If you didn’t like New Labour much, then you have something in common with Ed Miliband — who appears to have loathed it. He’s just given his first speech of the year to the Fabian Society, the torch-bearers of an older type of socialism, and his audience was left in no doubt that if elected, he would offer a very different type of left-wing politics to that he helped served up when working for the Blair/Brown governments.
Miliband has hammered nails into the coffin of New Labour before, notably in a speech in September 2010 just days after he was elected Labour leader. Today, he wanted to make sure the coffin was hermetically sealed. Take what he said on the economy:
‘It begins from the truth that New Labour did not do enough to take on the vested interests and bring about structural change in our economy.
‘Now, New Labour did challenge the old trickle-down economics by redistributing from the top. But again it didn’t do enough to change our economy so that it grew from the middle out, not from the top down.’
Of course, there is no such thing as ‘trickle-down economics’ and no economist has ever self-identified as an adherent to this concocted set of beliefs. But it’s a useful straw man for Labour, wheeled our more under Neil Kinnock than Tony Blair. But there’s more.
‘New Labour was right to talk about rights and responsibilities but was too timid in enforcing them, especially at the top of society. And it was too sanguine about the consequences of rampant free markets which we know can threaten our common way of life.’
So Labour expands the size of the state more over a decade than any other country, over any other decade. And the problem was not state profligacy nor the what we now know to be the worst economic overheating in modern British economic history, but the free market. So the answer?
‘But once again we have to move on from New Labour, as well as from this government. Because although New Labour often started with the right intentions, over time it did not do enough to change the balance of power in this country. ’
Again, think of the expansion in the size of the government: from 38 per cent of GDP to 51 per cent over the Labour years. That certainly changed the balance of power between state and society, but evidently not enough for Miliband:
‘And in a way that we did not have to be under New Labour, we will have to be ruthless in the priorities we have. And clear that we will have to deliver more with less.’
The latest sentence will be spun as a nod to austerity. The word ‘less’ may be preparing the ground for Miliband to sign up to George Osborne’s new spending review which is due later this year. Ed Balls is against this: watch our for sparks flying between the two.
Once Miliband’s vitriol was expunged, there was little room left for adding flesh to what his “One Nation Labour” is. The speech was was policy lite — just tackling rogue landlords, with a national charter, simplification of fees and making longer term rents easier. Although this is not something new, as a tenant who is currently fighting tooth and nail for £1,000 from just such a rogue landlord, it’s an area that I’m happy to see reformed. There there was room for some pro-European sentiment, which drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd. David Cameron can only hope to elicit a similar response from his speech on Tuesday week.
For the blustering and use of ‘responsibility’, Miliband is clearly staking out his territory. It is not true to say is an airhead, full of waffle. He has very clear ideas, ideologically rooted in a Labour history that may be pre-Kinnock let alone pre-Blair. To listen to him, it was as if he dislikes New Labour more than he dislikes the Tories. All this will make the choice at the next election all the starker.