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Blog - Tom Mendelsohn's Protest

Is Miliband Worthy of Leading the Left?

By Tom Mendelsohn
Views: 80,590  Comments: 0

I had my first row about the uselessness of Ed Miliband with one of his leadership campaign interns, back when he was still the unfancied insurgent to his brother's leader presumptive. She was convinced he was the right candidate: honest, principled, authentically leftie and far less of a smarmy blairite than his brother.

I agreed with all that; however, his good qualities manifestly did not outweigh the fact that he looked like a big ugly nerd, or the fact that in the mass media age, big ugly nerds don't win elections.

Miliband – and his brother, actually, and the rest of the Labour leadership field, come to that – was patently useless, even then. The entire contest was a waste of time, a muddy slog between the gormless and the moribund, all for a prize poisoned chalice. Perhaps the least bad candidate won, perhaps he didn't; what's certain is that it was a dismal foreshadowing of today's stagnant puddle of a Labour party: the incompetent leading the incoherent.

Miliband's ship of fools is not his main problem, nor his rank lack of personal charm, nor the cabal of imbeciles he apparently has writing his speeches (he absolutely couldn't clunk harder with his cretinous lead-weight slogan "a fairer and better capitalism", for instance). No, his main problem has been his boggle-eyed spasm into neoliberalism, his embrace of the language of our enemy.

Up against a narrative of austerity, shared sacrifice and cuts, he has proven incapable of presenting a genuine alternative to the right-wing dogma that dominates the. We all know what caused the economic crisis of the last few years: red-blooded capitalism let off the chain by predatory financiers, whose eventual losses were bailed out on the backs of the poor, and yet the nation is being lulled by Tory notions that we're all in this together, and that disabled people need their benefits cut to underwrite the real villains' vital underfloor heating.

Miliband buys into this wholesale: in agreeing that cuts needed to be made, he engages the right on the field of their choosing, letting to frame the terms of the debate. Whether austerity even works is highly debated amongst economists, and with ever fresh batch of dreadful quarterly figures, the case for cuts takes another empirical beating. And yet if Miliband continues to acknowledge that cuts needed to be made, rather than wholeheartedly invoking good socialist principles (taking care to call it 'strong government' not 'big government') and embracing the Keynesianism that would save us all, he continues to cede so much ground to his opponents that his 'opposition' becomes irrelevant.

The fact is, with all three major parties now talking about the necessity of cuts, there is no real opposition left in this country. The Blair era shed many socialists and young people from the Labour ranks – people who subsequently found their vote for the Lib Dems was also a wasted vote – and the real left, confronted with invisibility in parliament has retreated to the grassroots activism of the Trade Unions and UK Uncut. There is clearly no real desire for Cameron's agenda in this country: his welfare reforms are taking a beating, his plans for the NHS are buckling and he has been forced into numerous u-turns in the face of public opposition. Couple that with the fact that he couldn't win a majority in highly favourable electoral circumstances, and you have a flawed leader waiting to be belted by the right message. And there really is a ready-made language of protest waiting to be adopted by a true party of the left: if the Occupy movement achieved nothing else, it managed to get people talking about income inequality and the vicissitudes of the superrich.

There have been signs in the last few days that Miliband is changing tack. Better performances in PMQs and clear public refusal of the Tory agenda have put wind into his threadbare sails, but until he presents himself as a proper opponent of the dismantling of the welfare state and a man willing to break the backs of moneyed interests in this country, he won't be a man worthy of leading the left.

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