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It’s time to face up to Miliband’s contradictions – and sort them out

Balls & MilibandSpeaking at the Labour Representation Committee’s fringe at last year’s Trades Union Congress, Mark Serwotka assessed Ed Miliband as politically “schizophrenic”. It struck a chord. The Labour leader is a man of frustrating political and personal contradictions.

The New Labour days were famous for sofa politics, spin, doublespeak, doublethink and policies made on the hoof. Ed has been encouraged by those of us who supported him to break free from these methods. We have stressed the importance of him appearing a man of his word. But it is easy to forget that Miliband, as a former deputy chair of Progress, is firmly a child of Brown and Blair. His rise through the ranks stems from a loyalty to Gordon Brown.

It seems that when the trade unions nominated Ed Miliband, they didn’t fully appreciate the significance of his New Labour loyalties. For all Miliband’s talk of radicalism, we basically have a leader who is at best one of the “wets” of the last government, who is struggling to find the courage and ability to move away from the machine that made him.

The prosecutions case will be for those who believe Ed Miliband is a man who frequently contradicts himself, is full of political platitudes but absolutely no conviction or courage, and is essentially in there view an electoral fraud who promises little and will deliver even less.

The above may seem like harsh words, but it is seriously difficult to take a political leader seriously when they contradict themselves so often. I therefore list below some examples of the contradictory politics and comments of Ed Miliband – and ask everyone that one big question – what does our leader stand for?

Both Liverpool and Everton football clubs are in my constituency of Liverpool Walton, and Steve Rotheram – our MP – led the campaign in parliament for justice for the victims of Hillsborough. There is a strong appetite in my local Labour party for, among much else, action against the negative, deceitful media coverage following the tragedy – most importantly, from The Sun.

You can therefore imagine the dismay in our membership and constituency as a whole, when  Miliband – the man who “stood up to the Murdoch press” – was bounced into promoting The Sun in a pathetic attempt to avoid the political heat for not doing so. Yes, Clegg and Cameron did likewise – but there’s a reason we’re not in government with them.

This debacle not only shows another central problem, but a major inconsistency in Ed Miliband’s leadership. His advisors where obviously a central part of the whole debacle, although bad advice is no excuse for bad personal judgement.

During his leadership campaign, Miliband spoke of the disempowerment of the party membership and affiliates, of New Labour’s top down culture, of the party being run by a small unaccountable elite. He said the same thing during the Collins Review, yet he has ignored the party’s affiliates, elected executive and democratic conference – instead listening to a small group of advisors appointed in his own image.

Miliband repeated his desire for closer engagement and relationships with party members and affiliated trade unionists at the 2013 TUC congress – despite having just appointed more external advisors, some from the US.

Ed then went onto saying he wants more trade union members to join the party and spoke of reaching out through community organising. He still proposes sticking to coalition spending cuts of course. All the community organising and member recruitment drives in the world will not stop these alienating the very people you seek to inspire. Deafening silences – or worse, condemnation – have greeted all strikes. Miliband seems to want all the support without any of the hassle.

What about Falkirk? Unite grew the local party with an intense organising drive, by recruiting many of its own members. A model of community organising: these members were not career politicians, but ordinary working class men and women. But for all the talk of involving more trade union members and selecting candidates of that ilk, it was not welcome. And Miliband’s ‘vision’ failed to alleviate the volatility of the whole affair.

Therefore, if Ed wants more working class and trade union involvement in our party, he needs to be a far more supportive guardian of unions campaigns and attempts to participate in the party they created, otherwise his words will sound like waffle.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that UKIP presented Miliband a personal as much as a political problem. He had to re-state his support for the EU, as well as re-assess where Labour stands on immigration. For a Labour leader who pertains to support immigration as a source of economic growth and someone who is the son of asylum seekers, whipping your MPs to abstain on the draconian Immigration Bill is a rather contradictory way of proving your all about the positive case for immigration.

Miliband has attempted to frame the 2014 situation as a “cost of living crisis“.  But the only measures he has announced so far – like an energy prize freeze and rent rises limited by inflation – have been driven purely by populism. Without a change in who sets the prices – which is currently the market – all the market intervention in the world will only act as a buffer to a problem and not a solution. Public ownership remains a taboo.

Has Miliband really moved on from New Labour, as he has claimed? His policies in fact sound remarkably similar to the 1997 manifesto. Blair promised a windfall tax on utility companies, to pay for “New Deal” for the unemployed. Amazingly similar to Miliband’s policy of a bankers bonus tax to fund a jobs guarantee – the jobs guarantee itself being extremely similar to the Blair/Brown policy of the New Deal where conditionality and mandated work was ruthlessly enforced.

Then there was New Labour’s 1997 commitment to stick for two years to Conservative spending plans. All rather familiar: because that’s exactly what Balls and Miliband have committed to in the first few of years of the next parliament. Added to this, there is a commitment to “pay restraint” of 1 per cent inflation rises in the public sector, which is virtually the same as the pay freezes from 2003 onwards in the public sector New Labour sustained until leaving office.

On the Living Wage, Miliband is opposed to a statutory living wage which would save cash by moving away from subsidising wages. Ed Balls then went even further, and re-floated an old proposal of the Brown Government of  regionalised pay of benefit rates. And in line with New Labour’s apolitical approach, there been very little hostility to government privatisations: with the notable exceptions of the East Coast mainline and the NHS itself. Sell offs of Royal Mail, and probation and courts services were opposed only on the basis of the low sales price and not on the basis of the privatisation itself.

Most tellingly of all, there has been virtually no commitment to repealing charges for employment tribunals, or ending the anti-trade union laws which restrict the collective rights of workers to organise. The Labour front bench abstained on the right to strike for the crime and courts bill ensuring this group of workers now has no right whatsoever to take industrial action.

Miliband consistently tells the media that people think politicians are “all the same“. He’s right. The trouble is he believes its because they break promises, when in actual fact its politicians failure to offer the electorate a distinctive policy alternative to anything else on there ballot papers. It is therefore an irony that Miliband refutes the fact politicians are all the same, but ensure his party follow the government into the “yes” lobby in agreement with several of their legislation, most notably the cap on benefit spending.

It is up to Ed to level out these contradictions, Otherwise, he’ll be a completely vacuous voice in British politics – and that’s far from what we need. Without good leadership, we won’t have a Labour party and leader worth fighting for.

Thomas Butler is youth officer of both Liverpool Walton CLP and the Labour Representation Committee.

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    I agree with you but it’s also a warning to the Union your a trade union your ability to pick leaders should not be about interference Ed Miliband is more then just a wet he is wet behind the ears, he did not have the time in politics for any of us to learn anything about him, now he’s the leader the Unions have learned is New labour but it’s the poor the working class the sick the disabled many of them like me sick and disabled from work.

    Ed Miliband is not only New labour or a Blair-rite he is a pretty poor bloody leader, his brother may have been a blair-rite but he was at least in politics long enough to make his own decision be they right or wrong Ed is like a cat on a hot tin roof.

    today we all know that the Union need to get out of the labour party and to get back at what they do best stand up for working people, today our Unions should be the safety net for workers and the working class the sick the disabled the poor pensioners but what do we have a bunch more interested in getting Miliband elected what the hell for.

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