Suddenly everything changed. The burst of optimism was so startling it dazzled those too long trapped deep in a dungeon. In that one moment it was all over for the old leader who had plunged them into these depths. Suddenly here was the chance of escape everyone was waiting for.
David Miliband will rescue New Labour? I really don’t think so. End the adventure in Iraq? Brown’s already talking about it (for a second populist time I suppose), riding on Obama’s coattails. Ending ID cards and the ever encroaching authoritarianism of the surveillance state of Blair/Brown? I don’t think so. Ending the party’s obsession with corporate business and rich businessmen, which has seen the country’s rich/poor divide increase to its worst ratio since before even Victorian times? I don’t think so. Does young David have a solution to the credit crunch, which is seeing house prices plummet, energy and food bills surge upwards with huge profits for abusing energy companies, whilst economic and job confidence is in freefall? Gordo is already thinking about a new windfall tax (which is where his original popularity in 1997 came from anyway). And if he can’t get the Chinese, Americans and French to agree with one another at the Doha Round to come up with a deal to knock world food prices down, what could Miliband do differently?
So Brown’s greatest problem has consistently been presentation. He has terrible advice at Number 10, no grip on the party machine, Cabinet or the media, and the slightest mistakes (which, like the election which never was, was outright incompetence) become howlers. Having said that his decision to tax the poor to feed the middle class showed a man who, despite protestations to the contrary, clearly was after power for its own sake, more than his stated wish to combat poverty. And his shenanigans in both suggesting and then (for now) winning 42 days detention without charge for ‘terror’ suspects showed an authoritarianism which he thought the polls showed the country would admire, but instead showed a distaste for a move which even Margaret Thatcher at her worst would never have made. Would David Miliband really make a better Prime Minister because he’d make these abuses less transparent and haphazard? No.
He would step in and regulate the risk-taking City. He chooses equality over the old Blair “choice” agenda. His espousal of personal carbon trading is the most radical policy any Labour minister ever proposed in a decade, cutting energy use while redistributing wealth – but it was blocked by Brown at the Treasury.
He’d regulate the City? What, and guarantee an end to Labour Party funding? No, I don’t think so. One of the first smart moves which Blair and Brown made in 1997 was to toady up to the City, at least to gain support for the windfall tax on excess profits of the privatised utilities. To make improvements now he (or any Prime Minister) would have to announce a renewed windfall tax on energy companies like Centrica, would have to find some mechanism for cutting boardroom greed for such companies, when people at the lowest end of the job market are struggling to make ends meet – and take the poorest out of income tax altogether. I don’t hear him offering that, nor Brown, nor Cameron.
Miliband’s against the ‘choice’ agenda? Really? He’s taking collective responsibility in a government which lives and breathes it – how on earth has he shown a dislike for internal markets in the NHS and the marketisation of education? Granted Alan Johnson is trying to be nice about it with the NHS, but remember ‘choice’ isn’t just about creating a market which doesn’t naturally arise with these services, it’s also about fostering a market ethos – where’s the pressure against that from Miliband, Johnson, Harman? They too live and breathe it – there is no pressure against neo-liberal economics anywhere in Western society, apart from perhaps from the French Socialists, and look how they crashed and burned in the last election!
Oh and Miliband’s carbon trading scheme isn’t regressive?
Under the scheme, everybody would be given an annual allowance of the carbon they could expend on a range of products, probably food, energy and travel. If they wanted to use more carbon, they would be able to buy it from somebody else. And they could sell any surplus.
Is it just me or does that sound pretty regressive? That sounds like the rich being able to buy carbon allowances from the poor, which just might have been the reason why Brown blocked it.
The real reason why Miliband is in the ascendant right now is because he looks and acts like a celebrity – he brings back the Blair factor, which Labour are starting to think might have been the best thing all along. But he doesn’t offer anything different, at a time when the electorate is screaming merely for politicians to do what they promise, to offer genuine radicalism and change in a period of wasted opportunity and economic and social stagnation. Ruth Kelly isn’t offering high speed rail, she’s offering a third runway at Heathrow, without explaining what the socio-economic benefits of what would essentially be unlimited expansion of air travel for business, at time when cheap air travel is withering and dying. Jack Straw is also not clamouring for disestablishment, and his proposal for a fully elected House of Lords (still not to be a true Senate), voting at 16, as well as other progressive ideas like proportional representation for Westminster aren’t going to be enabled by any Labour leader until after the next election. And Miliband’s a neocon too – he just doesn’t like people to realise it:
“In fact, the goal of spreading democracy should be a great progressive project; the means need to combine both soft and hard power. We should not let the debate about the how of foreign policy obscure the clarity about the what.”
They’re finished. And given that the main alternative is a true Conservative neocon – David Cameron – so are we. Granted David Miliband realises that relentless New Labour tinkering with policy instead of actively making change will lose them the next election, but it’s not just about that. The actual policies they’ve implemented in the last few years have been so lamentably arrogant, regressive and socially divisive, and they’ve (this includes Miliband himself) shown themselves to be so completely out of touch that policy vacuums like Cameron gain popularity, when just 12 months ago he was so unpopular he was about to be replaced. Neo-liberal economics are what are fueling the current economic and social nightmare going on in the world right now. Gordon Brown’s successor, whoever she or he may be, needs to get to grips with that, because our ‘broken’ society is unlikely to repair itself in the way most people want without it.