There were advance mutterings already.

But despite the media juxtaposition, it’s important not to be caught up in the short-term media cycle. There are important, long term reasons why Ed Miliband was right to speak at the TUC event.

1. Preaching to the converted?
If you believe left voters are already won and Labour should focus only on centrists, that not only assumes EdM can only talk to one constituency but ignores the argument he made during the leadership election. The ‘New Labour comfort zone‘ problem, as Ed M called it, still afflicts many in the party.

EdM still has a long way to go to convince ordinary families who came to the march that Labour is on their side, not that of bankers and the super-rich. Yesterday was the start of that process.

2. Mobilisation
Saturday’s TUC march demonstrated that unions are still able to mobilise vast numbers of people. This is no easy feat. Undoubtedly, Labour CLPs across the country delivered leaflets, social media too helped spread the word. But neither have the same reach. Shouldn’t Labour want to connect with these people?

As Paul Mason at Newsnight points out:

This passive but fairly angry mass are the people that pose the biggest political problem both for the government and the opposition; because when you can mobilise more or less your entire workplace – be it a special school, a speech therapy centr, a refuse depot, an engineering shop or a fire station – to go on a march, then “something is up”

The trick for Labour now is to channel that anger into tangible political opposition.

3. Labour’s economic message?
Facing a hostile media, Labour has an uphill battle to explain why it should be trusted with the economy again and what alternatives it would propose. But Labour can never ever be ambivalent about or ignore the coming pain of the deep cuts. That would not only deeply alienate its own base, but confuse more centrist voters who want to hear an alternative to Osborne’s agenda.

Many on the Labour right aren’t paying attention to the numbers.

Growth forecasts are consistently being cut . Household debt is expected to rise massively. Expectations of the future are low. There’s no clue how 2 million jobs will be created. And the Eurozone is still a big mess.

Labour needs a response to these developments, not an expectation Osborne will have turned it around by 2015. All the signs point to a long slump – and it would be useful for Ed’s critics in Labour to read these numbers too.

4. The media impact
Its unlikely voters will confuse Labour as endorsing the masked men vandalising shop-windows. So the medium-term media impact of Saturday on Labour is likely to be negligible. There’s little point in his advisors worrying about public opinion – there is a longer game to be played.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Ed Miliband is an opportunist: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/ed-miliband-late-for-protest/ – Of course he’ll show up at a large protest.

2. Saleem Hassan

As usual the opposition is siding with those seen to be negatively affected by Tory policies. If Labour was in power and had implemented the same measures, I’m sure Cameron & Co would’ve been at the TUC conference.

Andreas, that article is a load of puerile nonsense. A vast number of Labour MPs were against the Iraq war but that is no impediment to being in the party and representing an electorate that was also against it. It is a broad church that can accomodate very diverse views. Political naivety at its worst.

2
Yes, what is the opposition for?

It’s hardly surprising the public sector and the unions were able to get people on the streets, and people sympathetic to that ideology, particularly after day after day of largely inaccurate scare stories. For similar reasons, the Countryside Alliance were able to get hundreds of thousands onto the streets in 2002.

@ Sunny Hundal

1) ” Yesterday was the start of that process.”

This begs two questions: Why has it taken so long, and where’s the beef? The reason why many left of centre voters remain unconvinced is that they haven’t seen ANY convncing evidence that Ed Miliband either wants to or can de-toxify Labour. The honeymoon period is way past over – he can’t convincingly argue that he hasn’t had time.

Andreas Moser has a point @ 1, because Ed’s credentials as “saviour” of the left are pretty thin. If he does actually HAVE a vision…let’s hear it, because all we’ve had so far is a pretty unimpressive New Labour lite take on what the Coalition are doing, and a critique which essentially says they would do much the same, but perhaps a bit slower.

2) Mobilisation

Impressive as the numbers may be, the Unions remain peripheral to vast swathes of people in the UK who aren’t unionised. Mass protests and the sympathy of large sections of the population aren’t always going to work either, as protests against the Iraq War, and some popualr sympathy against the ideological destruction of the mininig industry by Thatcher shows. Protests against the Poll Tax were a factor in persuading the government to ditch the policy… but they were only part of the story.

3) “That would not only deeply alienate its own base, but confuse more centrist voters who want to hear an alternative to Osborne’s agenda.”

Well, it hasn’t happened yet has it…. seems like it shouldn’t be outwith the ken of man (or more precisely Ed’s economic advisors) to have come up with an alternative by now.

4) The media impact.

I think you are right that people won’t tar Ed or the Labour party with the brush of supporting violence, and whilst it is true that there is a long game to played and you can’t be in thrall to the media…. there doesn have to be some beef somewhere. So far there is an awful lot of bun…..

It’s good to see politicians out with the public instead of them sitting in their ivory tower. I see no problem with Eds show on Saturday. And yes if Clegg wasn’t in power he to would be endorsing the march and rest of the Lib Dems.

“But Labour can never ever be ambivalent about or ignore the coming pain of the deep cuts. That would not only deeply alienate its own base, but confuse more centrist voters who want to hear an alternative to Osborne’s agenda.”

Well, let’s hear it then? Where is Labour’s alternative to these deep cuts….?

And is taking spending back to 2007 levels really considered deep?

Tyler

“is taking spending back to 2007 levels really considered deep?”

Good grief, not this old chestnut again.

The comparison between overall spending in 2015 and in 2007 is meaningless, because by 2015 pensions and debt interest payments will account for a higher proportion of that spending. Spending on everything else is being taken back to 1999 levels – which, yes, I do consider a deep cut.

(cf: if in 2007 Mr Smith was spending £300 a month on rent and £1000 on everything else, and in 2015 he’ll be spending £500 on rent and £800 on everything else, it’s missing the point entirely simply to point out that his overall of spending hasn’t changed.)

10. Planeshift

““is taking spending back to 2007 levels really considered deep?”

As you have been told numerous times, (and frankly for someone who works in finance you should know this anyway), spending at 2007 levels does not mean services at 2007 levels.

Firstly inflation means in real terms the purchasing power of that money is significantly less. Secondly, the allocation of that money is completely different, as interest payments and pensions will be taking up a far bigger slice of the pie. This means in the world world, actual public services getting both an absolute and real terms cut – the biggest cuts most services have ever faced.

By all means argue that the cuts are necessary, that private and third sector providers can replace lost public services or whatever, but pretending public services are not being cut is just rubbish. Saying it dimishes your point about labour needing to spell out an alternative – which I think is now essential.

G.O./Tyler,

Can I point out you are talking about different figures, and so are both right – government spending does include pensions and debt interest, but if this increases it tends to mean actual spending on other things goes down…

Sunny,

An interesting point here is that you assume the march was made up of politically left-wing people – the people that Mr Milliband does indeed need to vote for him to maintain his party’s core vote.

But if this is the case, does that not then automatically make it clear that the march was a factional protest, and in no way a popular statement of the will of the people?

@6 Galen

“Impressive as the numbers may be, the Unions remain peripheral to vast swathes of people in the UK who aren’t unionised.”

Politics remains peripheral to vast swathes of people in the UK. Where does that leave us? It hardly makes an argument, does it?

I agree that Labour needs to start coming up with something soon. They are reacting to the government and little more so far.

14. Planeshift

“But if this is the case, does that not then automatically make it clear that the march was a factional protest, and in no way a popular statement of the will of the people?”

I don’t think anyone would claim that people on marches are represenative of the population, clearly they only include people who support (or oppose) proposition X or whatever. The issue I guess is really how do politicians measure whether a protest reflects widespread dissatisfaction with a policy (and therefore a worry), or merely reflects a narrow group without popular support. However even pissing off the latter can mean losing an election if the general public doesn’t care either way.

I thought everyone was going to boo the little tosser. They got short memories.

I’m beginning to think he ant the right guy to lead the labour party not that I would vote for them to be honest .
As I see Politian’s still haven’t a clue what how people actually live.
Their hopes and dreams their worries Have they thought to actually ask them ? or me Nope.
Then I look around the web and read websites that have ideas and some of them are valid but again they are out of touch including this one to be honest.
The truth is that ed says nothing to me nor does he say anything to anyone I know.
And is as out of touch as David and nick and George…

The speech itself had no heart and where did he get the idea from to call average people comrades and brothers and sisters ?
I mean wtf .
Not everyone there is a member of the labour party and for a party leader to think that they are the converted labour is very wrong and shows he had no clue as to why people where on the march .
You can lead a dog to water surely but you cant force a veggie to eat a big mac.
It does show that politics in the uk is so absent from real people though

17. AnotherTom

@G.O. @Planeshift

Not wishing to tar everyone with the same brush, but many of the turbo Keynesians at the Guardian have been arguing that increased debt repayments is fine because it gets recycled through the economy, the same likely being the case for pensions.

Moreover, surely smaller cuts means higher debt payments means bigger cuts?

18. Planeshift

@17 – thats a different argument to the one Tyler was making though. By all means lets debate the best way to get the economy back in shape and balance the books, and what timescale to do this in, but lets not pretend that public services are not being seriously cut at the moment.

19. Planeshift

It’s also worth pointing out that even if you accept the need for the deficit to be tackled on this scale, you can still oppose specific cuts and the way the tories are going about this. Much of what the tories are doing is about using the deficit as an excuse to re-arrange or eliminate public services on ideological lines. Take the NHS – the level of spending on it will be around the same, but they are re-organising it on ideological grounds. Similarly defence spending is getting cut by far less than welfare spending – until the level of cuts on those two is reversed it is absurd to pretend that the welfare reforms and cuts are nothing other than a combination of class warfare, prejudice and ideology

@ Another Tom

“surely smaller cuts means higher debt payments means bigger cuts?”

Not if growth and/or tax rises take up the slack. It’s perfectly possible that things could go the other way – i.e. bigger cuts meaning higher debt payments (because they suppress growth, keeping revenues down and welfare spending up) meaning bigger cuts.

21. AnotherTom

@18 the “let’s not pretend” line also needs to be applied to the UK’s triple AAA rating. Let’s not pretend that the AAA rating isn’t under threat by the scale of the deficit, and the TUC and Ed Balls cannot simply wish this away.

So there are risks on both sides – not cutting the deficit is a risk, as it means growth would have to return very quickly to make up for the increased uncertainty / perceived risk of the UK not being in control of its deficits.

Personally, it appears that the TUC macroeconomic position verges on the dishonest because it plays up only one risk (that of the cuts’ impact on potential growth) and ignores the risk that the government explicitly and repeatedly says it is tackling.

The tory elites hate the unions, and so the coverage in their propaganda rags is as biased as you would expect. The tory elites are clutching their pearls and tut, tutting. “Let them eat cake” they cry.

I still find it funny how 5-6 million people funding the Labour party through Union fees is undemocratic, but a handful of wealthy individuals, some of whom don’t even pay tax here funding the tories is just fine and dandy. When you see a Blair former speech writer attacking the unions in a Murdoch rag and then going on Newsnight to attack the Labour leader you see how mad Blair was. He is a poodle to the elites, and his reputation now lies in the gutter. Still, he will die rich.

A good article Sunny. Unfortunately, there are still a load of Blairites in the Labour Party as your link shows.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  21. UK Uncut divides opinion at the March for the Alternative, Ed Miliband is accused of making a serious strategic mistake and Moussa Koussa arrives in the UK: political blog round up for 26th March – 1st April 2011 | British Politics and Policy at LSE

    […] Sunny Hundal believes that Ed Miliband was right to attend, the Labour leader’s speech at Hyde Park didn’t go down too well with The Coffee House, who […]





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