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If you think Ed Miliband was too leftwing you weren’t paying attention

Immigration mug squareIt is alarming how quickly the myth has taken hold that Ed Miliband lost the general election because he was too “leftwing. On the one hand, it might seem a reasonable guess at all the reasons for our failure. Miliband is, after all, the son of one of the 20th century’s most distinguished Marxist academics. But in reality, anyone who says that Labour’s policy positions under him represented a lurch to the left simply was not paying attention.

Certainly we had some signature policies that might be characterised as leftwing: notably the promise to ban some zero-hours contracts (but not all, as over-enthusiastic campaigners sometimes implied); the pledge to scrap the bedroom tax; and the proposal to introduce a mansion tax. Calling these policies leftwing is partly an attempt to trash them. But the truth is that these were policies that polled well; and, as someone who knocked on thousands of doors in the course of the campaign, I can testify that they were popular on the doorstep.

It is difficult to call a campaign leftwing when it proudly produced a souvenir mug about immigration controls.”

But it is difficult to call a campaign leftwing when its keynote labour market policies were framed as anti-immigrant, and it proudly produced a souvenir mug about immigration controls. And, predictably, trying to out-Ukip Ukip proved to be a doomed endeavour. It did not stop Ukip piling up votes in Labour areas, or taking enough votes off Ed Balls to gift his seat to the Tories.

Scrapping the bedroom tax was eyecatching, but the Labour party was always too frightened to contest the main Tory narrative about welfare. We should have spent five years reminding people endlessly that 50% of the welfare budget goes on the elderly, another 20% goes on in-work benefits, and a relatively small proportion goes on the archetypal “work-shy scrounger”. But we were too terrified of polls, which revealed that the Benefits Street narrative was wildly popular, to undertake the painstaking work of challenging the Tory narrative. So it all culminated a few months ago with Rachel Reeves, our shadow work and pensions secretary, saying bluntly that Labour was not the party of people on benefits. That may have been a pragmatic position. It was certainly not a leftwing one, or even particularly compassionate.

But the fundamental reason why it makes no sense to characterise Miliband’s policies as leftwing is the failure to challenge austerity. From the beginning, our shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, believed that the most important thing was to match the Tory approach to austerity. If you strip out the mansion tax and other gimmicks, we made it clear that we were going to match the Tories cut for cut outside protected areas such as education and health. It may have been the responsible approach, as Balls insisted. But it was scarcely leftwing. Yet commentators and former Labour ministers who are trashing Miliband for his supposed leftism go unchallenged. When the facts don’t fit their theory they ignore them:

They dismiss the fact that the majority of the Scottish electorate voted emphatically for a party with clear leftwing policies on, among other things, austerity and scrapping Trident. We are asked to believe that Labour voters in the west of Scotland voted SNP because of a mysterious mystic nationalism.

Miliband is a good man with progressive instincts. But the vitriol being poured on him by former Labour ministers perhaps has more to do with a sense of grievance that he did not consult with them enough than any extreme leftism in his policy positions.

This article previously appeared at The Guardian 

Image credit: the Labour Party

30 Comments

  1. Billericaydickie says:

    Can you tell us what the point of this article is? Do you in fact have a point except to say that Miliband wasn’t left wing?

    1. John P Reid says:

      Quite, and as Blair /Boris Johnson were the biggest supporters of immigration, the fact that labour wants controls on immigration, doesn’t mean that Ed was too the right of what was suggested, he was left wing we lost, elections are fought on the centre ground, weve got to go back to the centre to win.

    2. The point of this article is to counter the politicians and commentators queuing up to argue that Ed Miliband was too “left wing” This is a myth as I set out above. But, if it becomes accepted as truth, the danger is that the Labour Party will be pushed even further to the right.

      1. John P Reid says:

        What the centre ground you mean, as in the place where elections are own, and as pointed out, as BlaIr in the centre was the one who was pro immigration, and the left want controls, as cheap labour from abroad,pushed wages down,for those living here, controlling immigration,isn’t right wing

      2. Robert says:

        I think the way people voted they have figured out where labour and Miliband was going.

      3. swatantra says:

        Diane is absolutely right. EdM was no more Left wing than I am, although we are both members of the LP. EdM was a centrist. The Cult of Red Ed was just a useful device for the Media.

        1. John P Reid says:

          Didn’t you say you backed the death penalty, be the 40p tax rate,
          The line between centre/left and right, becomes divided on issues of liberty, and liberalism
          Witness the islamaphobia law, stopping freedom of speech,or Harriet Harmon calling for alleged rPists to be greeted as guilty ,till proven innocent, which would throw into jeopardy,all the liberties in law we have, where was Ed criticisms thrm,when she said it

          I note in the guardian, that some new MPs have praised Harriet as deputy, maybe they forgot her links to liberty,when they were backing the Peado ,information exchange.

  2. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    I agree with your analysis, but however, I would like to give Ed Balls a little benefit of the doubt.
    In the past he has shown himself economically astute. He kept us out of the Euro. Judging what has happened in Greece, Spain and all other Eurozone countries where they have all given up their right to issue their own currencies, making it impossible to run a deficit in their own currency, he was very wise.
    In 2010, his Bloomberg Speech showed Keynesian competence social democratic principles. He went against TINA, the neoliberal mantra.
    http://www.edballs.co.uk/blog/?p=907

    Why did he change tack in 2013, promising the Tories spending limits?
    His U Turn was noted as dramatic, some here calling it an error,
    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/jun/16/austerity-uturn-ed-balls-mistake
    Was it EU treaties? That I am not sure. But as you said in this article, both Eds were being sniped at by Mandelson and Blair. They were intimidated by the Lord Sainsbury and other business funded Progress Party.
    I heard EB call Mandelson the most annoying man in politics at the Norwich Eastern Conference Nov 2012.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Dear Sandra Crawford I generally find your posts articulate and economically informed to an extent that is seldom equaled here or elsewhere.

      Unfortunately, (in my opinion anyway,) Balls was essentially just another thieving toe rag like so many, (too many, Micheal Meacher and few others being rare exceptions,) of colleagues, (on both sides of the house,) so regardless of his economic or or other credentials the first thing that Labor need to do is get rid of the rotten wood.

      But the voters have already and quite properly shown him and Laws and few others the door; so let’s, not, give him the benefit of the doubt, (not that there really is any,) lets find somebody who can keep their sticky fingers out of the till to start with.

  3. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    Please do not call this a responsible approach.
    What is responsible about starvation, food banks, eviction, un and underemployment, when as Ed Balls said originally and correctly, that it was all unnecessary?
    Why can’t the government spend into the economy, creating jobs and helping small businesses, and repatriating jobs from China to improve our trade deficit. That is how to reduce the deficit in the long term, without suffering.
    Anne, I like your take, but please – you sounded for a moment like even you were taken in by the cuts!

    1. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

      Sorry, Diane!!

  4. Rod says:

    “the failure to challenge austerity”

    There we have it.

    Even the biggest trade unions that sponsored the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, in an act of gob-smacking incoherence, backed Labour’s pro-austerity stance.

    Quite simply, the Labour Party is not fit for purpose (i.e. providing an alternative to the Tories) and the absence of internal democracy places the the Labour Party beyond reform.

    1. Robert says:

      I think the people decided that one it’s self if you need to have austerity then why not vote for the master of it not the party which attempted to copy it, the only party that said no to austerity actually wiped out the labour party in it’s country.

      All Labour did was follow the other parties like UKIP and of course Progress and of course the Tories and hoped people would vote progress they did not

    2. Billericaydickie says:

      What happened to the People’s Assembly.

      1. Robert says:

        The people did not buy it…

  5. Billericaydickie says:

    If we can cut through this rhetoric it would seem that Ms Abbot is saying that Ed Miliband wasn’t left wing. Nobody says he was and the evidence is that there was little to distinguish the Labour and Tory manifestos, and that if he had been then Labour would have won because the country is crying out for a left approach.

    This argument is all the more ridiculous coming from someone now being promoted as the ” left ” hope for the party and Mayor of London who sent her child to a private school because the ones in the constituency she has represented since 1987 weren’t good enough and who thinks that white people are racists. Should be enough to lose here the mayoral and leadership elections.

  6. Billericaydickie says:

    Should have been ” her ” in the last line. How about an edit facility?

  7. David Pavett says:

    For the entire history of Labour the right has argued that capitalism is manageable and that capitalist boom and bust can be contained. The left used to argue that the only permanent way to break this cycle is to the progressive socialisation of the means of production in various ways. Now most of them seem either to have given up on that and focus instead on ways taming capitalism. The modern monetary theory favoured by some seems to me to be the latest variant of that approach. They argue that if only we could understand better ways of regulating the budget and credit creation all would be well.

    Diane is right to argue that the left-wing content of Labour’s offer was minimal. Now we need to regain a belief that a fundamentally different type of society, in which the great channels of production are not dominated by private interests, is possible. We should, I think, be wary of the offer from some academic economists that the problems of capitalism can be sorted with a new approach to the money supply/government spending/national debt/credit creation.

    It is instructive to read Crossland’s The Future of Socialism in this regard. It represents one of those many phases in which leading Labour intellectuals were convinced that at last capitalism could be tamed with the appropriate (Keynesian) techniques. How many centuries of such beliefs does it take before more on the left decide that we need to start from a fundamental critique of capitalism and to take stock of the contribution that Marx and Marxists have made to such a critique? Such a critique is, as far as I can see, completely absent from the offer of the so-called modern monetary theory being advocated by some on the left (including in these columns).

    1. Robert says:

      Well Blair and Mandy will not allow change Progress will be the main thrust at the next election. We can out do the Tories with cuts and tax cuts, and also benefits cuts although what benefits.

  8. Verity says:

    I still struggle with this idea that that laissez faire immigration without planned (and pre- planned) responsibility for consequences is ‘left wing’ and controls and rational (i.e. random, individualistically aspirational, and non – racial) entry is right wing’. That was until I realised that it was because she had not grasped the difference between ‘left wing’ and ‘liberal’. I can now see the point of Diane contribution. It may not be so obvious to Diane that Ed’s policy was not left wing that she needs to spell it out for self clarification and assurance.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree with you about immigration. Refusal to discuss any sort of control and any idea of an acceptable volume (in terms of our ability to plan resources) is an untenable position. It is pretty much impossible to get Diane Abbott and people who take her sort of position to answer this point. I have tried. It does not seem to have occurred to them that under capitalism free movement of labour amounts to a generalisation of the reserve army of the unemployed. The founders of the EU did not include it because they wanted to expand the limits of individual freedom.

      1. John P Reid says:

        After Len Mclusky and Owen jones being the sort of people who told Ed what policies to have, then after Milibands defeat, saying we lost as it wasn’t left wing enough, to quote Attlee a long period of silence, would be good from them now

        1. billericaydickie says:

          Don’t bank on it especially with Owen Jones. He just can’t keep his mouth shut, fortunately for the Tories.

          1. John P Reid says:

            His chavs book is fantastic though, a good read for all future labour leaders

        2. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

          I do not think that sticking to Tory spending plans and the economically illiterate “balancing of the books” was anywhere near what Owen Jones and Len McCluskey wanted.
          They were anti austerity, recognising that government is not a household, and does not have to balance books. It is a sovereign issuer of currency.
          If it can create and give several billions of pounds directly to the banks in bail outs, that just proves that they are being dishonest or incompetent. This money was created out of nothing through the central bank.
          This could be done to create jobs, boost small businesses and the NHS.
          Government could edistribute via taxes more, but refuses too.
          If Attlee were alive today, he would be telling the neoliberal thatcherites to shut up, not the left – they have been keeping far too quiet.

          1. John P Reid says:

            Ed denouncing Blair, to booes ,saying he was going back to being Old labour, in the words of one Labour person after his election we’ve got our party back, and th e assuring after the 2008 crash,that the public had swing to the left,and we’re ready for a tax and spend left wing government,were to Quote Mcklusky ,music to his ears, Owen Jones denouncing of Dan hodges,blocking him twitter, the Labpur party war I g Hodges when he was still a member to knock, Jones,through fear of losing his support,and Jones himself, pointing out that Hodges was wrong to assume that. The public weren’t swinging left,show how wrong Jones was

  9. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Ed Miliband; Brought up in the US, (“watching Dallas,”) living in his £2.6 million, (but with only a miserly 2 kitchens,) London mansion, worth around, (surmised,) £ 6 million, (even without his wife’s £200K pa income,) or his family connections with merchant banking is somehow supposed to have be Left wing?

    A likely story.

  10. Billericaydickie says:

    As Dianne has raised the subject of immigration, at least I assume she has with the image of the mug, what are her views on it?

    1. Robert says:

      Her views are like most of ours are, you let in nearly five Million now your against it, so you bring out a stupid mug to prove your UKIP.

  11. Robert says:

    Now Murphy resigns they are all slowly being shown the door.

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