Sunday, 26 September 2010

It's not David

Let’s start with the good news. The new Labour leader is not David Miliband. By the narrowest of margins, Labour has decided not to elect the person who was ‘unrepentant’ about the Iraq war but who believes that Labour should raise the white flag in the face of the Tory war on public services.

And there’s more good news. Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, and the rest of the authoritarian, warmongering and privatising Blairites, have tasted another defeat. In fact, with Ken Livingstone having won a crushing victory over Oona King the day before to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, the Blairites have not had a good week at all.

The new leader of the Labour Party did not appeal for support on the basis that he would continue the Blair revolution. He did not promise to push the trades unions out of politics. He did not pledge to ask ‘how high’ when an American president says ‘jump’. And he did not stand on a platform of wielding the axe over public spending more ruthlessly than the Tories.

I think all of that is worth a small cheer. It could have been worse.

But what now? The defining issue of the Blair years was Iraq. Labour’s capitulation to Bush’s war lost them the trust of large parts of the electorate and millions of votes. The defining issue of this parliament will be the ideologically-inspired attempt by the Tories to destroy public services through savage cuts.

Ed Miliband received the votes of tens of thousands of people because they believed, or hoped, that he would put up a fight against Tory cuts.  Instead, his first statements as leader are designed to lower expectations, not raise them, with the BBC reporting that “Mr Miliband pledged not to oppose every government cut, saying public services would need to learn to do more with less...”

This is sadly typical of Labour today. Too afraid to say what really needs to be said. Too weak to challenge the pro-market and anti-public service establishment consensus. Too willing to concede the argument before it has even begun. 

Public opinion is moving against these cuts as it becomes clear just how big a price we will all pay, individually and as a society. What is needed is a strong and vigorous defence of public services; and a determination to resist the devastation that these cuts are going to cause.

The good news is that Labour has not moved even further in the direction of the Tories. The bad news is that Ed Miliband has used his first minutes as Labour leader to reassure his opponents that he won’t hit them too hard.