Saturday, April 02, 2011

Is Ed Miliband the man to inject some passion back into our politics?

One of the most frequent criticisms made of politicians these days is that they spend too much time agreeing with eachother.

For many, politics has become too risk-averse, a game fought over a narrow strip of ideological terrain in which the most important rule is to avoid saying or doing anything that might offend the fabled 'floating voter.'

In truth, it's an analysis that is only half-right. If you're lucky enough to be in government, or if the tide of public opinion is shifting in your direction, there is still a fair degree of scope for radical thought.

But that's not, by and large, true for opposition politicians. Here, the watchword is "don't frighten the horses," and oppositions which have tried to challenge the political consensus, such as Labour in 1983 and the Tories in 2001, have tended to come unstuck.

So in one sense, it was refreshing to see Labour leader Ed – or is it Edward? - Miliband address last weekend's protest rally in central London against the Coalition's spending cuts.

It was absolutely inevitable that he would be crucified in the right-wing press for doing so, particularly once the protests got hijacked by criminal elements which were nothing to do with either the Labour Party or the organisers.

Some in his own party even joined in, with disgruntled Blairites muttering that "Tony Blair and Gordon Brown never went on protest rallies."

If this comparison was somehow supposed to diminish Ed Miliband in the eyes of the voters, I suspect that it will actually have had the opposite effect.

Like many in the upper reaches of the Labour Party, Mr Miliband has in the past come across as something of a machine politician – a man whose career progressed seamlessly from university to researcher to special adviser to MP to Cabinet minister and finally to the party leadership without the intervention of anything resembling real life.

So the fact that he sounded, for the first time last weekend, like a leader of genuine passion and conviction is, for me, a point in his favour.

Sure, it's a gamble, particularly if the passions and convictions he is articulating turn out not to be shared by a majority of voters.

But there is just a chance that the country, bored by years of 'Blatcherite' policy clones fighting over the 'centre ground,' could warm to a leader who seems prepared to inject some genuine political idealism into our national life.

Two substantive charges have been made against Mr Miliband over his Hyde Park speech last Saturday.

The first was that he claimed to be speaking for the 'mainstream' when he wasn't – but David Cameron and George Osborne are perhaps a little too eager to dismiss people's concerns about the cuts – and the possibility that the Labour leader might be genuinely reflecting them.

The second, more serious charge is that Mr Miliband told us "there is an alternative" without actually saying what it is.

But this, too, is slightly disingenuous. As I wrote last week, Labour has fairly consistently said throughout the last election and beyond that it would aim to halve the deficit in four years – a difference of about £40bn in spending terms from what the Coalition is doing.

What the Tories really mean by the latter criticism is that Mr Miliband should tell us which cuts he agrees with rather than allowing voters to be given the impression he opposes all of them.

Here they are on slightly stronger ground. Although Mr Miliband specifically denies he is against all the cuts, he can be seen to be guilty of trying to have it both ways in this regard.

Sooner rather than later, the Labour leader will have to answer this point if he is to become a genuinely credible contender for power at the next general election.

But for now, the fact that he is starting to discover his own distinctive voice will surely stand him in good stead.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No,to answer your question.

How we can we take someone seriously who on the one had says he's a socialist and on the other has, gone out of his way,to set up elaborate trusts to avoid tax due on the inheritance of his property empire,inherited from his marxist father.

He first needs to sort out his own identity crisis.