Ed Miliband will protest on March 26 – and it matters

So, it’s official. Ed Miliband will be speaking at the TUC’s ‘March For The Alternative‘ demonstration on 26th March. Well, that’s what Peter Hain told me on Twitter today, and I’m willing to take his word for it.

Cue right-wing hysteria about ‘Red Ed’. In other countries, no-one would blink if the left-of-centre opposition leader joined his supporters in marching against an aggressive neo-liberal government. In this country, the legacy of Thatcherism’s war against the labour movement is that trade unions are savagely demonised by the right. We have got to the point that both Tory party and press barely recognise their legitimacy in public life.

Well, whether they like it or not, trade unions are by far the biggest democratic movement in the country, representing 7 million workers. Not that that secures them a place in David Cameron’s Big Society, of course.

It matters that the leader of the Labour Party will be among the hundreds of thousands who take to the streets in March. It will be the first big opportunity for all opponents of the Government to come out in force. That’s the majority of us, by the way. According to YouGov, just 30% of us approve of the Government, compared to 55% who disapprove – and that’s before most of the cuts have hit. Like all the other protesters on 26th March, Ed Miliband will be marching with the mainstream.

Ed Miliband will also show that Labour stands with all of those who will be hit by cuts: those who will lose their jobs (or even their homes); those who will see their pay drop, or their benefits slashed, or their pensions attacked; those who will have their services taken away from them; and all of us whose communities will suffer because of each of these things happening to people around them.

This is important because – God help us – if Labour ends up losing the next election, it will likely be due to the disillusionment of its own supporters. Between 1997 and 2010, Labour lost 5 million voters – and 4 million of those were under Blair. But the Tories only gained a million votes. Some went Lib Dem – tragically thinking that they were a progressive alternative – but many others simply sat on their hands. If they see a Labour leader willing to stick his neck out and fight for them, they will be so much more likely to return to the Labour fold.

When we are holding Ed Miliband to account when he fails at his job – which is fighting the Tories’ class war agenda – it is worth reflecting that Labour has shifted in recent months. Can you really imagine Tony Blair or Gordon Brown joining a TUC march against a Tory Government?

Of course, this doesn’t mean we stop putting pressure on Ed Miliband. Replacing Alan Johnson with Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor was a step in the right direction, but Labour has still to come up with a coherent alternative to the Tories’ cuts offensive. The strategy current remains one of accepting the logic of a sweeping cuts programme, but with the caveat that it is being implemented too soon and too fast.

Ed Miliband has also issued a number of unfortunate attacks on trade unions. He thinks this will satisfy the Tory press, but in reality he is only fuelling them.

We should also call on him to throw Labour’s resources as a party behind the TUC march. My own party in Hackney is on a real drive to get as many people demonstrating as possible. We need as many Labour party members and Labour placards on the demo as possible – to show that Labour really is on the side of working people facing a wholescale attack on their living standards.

But Ed Miliband’s appearance at the demo will be an important symbolic gesture, and one that the left should applaud.

UPDATE: Peter Hain now says: ‘My mistake. Ed has said he will speak at a rally, but don’t hold your breath that he’ll march‘. So obviously we need clarification as to what “speak at a rally” means – but I’m sure the thousands of Labour members and supporters who march will expect their leader to do so alongside them…

Peter Hain deleted his original tweet, but thankfully PoliticsHome’s Paul Waugh has a screenshot as proof.

  1. Milliband should stay away. This should not be about vote Labour. He is just another careerist politician who is scared of the right wing press so he likes to play it nice and safe. I was planning on attending the march but have now decided not too. The working classes are on their knees in this country and this posh boy isnt the answer.

  2. Peter, please go along and protest Ed’s involvement. Not out of hatred but out of sheer disappointment that he cannot see what is needed to win back the support of the working class.

    This article simply ignores the possibility of a viable progressive alternative on the left (outside the Labour Party). And yet, it is precisely such an alternative that requires to be built,… and for the good of all of us, including the Labour Party.

    A large section of Labour Party supporters are running scared of such an alternative lest it split the vote. This means that nothing to the left of the Labour Party leadership (who have never before been so far to the right) may be discussed lest the press ridicule those who raise their heads above the parapet. It also means that a large left movement is impossible to build as moderates run to the Labour Party (in its most narrow, Fabianist guise) whenever someone raises a decent socialist idea.

    It is only when the labour movement as a whole has the self-confidence to engage with legitimately socialist ideas that the Labour Party can possibly regain any progressive dynamism. Otherwise it can only be a manager of neoLiberalism, offering tax breaks and light regulation to capital as it tries to have schools and hospitals built in its name (albeit not by public sector workers).

    Inevitably, parties to the left of Labour must eventually be taken seriously; if not by the gutter press at first, then at least within the ranks of the labour movement.

    Only by re-engaging with those ideas that illuminate our past and the actions which brought about the change that those ideas suggested can we re-claim the historical initiative. There has never been a better opportunity, if we can take our head out of our hands long enough to see it.

    • Craig: “the Labour Party leadership (who have never before been so far to the right)“: Are you serious – Ed Miliband is to the right of Blair? Whatever you think of him, he’s not that. And the opportunity for a new party to the Left of Labour – where’s the evidence for that?

      Now is the best opportunity to move Labour leftwards for 30 years. Let’s not screw it up!

  3. The irony of this article strikes me.
    How can ‘Red’ Ed be standing for those hit by cuts, when not only is his party currently doing NOTHING to resist them, but he has said HIMSELF that Labour would make near enough the same cuts if they were in power!
    The hipocrisy hurts and it is disgusting he’s been allowed to associate himself with this movement.