Fabian Society Labour party leadership hustings

In the copy of progress magazine that I stole from the Fabians’ leadership hustings tonight, Richard Angell interviews David Miliband about his candidacy for the Labour leadership.

In it, there is a quote that just about sums up his campaign:

In his first weekend as leadership contender, the former aide to Tony Blair appears to be distancing himself from New Labour with his call for the party to become ‘Next Labour’.

Miliband the elder is the least comfortable candidate with really identifying where the New Labour project, to which he is linked – despite what the above says – failed. He is also the least comfortable candidate when explaining where he wants to see the party go to, in order to change its image from, as Andy Burnham pointed out during the debate, “pro-big business without being pro-ordinary people”.

This comes through in the very New Labour quote above; meaningless symbolism and clap in the words “Next Labour” – it is hard to even make sense of what this could mean. Unlike what the interviewer says, it reveals no distancing whatsoever.

David Miliband went further in his soundbite babblery hatchet job with his opening statement. Among other vague notions he told the audience of Fabians:

the question for us is how we turn the poetry of values into the prose of real change in people’s lives

It didn’t get much better for him, stumbling over safe and habitual epithets, nervous smiles and uncomfortable hand gestures towards Dianne Abbott to his left (!).

A well-known blogger I got talking to recently, toying with whether to have Dave Miliband as his first choice candidate when the party comes to vote, told me that all candidates are trying to weave leftist tenets into their gamut, but nobody is reaching to the right. After wiping up the spillages I had made after hearing that, I realised that nobody else in the party but David Miliband was someone able to do both; someone to remind the party of its regretful right wing flirting past, and one who says through gritted teeth things we on the left vaguely want to hear, but see straight through it when uttered from his mouth. He reminded the audience tonight of how right I am (even if I do say so myself).

After answers to phantom questions about concerns to family life for MPs, agreement across the board about the 10p tax, Burnham’s reception of slow hand clapping for his uncommitted and nervous comments on immigration and the war in Iraq, and boring questions on women MPs and voting systems (boring, only because we already know the answer in advance; for more women; AV system) – not to mention Ed Balls’ mistimed jokes, met with flapping hands from Ellie Gellard in the front row – audience members with a little more blood lust were wondering where those questions aimed to stump our candidates were going to come from.

The best we got was a question from the audience on what measure the candidates wish they could delete from Labour’s past, which worryingly turned out to be the question all candidates had some of their finest moments with (with the exception of, again, David Miliband, who was clearly keen on being the voice of the past, New Labour legacy intact).

It was Andy Burnham, and not Dianne Abbott, who played the divider tonight, to the surprise of many people I have spoken to. He was the one laying himself open and making friends and enemies along the way, whether on the clergy in the Lords (which he opposes, but will explain his reasons in confession for, by his own jesty admission), to selection in schools to his own class and upbringing in Manchester.

Abbott was playing it far more pluralistic than many had anticipated, being personable and less antagonistic than many would hope (leaving that space for Burham).

Ed Balls was barely clear all evening, most comfortable when he was talking absolute jibberish and complaining about criticism he has had to endure as Minister. His attempts to re-write his past support for the war in Iraq, which he now admits was a mistake, were badly executed when he told the audience: “we should say sorry and move on” – if only life were so easy. These are not the words of a man in touch.

This leaves me to talk about the candidate who won the debate hands down tonight. Ed Miliband wanted to drive home the message that he was a “values driven” candidate, calling for Lords reform, a 50% female shadow cabinet, a need to govern markets by democracy, a look at top pay in the private sector, a high pay commission, a living wage, and the need to criticise capitalism from a democratic perspective.

Emma Burnell asked the pivtal question at the end of the night: “are you a Socialist – and what does the word mean to you?” David Miliband of course skirted round the issue, saying he was happy to accept what is written on the back of Labour membership cards (democratic socialist), while the others used the word to explain why they opposed social barriers. Ed Miliband used the most colourful language when he noted that:

Being a socialist for me is about being willing to criticise capitalism – and saying capitalism produces many injustices, which politics must tackle. It is not about abolishing capitalism but it is about changing it.

Balls noted having no truck with barriers, Burnham quoted Billy Bragg and Abbott spoke about the marginalisation of the minority working class.

These events are about Labour members and supporters working out who comes off best. Small-scale differences aside, the candidate scores points by saying the things you want to hear, appearing to mean it, and manoeuvering better on the spot than others. For me, Ed Miliband did this the best, not necessarily because I feel his politics are closer to mine than that of any other candidate, nor because I desire for him to be the next leader of the Labour party, but because he spoke clearly and elegantly about important matters, rallied with passion about more than just things we might want to hear him say, and did this far better than any of his colleagues.

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12 Responses to Fabian Society Labour party leadership hustings

  1. Robert says:

    Labour knows it has only got the left right now, so the rhetoric will be leftism until one of the Milibands get elected , I suspect it will be David since he looks sounds and acts like Blair. In real life we are sick of New labour but like Thatcher it will live on for a number of years before it’s ditched for something else , like forward labour, other labour, everything except The Labour party, it’s the re branding ethos again.

    But in the end labour has to go after the middle England swing voter, it has to look for a reason to try and get those people back.

    Long live Labour I suspect so long as it’s soft Tory

    • It will not be an unthinkable task to try and return its vote from middle England on solutions to the real crises set to take place in the next few years, which start from the 22nd of this month. To think someone can author the rebranding at this time is naive, the oncoming rebrand of politics will override any new/next/forward or any other Labour. It is high time we appear to know this in the party.

  2. HarpyMarx says:

    Good to have a report, where are the hustings next, do you know?

    Reading your report instils nothing but despondency, I mean who are they orientating to, working class people who were shafted under NL? They have beejn connected to the NL project (exception of Diane Abbott), and not one of them wants to break with it consciously, all mealy-mouthed… and all knee-jerk over Iraq… ‘we are soooh sorry so leave us alone’! But as far as I am concerned saying sorry aint even the start, Blair and Bush in the dock for war crimes and even then that’s not the finish! Balls is one Balls-up esp. lately with his crass and offensive article on immigration.

    Ed Miliband …. he too can sod-off…. remember Vestas Ed?!

    Burnham well he’s a non-entity and a sexist tosser.

    David, well David Miliband is just pure prose as opposed to poetry and bad prose at that, more bad sub-pulpfiction.

    And Diane Abbott is not coming across that well (Newsnight…. for example).

    So….. I dunno comrade, tell me how to vote ‘cos right at this moment I am inclined to spoil my ballot by writing ‘John McDonnell 4 Leader”….

    • If I was pushed on answering who I felt was the candidate most conscious of the shafting of the last 13 years of a Labour government, who most wants to turn the NL page, and who most wants to apologise and learn from the mistakes of Iraq then it will have to be Miliband (Ed). He called for a high pay commission to be index linked to the very bottom earners, he talks comfortably about socialism and using politics and democracy to criticise capitalism, and was keen to stress his opposition to the war in Iraq, executed with aplomb in fact after the other candidates (who voted for the war, his brother and Burnham) had come out saying if they knew what they know now about it they wouldn’t have supported it. Despite everyone being anti-war on that panel last night (strategically, of course), Ed Miliband was the only candidate with a cabinet post who said he opposed the war from the start, and that counts for something.

      Even Brendan Barber said of him:

      “Ed Miliband has proved himself to be a champion of the green agenda and the drive to create new jobs.

      “Now we are asking him to go the extra mile for the 600 workers and the production facility – the only one of its size in Britain – which is vital to building our low-carbon future. Everything must be done to look for positive alternatives.”

      That is about the best a cabinet member can get from a trade unionist under pressure from those workers he represents.

      Ed Miliband was the best out of the lot, of course there are problems, we knew that, but instead of spoling my ballot paper I’m going to have him first. The other, more pressing question, is can he win against the LibCons?

  3. Robert says:

    And then you look at his voting record and you think yes New labour….

    • Funny, that night Andy Burnham said that to look at his voting record would show him not to be a rebel, but he implied this might have been tacticle, I wonder how many politicians this is the ethos of? I’m not sure voting records are the best way to judge an individuals politics, even though I think it should be, and it pains to think that it paints an entirely different picture of a person – perhaps because deep down I like a rebel.

  4. Robert says:

    Well most of the rebels are now out of power, but voting for Iraq, voting no for an inquiry, voting for 90 days detention then 42 days, the simple fact is your not a rebel unless you actually come out and blooming rebel.

  5. Robert says:

    epitheton necessarium

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