Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 14 January 2013

What's missing Ed is "Why"

Ed Miliband is beginning to make a habit of apologising for things that the previous Labour government did.

That is a good thing. Too many politicians stick to their guns even when events (and eventually history) prove them wrong. To recognise that his own party has made mistakes and to outline what they were marks him out as a mature leader.

He was at it again last week during a speech to the Fabians:

The Opposition leader said the previous Labour government had become distant from the public on issues such as immigration, and failed to rein in excess at the top of society.
Fleshing out his vision of One Nation Labour in a speech to the Fabian Society, he also highlighted new policies designed to help people priced out of buying homes.
It is Miliband's latest attempt to distance himself from elements of the last government's record considered toxic by many strategists.
New Labour was "too timid in enforcing rights and responsibilities, especially at the top, and it was too sanguine about the consequences of the rampant free markets".
He said: "By the time we left office too many of people of Britain didn't feel as if the Labour party was open to their influence, or listening to them," Miliband said.

I agree with Ed. Labour had become distant from the public on a whole raft of issues. They did fail to rein in excess at the top which given how equality is effectively Labour's rasion d'etre is somewhat bizarre.

But while I commend his willingness to be honest about his party's failings there is something missing from his analysis.


Why did Labour become distant from the public on so many issues? Why did they give free rein to the markets for so long and ignore all the calls from people both within politics (such as Vince Cable) and without? Why did they get so close to Rupert Murdoch and other newspaper proprietors? Why did they fail to crack down on rogue landlords? Etc. Etc. Etc.

I'm not saying this in order to kick Ed and Labour. I am genuinely asking. I want to understand why it happened.

Because unless we get a clear sense that there is an understanding of why Labour went so far off track on some of the key issues when they were in government then I am far from clear that it won't happen again.

Government is tough. Very tough. My party has found this out the hard way in the last two and a half years. Tony Blair used to describe how several times per day he was essentially asked whether he wanted to "slash his wrists" or "cut his throat".

I think the people that Ed Miliband is appealing to with his "One Nation" positioning will want to understand the reasons why what he is apologising for happened in the first place. When his party was found wanting in certain respects there must be causes. Structural? Personnel? Political? Probably a combination of all of these and more.

But we are not getting this. Instead we are hearing that we need to "move on" from New Labour. Yes, we do. But before we move on we need to be clear on what caused the problems. Otherwise there is a very high risk that we will move back if Labour end up in government again.

I get the sense that Ed really does not want this to happen. If so, his mea culpa needs a firmer basis.

We need to know why.

1 comment:

asquith said...

Because, presumably as a consequence of taking the right-wing press to seriously, they actually thought the majority of this country are deeply unpleasant people who need to be placated by policies based on spite.

Their attacks on civil liberties, in particular, came from a belief that many Labour voters were just about to join the BNP unless they were reassured that pakis were being dealt with. And that's how, for instance, 42 days was packaged, as something that would only affect them (you know, THEM) and not people like us.

To be fair, I live in Stoke and there are some Labour voters who think like that, but not as many as is widely assumed. Thus, when they hit lows as in during the Crewe and Nantwich campaign, they were rebuffed. When the implications of their policies came to be known, people went off them. And when they decided that white people just didn't like brown people, that resulted in their attempt to refuse the Gurkhas the right to live in this country, which were rebuffed.

I suspect the Tories made the same mistake when they realised that whatever people may say they think about welfare, there comes a time when it's realised that attacks on "shirkers" have gone too far.

The excesses of New Labour came from fear of the media, of the image that attached itself to them in the 1980s (probably the main reason why trouble at banks was utterly ignored in the "boom" years, because they dreaded being viewwed as anti-business) and from a belief that in their heart of hearts, most people really are unpleasant bigots, which in fact they're not.

I won't be voting Labour but I was pleased to see Miliband support universal benefits. The last government drastically extended means testing in what seems to have been a deliberate attempt to make people dependent on the government and keep poor people poor, and the coalition have done a lot to reverse that (raising the income tax threshold, this new pension, which I applaud) but have also proposed further, and disastrous, means testing of child benefit.