The operation that Ed Miliband had to tackle a deviated septum in his nose has not altered the nasal quality of his speech. The content of his speeches has not changed much either since he was elected Labour leader last year. Then we said (WR 338) that his lack of political baggage allowed him to “be all things to all people, and gives him a great deal of room for manoeuvre if the political and economic situation gets more difficult.”
In attracting criticism from both Right and Left at the recent Labour Party Conference, he’s probably achieved what he wanted. The Daily Mail (26/9/11) said “he failed to condemn coordinated strike action planned for November 30 – repeatedly suggesting it was up to the Government to give ground”. As the Sun (26/9/11) put it, “Union leaders’ joy as Mili goes soft on strikes.” From the Left Socialist Worker (1/10/11) attacked him for calling for “cooperation not conflict in the workplace” and saying that “All parties must be pro-business today.” And when he spoke to the TUC Conference he was booed and heckled because of his opposition to the 30 June strike.
Miliband is in a potentially difficult position. He can’t criticise Coalition cuts with any conviction because they’re in continuity with Labour policies. Some are saying that New Labour was finished with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But, apart from saying he’s not Brown or Blair, what can a Labour leader now do? It would be quite a feat to find something new to offer.
What is in fact on offer is a revival of old fashioned social democracy. Seumas Milne of the Guardian (28/9/11) was particularly impressed. “There’s no question who was in Miliband’s frame: the bankers and vested interests of the corporate world, rigged markets, rip-off energy conglomerates, ‘cosy cartels’ that control executive pay, and the companies so powerful ‘they can get away with anything’. But more importantly, he blamed the ‘economic system’ that governments of both main parties have overseen for decades – and called for a ‘new economy’ that rewarded ‘producers’ not ‘predators’, and ‘wealth creators’ instead of ‘asset strippers.’”
This is a traditional position for Labour to take. There’s opposition to the ‘excesses’ of capitalism’s ‘unacceptable face’, and support for healthy ‘wealth creation.’ At times during its party conference there was talk of ‘Labour values.’ No one spelt out whether this meant the rich getting richer and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as happened under Blair and Brown. But now they’ve put this behind them and can oppose the Coalition and ‘casino capitalism’ while still showing they could be a responsible bourgeois government when called upon.
At a time when the working class is increasingly angry with the austerity measures dished out by the bourgeoisie the unions have to put forward their ‘fighting’ side, and so it’s to be expected that there will be divisions in the ‘Labour family’. There are few left-wing voices in the Labour Party, so the unions have a responsibility for putting forward a ‘real alternative’ to the current government. For the future, there’s a possibility that the LibDem vote might collapse at a future election through association with the current regime. Labour would stand to gain from this. And if the modest Miliband project is unsuccessful then Yvette Cooper is already being touted as the next Labour leader. However Labour is led it will continue to try and play an effective role for British capitalism.