What One Nation Labour really means to Ed Miliband

Published in print in the QMessenger in October 2012.
One year ago, Ed Miliband presented his second conference speech as party leader. Frankly, it was a display of presentation idiocy, and no much attention was paid. This year, in Manchester, the same criticism cannot be leveled at him. No notes, no platform or podium to hide behind from, no more geeky gestures and shaky footstep, Ed Miliband left the stage as a confident leader and left his audience with one big idea – One Nation.
Described as “a stroke of genius” that revealed “an unashamed egalitarian to the core of his being” by Polly Toynbee of the guardian and praised by other political commentators, Ed Miliband’s speech was well received by the public and endorsed by the Progressive left with excitement. But what really lies behind his grand slogan?
No more New Labour?
He broke away from New Labour. “I will never accept an economy where the gap between rich and poor just grows wider and wider,” said Miliband, “in One Nation, in my faith, inequality matters. It matters to our country.” No longer intensely relaxed about the “filthy rich”, and in contrast with the New Labour promise, One Nation Labour will act to close the income gap even if it means rising taxes.
Miliband passionately defended comprehensive education, of which he was a product. He firmly believes that “we need an education system that works for all young people” and declared an end to ‘elitist’ education; meaning apprenticeship for the 50% of youth “forgotten” by New Labour.
When it comes to the National Health Service, Miliband unequivocally promised to “repeal NHS bill” by the coalition. He landed some heavy criticisms on the ‘marketization’ of the NHS, arguably supported by New Labour, and vowed to terminate the “free market” phenomenon of the NHS.
The simplistic view is that Ed Miliband has moved the party to the left. Big mistake.
He ensured Labour stays approximately in the ‘centre ground’ territory. First, Miliband fought off the attempts to dominate his leadership by trade unionists such as Len McCluskey and stood firm to his stance on pension reform plus resisted the temptation to support irresponsible strikes. He rejected the calls to scrap tuition fees or even lower it to £3000. He never ruled out competition within the NHS either. His shadow chancellor told us Labour would be “ruthless” and “examine every penny” of the budget if elected, a reflection of Gordon Brown’s early ‘prudence’ policy. People forget, after all, Ed Miliband too was part of the New Labour project and a minister under both Blair and Brown.
“It’s the economy, Stupid!”
However enlightening or inspiring the rest of his speech may sound, the electorate only want to find out his view on one thing – the economy.
It may surprise you to hear that the worst policy of all is to break up the banks into retail and investment divisions. For the selfish bankers, Ed has a tough message for them. “Either you fix it yourselves between now and the election or… we will break you up by law.” Alistair Darling spoke out against this proposal when he was still chancellor, explaining that smaller banks are not necessarily safer, and there is no evidence why it would be safer now. Instead of following the Vickers Report and the government blindly, Miliband should provide a brand new alternative. The plan to build 100,000 homes is not a bad idea, but will it bring the economic growth the country needs so badly and immediately? On the other hand, while the 50p tax rate is crucial for the economy, it is nevertheless a temporary measure; Miliband’s promise to maintain the rate will haunt him perpetually in government. Miliband is slowly but steadily walking into the danger zone of being wedded to a series of short sighted policies.
Furthermore, Miliband has branded himself as an ordinary person, often keen to show his pride in his comprehensive education in contrast with Cameron’s private funded, upper-class, Eton experience. Yet the comparison does not do him any favour when Miliband was born in a middle class family and went to Oxford to do P.P.E. (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), the same degree and university Cameron graduates from. Moreover, his unequivocal defense of the comprehensive system could backfire on him, as comprehensive schools are outperformed by academies, introduced by New Labour, and traditional grammar schools, supported by Tories.
“A dangerous game to play”
There is one more problem – the slogan. Why would an ordinary family struggling to make ends meet be looking up Disraeli and rejoicing to the grand call of ‘returning’ to One Nation? This exposes a fundamental issue with Ed Miliband – he is an intellectual who cannot get out of the political bubble, stuck in the world of complicated propositions such as ‘pre-distribution’. Plus, One Nation is a conservative idea. I can certainly see David Cameron standing up at the Conservative conference next week to “welcome” the “endorsement” by Miliband, and “reclaim” One Nation conservatism as his own. “One Nation” is dangerous game to play.
Openly embraced by those who call themselves One Nation conservatives like Harold MacMillan and David Cameron, and by Tony Blair and New Labour in a more subtle way, One Nation is nothing new. In spite of patriotism’s role in New Labour’s electoral success, it was matched with a strong element of globalization and the idea of Britons as confident global citizens. My greatest fear is if Ed Miliband departs from this key element of New Labour, and be drawn into the Blue Labour narrative of socialism, he would constitute towards an agenda that disadvantages Britain economically and close Britain up culturally.
Ed Miliband is not ready to be Prime Minister
No doubt, Labour members of all rank and files have shown dignity and loyalty at the conference, united behind their leader. But we must be frank with ourselves: we’re not there yet! Still more important, Ed Miliband is not yet ready for the top job. Dan Hodges, perhaps the most right wing (therefore also the most hated) Labour member and commentator, pin points the problem for us. “History may come to record this as the week that saw Ed Miliband and his troops moving closer to power. But they are not any closer to being prepared for it.” In other words, this might be one big step for Miliband and his fans inside the conference hall, it is only one small step for the British public glaring from the outside.
Of course, Labour members reading this article might question my loyalty, criticize my defense for the “New Labour orthodoxy”, or even denounce me as “neoliberal”. This is not how we should approach our problems. If Ed Miliband wants to be a truly pragmatic leader, a compromising yet uniting figure, and a successful prime minister, he must be willing to accept the need for a vibrant banking system at the same time he taxes the rich, he must support competition in public sector whilst protecting government services, and he must ensure globalization remains the policy even if he is dancing to the rhythm of patriotism.
By displaying strength, compassion and a general direction, Ed Miliband has won hearts in his party and votes in the public this week. But for now, One Nation Labour is just an empty rhetoric and a policy vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with that though. Remember Green Conservatism? You know, David Cameron hugging a Husky in the North Pole? No you don’t. Well, he became Prime Minister. Ed Miliband can do the same, and One Nation will be his Husky, forever left behind in his North Pole – Labour Conference, Manchester, 2012.

One thought on “What One Nation Labour really means to Ed Miliband

  1. Reblogged this on Cut to the Chase – Noah Sin's Blog and commented:

    I don’t necessarily think this is a good write-up. But at least I got one thing right. “One Nation Labour is just an empty rhetoric and a policy vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with that though. Remember Green Conservatism? You know, David Cameron hugging a Husky in the North Pole? No you don’t. Well, he became Prime Minister. Ed Miliband can do the same, and One Nation will be his Husky, forever left behind in his North Pole – Labour Conference, Manchester, 2012.” – Me, 2012.


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