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Miliband and Labor’s Conundrum

Labour’s new generation having to step up; a revolution needed to redeem the political culture of Britain – such are the sentiments as the new leader of Britain’s Labour opposition assumes his position after a race with his brother.  Indeed, amidst the usual tedium of sloganeering that accompanies pre-party conferences, one statement stood out from Ed Miliband: ‘New generation, not New Labour.’  Or so thought Jackie Ashley of The Guardian (Sep 26).  Talk is now shifting away from party visions to the new fetish: generational change.

Speculation has also been forthcoming over the ‘bloody bile’ issuing from David’s rather disgruntled side of the aisle.  Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock was happy to venture on a Channel 4 docudrama about David’s inappropriate behaviour to his sibling.  ‘David’s response to Ed running has, to my astonishment, been deeply resentful.’ (That Kinnock was astonished is itself a cause of astonishment.)  An example of such ‘bloody bile’?  Ed’s infatuation with the left, that he ‘would be in the pocket of the unions and all kinds of crap like that’ (The Guardian, Sep 17). Others who watched that docudrama were more impressed by the decidedly non-Labour surrounds the program was filmed in, oozing with comforts of bourgeois prestige.  ‘When did left-wing people start getting kitchens like that?’ pondered an irate Christina Patterson (The Independent, Sep 29).

It is certainly a message that has been promoted by former ministers David Blunkett and Alan Johnson, who looked on in dismay as the union vote got the younger contender across the line.  For Blunkett, the younger Miliband lacked the degree of clout necessary to win office.  Soft and indecisive, he spells doom, they claim, for the political ambitions of Labour.  There is probably little doubt that such negativity, spearheaded by the nefarious Lord Mandelson, tilted the contest in favour of Ed with those few vital second-preferences.

Such piles of effusive crap have certainly been dumped by those of the Right.  The unfailingly cranky Spectator has been running articles on how Ed is now attempting to ‘detoxify’ his brand, deodorising it with conservative aromas.  To be left and idealistic in opposition is a fine thing, argues Fraser Nelson (Spectator, Sep 25), but such behaviour is bound to earn you a place alongside Michael Foot who, in 1983, took Labour to an inglorious defeat.  ‘The public now accept the need or cuts’ and don’t want policies of debt expenditure.  The Marxist of the counties is bound to cause trouble, ‘confecting’ a row with unions who still back him to the hilt.  The demise of the Blairite legacy is being confirmed as we speak.  New Labour’s favorite has been banished from political sight, all due to a mere margin of 1.3 percent.

The Tories have, on the surface, little to worry about.  Polling by the Conservative Home blog of members suggested that two in three (of the 2000 surveyed) feared David as the most formidable threat, making the choice of Ed more comforting.  But will he be?

Ed has begun the process of shedding his ‘red’ credentials, insisting that he will not be an instrument of union policy.  He is keen to navigate the treacherous waters ahead, choosing to find a line distinct from the coalition on tax and spending.  He admits, for instance, the need to have changed Clause 4 in an effort to shift Labour more to market-based solutions.  ‘We were right to do so.’  What was radical about the Blair-Brown era was its reshaping of the ‘centre-ground of politics’ (Sep 29).

Whether the Miliband brothers keeps things amicable in their private lives between each other is beside the point. Political stability for Labour, on the other hand, is very much to the point. The older sibling has made a prompt decision to quit the shadow cabinet, something his brother has regarded as ‘thoughtful and gracious’.  Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi could barely contain herself.  ‘The fact that [David] doesn’t want a place in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet speaks volumes about the direction in which the new leader is taking Labour’ (The Independent, Sep 29).  All eyes will be on David from hereon in to see how he applies the salve for his inflicted wounds.  In the meantime, the ‘crap’ about generational change will just keep coming.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com