It’s less than a fortnight since Ed Miliband’s unexpected political demise, and already his would-be successors and closet critics are stripping the flesh from his political corpse like extras from The Walking Dead. Personally, I can’t really blame anyone in the Labour Party holding Miliband up to serious scrutiny, given the catastrophic failure to score what should have been an open goal that has paved the way for our transformation into what one Scots commentator has rightly called the ‘most pitiless rightwing nation in Europe.’
But the would-be contenders who are stripping Miliband’s bones bare are really a staggeringly uninspiring bunch, whose political noses only seem attracted to the smell of flesh when it comes drifting in from the right.
No one can be surprised to hear Blair and his old cronies – including Miliband’s bitter and vengeful brother – at the forefront of the feeding frenzy, saying the kind of stuff that you know they will always say. But to witness members of Miliband’s former Shadow Cabinet picking bits off him is an unedifying spectacle, which speaks volumes about why Labour lost. Burnham, Cooper, Kendall, Hunt – every single one of them now appears to regard Miliband’s tepid and convoluted One Nation Labourism as though it were a blueprint towards a revolutionary future written by Lenin, Trotsky, Robespierre and Che Guevara – and Russell Brand.
All of them now renounce the policies they once stood for and accept without question the tabloid/Blairite canard that Miliband was ‘too left-wing’ and ‘anti-business’ and that that was why Labour lost the election. And boy, are they ready to put things right. The self-styled ‘fresh start’ candidate Liz Kendall says that Labour won’t win again unless it can offer ‘reform’ of public services. Yvette Cooper wants Labour to stop opposing cuts in Corporation Tax because Labour ‘ sounded anti-business, anti-growth and ultimately anti-worker for the many people employed by large companies in the UK.’
And ‘change candidate’ Andy Burnham rejects Miliband’s Mansion Tax as an unpopular manifestation of the ‘politics of envy’. Burnham also wants a ‘tough but fair’ package on immigration, which reduces benefit entitlements to European migrants, on the grounds that: ‘Freedom of movement is a two-way street. But freedom to work is not the same as freedom to claim. And I think that is where the commonsense view of most British people is.’
This is the kind of thinking that gives thinking a bad name. How about the possibility that this ‘commonsense view’ that most migrants come to the UK to claim benefits is in fact a fantasy, based on prejudice and inaccurate information emanated from tabloids, Ukip and the Tory government? Why doesn’t Burnham have the guts to address and counter these prejudices, instead of pandering to them, like Miliband’s stunningly moronic and disgraceful ‘immigration controls’ mugs?
Anyone listening to Kendall’s drivel about public service ‘reform’ would be forgiven for thinking that the electorate was simply gagging for a government to hand over health, education and policing to the likes of Serco and Sodexo, and turn every school into an academy or set up a free school in their back yard.
Contrary to what Burnham says about the ‘politics of envy’, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that Miliband’s mansion tax – a policy pilfered from the Lib Dems not the Socialist Workers Party – was popular. One YouGov poll found that 75 percent of respondents supported it. There is nothing, nothing at all, to suggest that tens of thousands of Scots abandoned Labour because it was ‘too leftwing’ or ‘anti-business.’
On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that a)the Scots were attracted to the SNP because it built a middle-class/working class coalition around a social-democratic agenda that was more coherent and more in tune with Labour’s best political traditions than the convoluted mishmash that Miliband was offering and b) because Labour aligned itself so closely with the Tories during the referendum campaign that there was no longer any daylight between them.
Despite all this Yvette Cooper insists that ‘when there’s too little hope, optimism or confidence, the politics of anger, fear and division takes over – that’s what the Tories, the SNP and Ukip all exploited and campaigned on in this election.’
What brain-numbing gibberish is this. Ukip and the Tories certainly played the politics of ‘anger, fear and division’, but hope, optimism and confidence were precisely what the SNP were all about. When Labour can find talented and articulate 20-year-olds like Mhairi Black who are willing to be MPs and are given the chance to, they might learn what optimism and hope actually means. Until then, best not to pontificate on what are clearly alien concepts.
After all, it’s difficult to see what hope and optimism is supposed to be generated by Burnham’s ‘tough’ talk about immigration – talk that is at least in part based on the threat posed by Ukip to Labour’s traditional heartlands, despite the fact most of the new voters who migrated to Ukip had previously voted Tory not Labour.
There is likely to be a lot more of this in the great reflection and soul-searching that we will have to endure as the leadership contest unfolds for the next three months, as the Tories and the tabloids constantly seek to come up with a ‘pro-business’ candidate by portraying anyone they don’t like as ‘too left-wing’ or in thrall to the unions.
They are unlikely to be overly concerned by the candidates on display, but those who want to see the end of Tory Britain should be. The Blairite tendency always argues that the party succeeded by going to where the electorate already is, rather than attempting to pull it to where it wants it to be. But the logical extension of that kind of politics is the soulless and heartless political machine that Labour has become, and the dismal collection of careerists and appatchniks that are lining up to take the top job.
There is little doubt that the extra-parliamentary left has often acted as if all Labour had to do was ‘get back to its working class roots’ to win, and it is also true that no political party will win national elections in the UK unless it can appeal to a broad constituency. But that constituency isn’t necessarily the one that Burnham, Cooper & Co think it is. The SNP succeeded, at least in part, because it campaigned on a broadly progressive agenda based around the same components that Labour now thinks are ‘too left-wing’: opposition to austerity, defense of public services and anti-militarism.
Whether the SNP can deliver on these pledges remains to be seen, but it now has a powerful, confident and alert constituency to answer to if it doesn’t. Its politicians were able to convince the Scots electorate to believe in them because they believed in something themselves. You don’t get the same results by checking out the focus groups and trying to guess what you think they want. You have to believe in something and have the courage and conviction to fight for it – even if the tabloids and the City hate you.
That’s something Labour hasn’t been willing to do for a long long time. It wants to be loved by everyone, but the rich and powerful most of all.
That’s one reason why it lost, and if the political zombies that are now lurching towards us with glassy eyes and outstretched arms are anything to go by, I can’t help feeling that it will lose again.