Ed Miliband Shares Some of the Greatest Responsibility for Brexit – Can We Please Stop Trying to Rehabilitate Him?
I often think back often to the optimism of 2010. Yes, Labour had lost an election, and thanks to the treacherous actions of the supposedly centre-left Lib Dems allying themselves with a viciously right-wing Tory Party we could now look forward to five years of miserable austerity. But there was a sense that it was not going to last and that, in the grand scheme of things, after thirteen years of New Labour government, maybe the left needed a period out of power to re-charge and re-evaluate its politics. This would be a one-term Tory government. The Coalition surely wouldn’t last and even if it did, its destructive agenda which we all thought would only lead to a stagnated economy and unnecessary pain for millions, would certainly make them completely unelectable by 2015 (as it turned out we were correct only in the former sense, not the latter).
All Labour needed to do was position itself as The Alternative. It didn’t need to be especially radical; a commitment to renationalising the railways and maybe the energy industry too would probably be enough to assuage the lefties. But the real drive would be “investment, not austerity”. Labour could point to Gordon Brown’s actions as Prime Minister, and say that when the economy was down, Labour did the right thing and pumped money into the economy; we stimulated wages, drove consumption and got us back on the right path. In 2010 big public spending was not fashionable, but after five years of failed Tory austerity, a return to Keynesianism, modified appropriately for the 21st century, could easily be made the only realistic alternative in the public mind.
2015 would be a walk-over.
This all seemed so inevitable to me that I was shocked in 2012 when the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, stood up in front of the TUC of all places and said “under Labour, there would have been cuts, and that – on spending, pay and pensions – there will be disappointments and difficult decisions from which we will not flinch.”
To me this stance made neither economic nor political sense. Ed Balls knew that, Ed Miliband knew that, or at least they should have done. But in 2012, riding high in the polls and winning local council elections, the Labour Leadership decided they could play it safe. They would appear to be the “sensible Party of Government” taking “tough decisions” on behalf of the people in the hope this would make them appear more trustworthy and respectable. It didn’t. It made them look like patsies to the Tory austerity orthodoxy. They no longer represented the people, they represented the establishment; the Westminster consensus that believed there was “no alternative” to making the poor poorer and the rich richer, swilling wine in the corridors of power and believing themselves the masters of the world, or so they would be perceived from now on.
It was a stupid, reckless and entirely avoidable mistake. It left the door wide open to people like Nigel Farage and UKIP to present themselves as The Alternative. It’s no coincidence that 2012 became the high-point of Labour’s popularity during the Coalition years and that from then on they seemed to haemorrhage support to UKIP and only to a lesser extent, the Greens. UKIP swept the board in the 2013 European elections as people began to turn to them for solutions to Britain’s economic malaise. While the real causes of rampant inequality and social decline – the profligacy and unchecked power of bankers and big capitalists like Phillip Green – were largely ignored by the political class, as they scrambled ineffectually to deal with UKIP’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU agenda, the Tories were free to continue to cut and privatise away – whenever someone says we have “no Opposition” now, I find it difficult to suppress a bitter laugh.
I find it utterly bizarre that so many of the people who are the sharpest critics of the current Leader of the Labour Party seem to look back with nostalgia upon Ed Miliband, as if he were the paragon of good leadership and, laughably, a champion of the Remainer cause. Let’s be clear; there is no one in British politics, with the possible exception of David Cameron himself, who bears more responsibility for Brexit than Ed Miliband. His failure to allow the Labour Party to articulate a socialist – or even social democratic – alternative to austerity left the field clear for nationalism and barely-disguised fascism to take its place. The rise of UKIP lead directly to a panicked David Cameron’s disastrous attempt to hold his Party together by promising a referendum on the EU to its Eurosceptic wing. The apparently accidental victory of Vote Leave in that Referendum and the surprising victory of the Tories in 2015, can be traced directly back to the weak, cowardly leadership of Ed Miliband.
Labour must never be allowed to return to that politics. This goes beyond Corbyn or any other would-be Leader. If you really want Labour to win, whether you want to return to the EU or not, Labour should never again attempt to meet the Tories half-way. We must be a Party of sign-posts, not weather-vanes; we should be in favour of democratic control of all natural monopolies, either at a state or local level, we must be in favour of workplace democracy and the spread of mutual and co-operates, and we must prepare radical alternatives to shape our economy to cope with the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as the Citizen’s Income. These positions must become the new orthodoxy and we must never allow the Tories, or UKIP to lead the agenda, as Ed Miliband did for five years, with such disastrous consequences.
Whatever you think of Corbyn, at least you should know he is better than that.