The war that dare not speak its name…
Ed Miliband’s speech to the National Policy Forum today has attracted some media attention. It’s not that Ed really has said anything spectacularly original. Rhetorically he has been speaking like this for some time and indeed he seems to slide a similar kind of reference into at least every other session of Prime Ministers Questions. The truth behind his rhetoric is something that is less commented on and that is that the age of austerity has reinvigorated the class war both as a popular concept and as something politicians seek to take advantage of.
It is a popular war. If you think about popular sentiment with regard to bankers or even politicians (increasingly regarded as a ‘class apart’) then festering resentment of elites and the power and wealth they monopolise is actually widespread. The contours of this war are however poorly defined by its most obvious ideological exponents, ie, the left. The left still regards the working class as coming in a cloth cap and living in homogenous communities circa more 1912 than 2012. However, rather than a cloth cap, the real working classes are more likely to be found in suits, or other suitable ‘office attire’, in your average call centre. The left also fails consistently to appreciate or appeal to the increasingly oppressed middle classes. Marxist dogma tells us that the middle classes are a small, vacillating group, who can come ‘on-side’ but are unreliable. However, the middle classes are numerically stronger than the industrial working class nowadays purely because industry is slowly being whittled away to the point of being a marginal part of the economy.
In many ways, this is a bad thing because our economy has become increasingly dependent on not producing things but a financial sector which actually produces and contributes the sum total of nothing. I see the class war, rather than being between the rich and the poor, being as between those who socially produce wealth, and those who hoard and squander it, to the detriment of us all. The 99% v the 1% is a good expression of how it really is, this is a formulation which also shows us the true democratic nature of this war. It is not about personal envy or spite (though it often finds its expression that way) but about the democratic demand that we be allowed an equitable share of the wealth we all produce collectively and that we have control over our own destinies.
Ed Miliband’s challenge is to move beyond being a politician that merely talks a good game on this issue. He needs to show that he is committed to producing policies which make Labour the party of wealth redistribution again, that is serious about tackling inequality and re-ordering society in a socially just and therefore more democratic way. So far we have seen precious little delivery from Mr Miliband on this score and this, after-all, is where it really matters. It is not good enough for him to produce flowery speeches rightly criticising the Conservative Party’s affinity for and sole representation of rich elites – after-all, many feel that Labour in government, especially under Mr Blair, was little better. He needs to show that he and his Labour Party really is on the side of the 99%, the people who are being made to pay for this crisis but had no hand in the causing of it, the people whose only demand is that they be allowed control over the wealth they produce. Never has a crisis more demanded that the Labour Party rise to the occasion, that it remain true to its founding values and mission to truly transform society, so, Mr Miliband let’s have a lot less fine words and alot more decisive action.