Saturday 4 January 2014

Why Ed Miliband needs to stop being so feeble

Ed Miliband is a weak leader. I don't think there would even be many die-hard Labour supporters to contest this assertion. Even though he is a weak leader, one thing stands in his favour. The leaders of the other two Westminster establishment parties are also incredibly weak. 

Nick Clegg completely destroyed any credibility he had when he abandoned virtually all of the Liberal Democrats stated pre-election principles in return for a few ministerial cars and salaries as part of the most zealously right-wing UK government since universal suffrage.

David Cameron is by far the weakest (and most dishonest) Prime Minister this country has suffered in decades, just at a time when we most needed a strong man of courage and integrity. Not only is he the first Prime Minister to have lost a war vote in Parliament since 1782, most of his policy making is unmistakably driven by fear of losing more votes to UKIP. Thus ever more immigrant bashing rhetoric from the Tories, taken to such an extreme that the UKIP leader Nigel Farage even popped up to criticise the Tory "Go Home" vans sent out to troll ethnically diverse areas as "nasty" and "un-British".

One of the most glaring indicators of Ed Miliband's weak leadership was the debacle over Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive "get out of jail free" card in 2013.

Having had his "workfare" mandatory unpaid labour schemes for the unemployed declared unintelligible, undemocratic and unlawful by the courts, the Tory Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith hastily cobbled together a piece of retroactive legislation to render the rules intelligible - had they been written that way at the time - in order to undermine the court judgement against him.

Astonishingly the Labour leadership decided to allow Iain Duncan Smith to rush his retroactive "I'm above the law" legislation through parliament in a single day as emergency legislation and whipped their MPs into abstaining on the vote (a list of the 50 or so honourable Labour MPs that defied the party leadership to vote against this appalling piece of legislation can be seen here).

Had Labour opposed this abject nonsense every step of the way, they would have given themselves ample opportunity to repeatedly expose Iain Duncan Smith as the callous and incompetent intellectual lightweight that he is. The reason for allowing him to get away with it is almost unfathomable. It seems that the (now-departed) Shadow Work and Pensions Minister Liam Byrne was a big fan of Iain Duncan Smith's workfare schemes, and advised Miliband to support Iain Duncan Smith's desperate efforts to undermine the court judgement against him, so that the policy of exploiting the unemployed as a source of free labour could be salvaged and kept as a Labour policy. Instead of telling Byrne that he was out of his mind and sacking him on the spot, Ed Miliband willingly instructed his Labour MPs to hand Iain Duncan Smith his "get out of jail free card".

Instead of using the court judgement against Workfare to his political advantage, Ed Miliband gave Iain Duncan Smith free rein to undermine the legal system with retroactive legislation because Labour essentially agreed with the Tory policy of exploiting the unemployed as a source of unpaid labour. Looking at many of Labour's other policies, they are pretty much the same as the Tories. 

The reason that the Labour party are basically no different from the Tory party (other than a few bits of pseudo-socialist window dressing) is that the party has been usurped by adherents of the once extreme-right, but now mainstream economic ideology of neoliberalism. The Labour leadership is dominated by people that buy into the right-wing pseudo-economic fallacies that underpin the neoliberal ideology.

The narrative in the mainstream corporate media is that labour needed to move to the right because there is no longer any appetite for left wing politics in the UK. That's their explanation of why whichever of the three establishment parties the public vote for, we get an orthodox neoliberal government that occupies the right-wing authoritarian quadrant of the political compass.

The problem with this common interpretation is that there is demonstrably a huge appetite for left-wing ideas amongst the UK public. 84% of people think the NHS should be run as a public service, 68% of people would like to see the energy companies renationalised, 67% of people believe the Royal Mail shouldn't have been sold off and 66% of people want the railways renationalised too.

These results show that the majority of the British public are not just a little bit left-wing, they embrace the socialist principle of state administration of vital infrastructure and services.

When the YouGov results are broken down by party affiliation the results are even more compelling. 79% of people that identify as Labour supporters say that the railways should be renationalised and 82% of them say that the energy companies should be renationalised too.

Given that 82% of Labour party followers support full renationalisation of the energy market, and that 68% of the public in general do too, one might think that energy market renationalisation might make a popular policy for the Labour party manifesto. However what Ed Miliband has offered instead is the continuation of the private ownership of our energy infrastructure, just with a 20 month cap on energy prices. This energy price freeze policy is marginally better than what the Tories are offering (taxpayer subsidised profiteering from the energy companies) but it isn't socialism, and it isn't what people want from the Labour party.

If Ed Miliband announced that Labour was going to renationalise the railways and the utilities companies, and unpick the Tory/Lib Dem NHS privatisation by stealth reforms*, the public would approve but the right-wing corporate press would obviously go into outright attack mode. Remember how the Daily Mail launched a disgusting smear campaign against Ed Miliband's deceased father after Ed announced his energy price freeze policy, well imagine how they would react if he announced a properly socialist plan to renationalise the energy market.

It is clear that Ed Miliband and the Labour party are running scared of the right-wing press, hence their refusal to commit to any socialist policies. They should understand that there is nothing they can do about the right-wing press, if they develop party policy to appease the the tax-dodging owners of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph or the foreign owner of the Sun and Times, then they might lessen the vitriol of the partisan political attacks against them in these papers, but they will never win them over to supporting a Labour party headed by Ed Miliband, no matter how brazenly the prostitute themselves. They should perhaps work on the principle that if the tax-dodgers that own the Daily Mail and the Telegraph are directing their employees to scream blue murder about Labour policies, then perhaps they the Labour party is headed in the right direction.

The Labour leadership are also clearly frightened of the neoliberal EU competition rules, which are often cited as the reason for particular privatisations (such as the NHS and the Royal Mail), however it is absolutely clear that France ignores these rules - The French state owns 85% of the energy company EdF, they operate their own rail network (SNCF), their postal service (La Poste)
and also retain large stakes in various other companies such as the vehicle manufacturer Renault and the telecoms giant Orange.

An even better policy for Labour than doing as the French do and ignoring inconvenient EU competition rules, would be to openly defy the EU and demand that the rules are changed, thus creating the populist impression that Labour are prepared to stand up and fight against the imposition of EU rules that go against British economic interests and the will of the British people.

Returning to the poll results - it is quite clear that by refusing to talk about renationalisation, the Labour party are leaving the door open to UKIP. The reults show that even a majority of people that identify as Tory supporters would like to see the railways and energy companies nationalised, however UKIP are very close to Labour, with 73% of UKIP supporters favouring rail renationalisation to Labour's 79% and 78% of UKIP supporters favouring energy market renationalisation to Labour's 82%.

If Labour remain ideologically wedded to the bankrupt ideology of "free market" neoliberal pseudo-economics, they'll actually leave the door open to UKIP to steal countless votes from disillusioned Labour supporters with pledges to defy the EU and renationalise the rail network and/or the utilities companies.

If Miliband wants to win the next election, a populist policy of renationalisation backed up with strong statements that he will not be intimidated by the (tax-dodging) right-wing press barons, nor the EU competition rules (that other EU member states seem happy to ignore completely). The problem is that he is probably too weak a leader to attempt any such thing, and will instead listen to the orthodox neoliberals like Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Liam Byrne that have infested the party, and refuse to offer Labour supporters (nor the general public) what they actually want.

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* These reforms compel NHS service commissioners to accept the lowest bid for contracts regardless of factors like standards of care, patient safety or continuity of service.

Note - all polling statistics in this article come from this report by YouGov

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