A reply to David Miliband…
David Miliband seems to be back in the rhythm of engaging in highly visible forms of activity. Following on from his appearance on Andrew Marr at the weekend, the other Miliband has again taken centre-stage today to deliver unto us his musings on what is wrong with the left. I note with a raised-eyebrow he did this firstly and principally from behind the security of a pay-wall over at The Times. Still, looking at some of the contents of his further comments; I can’t blame him really.
Take this rather audacious statement:
“Not since the first world war has there been this kind of domination from the right. The whole era of democratic suffrage.”
Obviously this is so hyped-up that it leaves the stratosphere of reality far behind. Has he forgotten that Labour’s last 13 years in power was preceded by 18 years of Conservative power in Britain? Has he forgotten the inter-war years and the rise of fascism across Europe? Seems so. You can see how threadbare his histrionics are in the comparisons he makes; he only chooses to include results of German elections since formation of the Federal Republic and the French result is the ‘worst since 1969’. Amazingly, he later totally contradicts his own assertion by reporting the success of the German Social Democrats in recent Hamburg state elections.
Miliband is similarly off the mark when it comes to identifying the causes of this ‘apocalypse’. He basically boils down the desertion of working class voters to fear caused by immigration. Not once does he mention the decimation of traditional manufacturing centres of working class power and identity and the abject failure of successive governments to address the issues caused herein. He doesn’t mention the spiralling poverty and rise in social inequality which occurred on the watch of the last government nor the complete lack of effort to rebuild these shattered communities accept by demonising them and choking off their financial lifelines.
Had these issues been addressed there would be awful less ‘problems’ over immigration to worry about. Indeed, it is the restrictions on immigration which push people below the radar and cause the effect on wages and job security noted. Legally unfettered immigration would mean immigrants would benefit, for example, from the legal protection of the minimum wage like every other worker; so they wouldn’t ‘undercut’ wages at all. The left would no longer need to be torn between; “commitment to individual human rights for all people whatever their nationality and a recognition that communities depend on deep roots and long standing” because the democratically open community would provide for all and thus solidify itself. Diversity would lose its threatening hue and integration from below would take hold.
Moving onto the ‘squeezed middle’, as his brother is so beloved of calling it, he mentions the real cause of this groups social insecurity and the abject poverty afflicting the first group, only in passing saying:
The primary reason is tax and spending issues. These voters have a good lifestyle and don’t want to lose it. They certainly don’t want to trade part of it in for more generous welfare systems.
In Britain, median wages stagnated after the dot com crash, in other words well before the financial crisis.
Yes they did, and this stagnation is what lurks behind ballooning levels of ‘bad debt’ and credit dependency. While New Labour was in power it managed to sufficiently compensate this social group by showering it with welfare cash while refusing to address the underlying problem which was the declining level of wages. It’s not that welfare system became ‘over generous’ as such, more that it became an insurance policy stopping the floor falling from under this grouping. It was thus perverted from what purpose it was supposed to serve, by a Labour government that hadn’t the vision or wherewithal to do what was necessary and implement a proper incomes policy to rebalance a fundamentally unbalanced system that careered out of control. Now, this group along with the first is being crushed in the economic vice of declining wages and inflation which is rising and rising sharply. Things are looking GRIM indeed.
Miliband makes much of the association of the left with the state and the problems this has created. Fair enough, its an analysis that, from a slightly different perspective, I subscribe too but its noticeable that his prescriptions for change are lacking in many things you would expect to logically follow from this citation. He doesn’t mention promotion of new forms of social ownership like co-operatives to directly combat the problems he cites and he doesn’t mention expansion of democracy into the economic sphere.
This nonetheless, more than ‘community’, more than a ‘good society’, would unite the groups that Miliband seeks to bring back into the fold under a common banner around a radical social programme of reforms which begin a fundamentally revolutionary process of transforming capitalism itself into something completely new. Without that, his ideas while sounding at times nice and supportable like the necessary leaven to actually make them work in practice. Without that he is still locating the crisis of the left in all the wrong places and therefore only offers solutions which are, even at the very best, half-hearted and partial.