Poverty of aspiration?
I have a confession to make. I was never present around the Miliband’s dinner table nor present at any of their semi-legendary political meetings. However, certain comments made by Ed Miliband in his interview for the Daily Telegraph today make me question whether he was present either:
“My Dad was sceptical of all the Thatcher aspirational stuff,” he says. “But I felt you sort of had to recognise that what she was talking about struck a chord. I want to save capitalism from itself.”
It is hard to know where to start with this. Firstly, it should be said that the late Ralph Miliband was entirely correct to be skeptical. Mrs Thatcher had a narrow and essentially ideological definition of what aspiration was and indeed is. Her definition was focused on individuals ‘getting-ahead’ but this is an aspect of aspiration. A more fully rounded definition is not just aspiration for oneself but also the deep-seated desire to better your own lot and also the lot of your surrounding environment and indeed those around you. Secondly, and this flows from the first point, her policies were deeply flawed and may have held superficial appeal in the short-term but in the longer term have directly contributed to the current malaise Britain finds itself in. She did ‘strike a chord’ but hit the wrong note.
For somebody whose reputation is as a thinker is quite prestigious, Mr Miliband’s interview is a veritable Swiss cheese of contradictory ideas. He makes the mistake of seeing just the creative side of capitalism while failing totally to grasp that it also has a wildly destructive and chaotic side. He makes the mistake of assuming, rather oddly, that capitalism is aspirational and can fulfill peoples aspirations. Anybody with experience of working within a capitalist context will grasp the basic truth of the point that capitalism is anti-aspiration, under it, the aspirations of the vast majority of people remain unfulfilled. It is like the way wealth is the province of the few, ability to rise through the ranks is restricted to a tiny minority and they are usually those who have some kind of inbuilt advantage in any case. Capitalism, as a system, simply cannot fulfil the aspirations of the many, it is dependent on opportunity being restricted to the few. It cannot even now fulfil the aspirations of the sons and daughters of the middle classes, let alone the poor. If you don’t believe me ask the graduate who is leaden with debt and also propping up their local dole que and this is why the middle classes are becoming increasingly radicalised.
Moving on, his attitude to being rich is unclear. I have noticed that when Ed is in trouble at Prime Ministers Questions he reverts to a standard line of attack – attacking the ‘tax cut for millionaires’ – and we hear that Labour may well propose a new wealth tax, yet the Labour leader tells the Telegraph he does not want to make ‘moral judgments’ on the rich. You cannot have your cake and eat it. Saying the rich should pay a greater amount of tax, have a greater social responsibility (because their riches come from accrued social wealth), is a moral judgment. Mr Miliband seems to be blissfully unaware of this contradiction in both his thinking and practice though. You are left with the rather unappealing impression that his spoken word depend not on what he actually thinks but which newspaper he happens to be speaking to at any given moment. Either that or he genuinely doesn’t know what he thinks, neither of these inevitable impressions are that helpful.
Speaking frankly, it befoules the legacy of both his father and this Party to have the man speak in such plainly ignorant, broad-brush terms. Indeed, it makes me queasy about his entire character when I remember the Ed Miliband who spoke so proudly of his father and family heritage during the Labour leadership contest and now see him speaking of his fathers entirely correct ‘skepticism’ in such a disdainful manner. Is this what it has come too Ed? I sincerely hope not, not just for the sake of the Party but also your own personal sake.