Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Myopia of Milibandmania

You've seen me writing recently on this blog about Gordon Brown's failings. Well Michael Portillo, writing about Brown's recent misfortunes, has hit the nail on the head multiple times. David Miliband, current British Foreign Secretary, last week embarked on an extraordinary media adventure, setting out what looked to all intents and purposes like an alternate Prime Ministerial manifesto. Miliband has for some time been touted as the true heir to Tony Blair, and with Brown's now numerous failings of substance and style, it seemed as though a leadership campaign was effectively started through this intervention.

Part of his argument makes sense. The electorate is turned off by exaggerations of success. Labour's success in combating poverty has been eclipsed by their embracing of corporate business and extreme wealth, which has caused the gap between rich and poor to accelerate to a size greater than ever before. They may have accelerated markets for parental and customer 'choice' in education and within the health sector, but ignore the realities on the ground which make them fail. Their foreign policy is still a mess and grossly unethical (Miliband take note), their asylum policy grossly xenophobic and homophobic, and the Home Office is doing everything in its power to restrict even the most basic civil liberties, when it should be tackling the true causes of crime. And back we go to the beginning of the paragraph.

Portillo says:
A year ago Miliband famously predicted that we would soon be yearning for Blair again. That is certainly not what most of the Labour party feel. They supported Brown for the leadership, expecting a move away from new Labour. Tired of Blair’s adulation of wealth and of the United States, they looked for a fresh commitment to social justice.
And he's quite right. Miliband isn't offering anything of the sort. He talks of 'belonging', of 'modernising', whilst ignoring the diviseness of the policies which he offers no respite from.
Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few. When debating public service reform, tax policies or constitutional changes, we apply those values to the latest challenges.
And yet New Labour does put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the few; this is a complete lie. Poverty isn't being combated in any meaningful way, and it's far from the only 'value' being ignored. 'Protection' policies allow the perception of crime to be hyped up far higher than it actually is. We're so afraid of the paedophiles lurking around every corner or every mouse click, that we fail to see abuse where it's really occuring and become paranoid about the wrong people. Asylum seekers are blamed for their own persecution, as New Labour reformulates the world around us into something it isn't, as worker protection offered by the EU continues to be rejected by a government timidly kow-towing to the corporate world. David Miliband, despite what he might say, offers no 'change' from this. Portillo continues:
Last week Bob Marshall-Andrews, the veteran Labour rebel, called on Brown to fire the foreign secretary. He is absolutely right, although if Miliband survives the weekend it may already be too late.
He is indeed right. Miliband's intervention was a thinly-veiled attack on Gordon Brown's authority (admittedly what little there is left of it). A Miliband leadership challenge, if successful, would ignore what Portillo rightly points out is an important lesson of modern history. The Conservative Party and electorate as a whole would much rather now have had the chance to have had Margaret Thatcher voted out, rather than evicted. Her authority had similarly dipped, through similarly falling completely out of step with the country, had clung to power for the sake of it, rather than continuing to offer substantial change, and had tried to legitimise the arrogance which is now (in many quarters) her legacy. Yet in flip-flopping to Major to Blair now Brown, none of them ultimately satisfying anyone, the country was denied a clear picture of the social and political alternatives before it. Blair paints himself the heir to Thatcher, as Cameron does to him, but New Labour has turned out to be a shallow sham, with politics not having truly moved on from the Thatcher era.

Brown might well be an awful Prime Minister, timidly appeasing the right wing whilst merely tinkering with left wing policies, but the electorate is already irritated that he didn't even triumph in an leadership election - that even the Labour Party didn't even truly decide they wanted him rather than a true alternative to Blair. To impose a second Blair clone on Britain, a smug one at that, would indeed be a catastrophe for the party. Under Brown they'll fall, but at least have the opportunity to debate what really should come next, and live to fight another day. Under Miliband, who hasn't even the groundswell of support Blair did in 1997, they would lose all trust and spend another quarter century tearing themselves apart. For all his numerous failings, Tony Blair must be spitting blood.

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