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Attlee and Thatcher transformed Britain. Ed Miliband is next in line

laaa-tall-smallOut of every great crisis comes some recognition that the old order has failed. As a result there is an opportunity to create an entirely new way of doing things. For most people alive in Britain today the two prime ministers who radically altered British society were Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. One remade Britain for the better, the other transformed it for the worse.

The current Tory-led government is doomed to fail in 2015 partly because it is trying to breathe life into an economic system that has already expired, a form of political necrophilia. Ed Miliband has the opportunity to become a political leader who radically changes the British economy and society by replacing the failed Thatcherite model.

The opportunity arises because of the depth of the current crisis. This is the worst depression since the 1930s and the longest fall in British living standards for nearly 150 years. It is combined with both ecological and climate crises which all have potentially disastrous consequences. As a result it is impossible to make do and mend.

A debt-fuelled rise in consumption is not a sustainable recovery and three-quarters of the population continue to see their living standards fall. That is why Ed Miliband’s message on the cost of living crisis is so powerful. It resonates with the experience of the overwhelming majority of voters.

Miliband has set the political agenda, which obliges all other politicians and commentators to respond to it. He is also one of the most powerful leaders of the opposition in living memory. Cameron is so weak and discredited, a fact assiduously avoided by the Tory press, that Ed determines policy on Syria, on Leveson and now on HS2.

Labour will win by continuing to set the agenda. Everything else, from being tough on social security or bending to the vile anti-immigration agenda of Ukip and the Tories, is at best a pointless distraction from the economic crisis. It also allows the right to set the agenda and so undermines Labour’s support.

Unfortunately, all Labour leaders in or out of office face pressures that Tory leaders never do. The extreme and ill-judged attacks on Miliband from the CBI show that those who are responsible for the crisis will not abandon the old, failed economic model without a fight. At the root of our economic crisis is the slump in investment, that is a refusal by firms to invest their profits. Big businesses are sitting on a cash mountain that could be used to finance recovery. Many react with fury at every modest and reasonable step to alter that.

That opposition always finds its echo within the Labour party. A series of tightly organised rightwing groups exist to represent business interests and are generously funded by them. In the name of appealing to the centre ground the politics of those groups lost Labour lost 4.5 million votes between 1997 and 2010. Crucially, the Thatcherite settlement was also left unaltered and led directly to the crash of 2008 and the subsequent depression.

Miliband will need support to resist these and other pressures. That is why I am happy to support the establishment of Labour Assembly Against Austerity and its initial conference this weekend. Thanks to Miliband the cost of living crisis is now the terrain on which the next general election will be fought. That crisis is a direct product of austerity policies which amount to a transfer of incomes from labour and the poor to capital and the rich.

Labour Assembly Against Austerity aims to bring to together all those across the party who reject the failed austerity agenda of the Tory-led government. Miliband’s focus on the policies of sustainability, rising living standards and redistribution will win Labour the next election. Increased investment will deliver them. Labour can end austerity.

On Saturday (9 November), Ken will be speaking at the Labour Assembly Against Austerity conference in London alongside a wide range of speakers including journalist Owen JonesAnn Pettifor, Michael Meacher, Professor Keith Ewing, Labour MPs, parliamentary candidates, trade unionists and Labour Party activists discussing a range of topics: opposing austerity, defending public services and the welfare state, and finding an anti-austerity platform for Labour to win on in 2015. You can find more on the website and buy tickets.


  1. swatantra says:

    Ken is right, but first Ed has to get into power.
    After 20 yrs, ‘The Market’ has failed. And that is why ed’s call for more State intervention and egulation will resonate with the public. But talk about attacks on the Labour Leader ring a bit hollow; most of the attacks come from idealists on the Left and not the CBI. What we need are Pragmatic Politics. If some doesn’t work, find somethung else that does, and that means, everything , everything is up for discussion.

  2. John Reid says:

    Well said Swantantra

  3. swatantra says:

    An extremely good Conference with about 200+ attending Birbeck on a rainy day.
    The Session on the economy was particularly interesting, with a few divisions between Meacher and Livingstone and Anne Pettifor who I thought being an economist had some really good suggestions to make. Ken turns out to have been a monetarist all the time and believed in balanced Budgets, and Michael was described by Anne as a woolly headed idealist with airey fairy ideas about taxing the wealthy. Anne pointed out that its the flow of money that is the problem, and shes right. The wealthy manage to squirrel their money away into tax havens. but why can’t we have a Robin Hood Tax FTT, and why not tax every single transaction at the till, + VAT of course.
    At the session on Defend the link Keith Ewing had the most unteresting predictions to make. Apparently theres already an all Party group of MPs looking into State Funding of Parties and come the Election we’ll have State Funding and capping of donations, so the Unions will have the money Political Fund but no none to give it. Well here’s my suggestion: why not spend that money on building up Union membershiop and campaigning and doing what Unions should be doing, increasing their influence oin the community and in collective bargaining? I know its a pretty radical but that suggestion might just work. No one actually addressed the issue that there is no democracy in the LP at the moment even Peter Wilsman, with a Union starnglehold on the LP. The fact that the LP ois a ‘Federation’ won’t wash any longer; the Federation idea is 100 yrs old, its old hat, and I think we’ve all kind of moved on from there, apoart from the dinasaurs. OMOV, please.

  4. Rod says:

    Swatantra: “Michael []Meacher] was described by Anne [Pettifor] as a woolly headed idealist with airey fairy ideas about taxing the wealthy.”

    Well done to Anne. Too often Labour MPs opt for an applause-raising response which, in reality, amounts to nothing more than kicking the ball into the long grass – similar to McCluskey making a speech and raising the prospect of a general strike.

    This approach produces the appearance of a willingness to take action but leads only to the dissipation of enthusiasm.

    Better to deal with reality than go for self-satisfying posturing.

  5. Robert says:

    Swat mate little wonder they did not vote you into power your as daft as they come you and John would make a real pair of politicians.

    Not a hope in hell of Labour getting into power and demanding state funding it will not happen Labour has always wanted it sadly the Tories do not and I suspect the public does not either.

    As for Unions I believe the Union should be independent and nothing to do with Labour.

    Funding should be from membership live within your means end of story

  6. Robert says:

    I forgot and Labour have stated they do not have any group looking at state funding it has a group which is looking at getting funding out side the Union, but it has not or has not been looking at getting any further funding then it already has.

  7. John Reid says:

    My union PCs doesn’t fund labour,

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