David Miliband, the front runner in the Labour leadership campaign, seemed a bit embarrassed by the backing he received from Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson. It’s not that he doesn’t support the policies of his old boss; it’s just that Blair has a tendency to say bluntly what David Miliband might have wished to keep quiet for the time being.
There is no doubting where Blair stands: he supports the slash and burn economics of the Tory –Lib Dem coalition. Blair’s prescription was to keep taxes low (to benefit the rich), raise VAT and other indirect taxes (to attack the poor), and to move faster to dismantle public services (his Tory friends have taken that advice to heart).
David Miliband, if he wants to be elected Labour leader, obviously can’t say anything like that, and moved to distance himself from Blair. But I was intrigued by a speech Miliband made a couple of weeks ago, when he referred to RA Butler, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1951 Tory government.
Now, I am not an expert on Conservative politicians from the 1950s, so I wondered what he meant when he said that the closest parallel he could think of for Labour’s task today is, “...the Tories’ rethink under RA Butler after they lost the 1945 General Election.”
The Labour landslide in 1945 made it possible to transform Britain, with strategic industries taken into public ownership, the creation of the National Health Service, and the adoption of economic policies designed to keep unemployment low. RA Butler’s contribution was to persuade the Tories that they had to accept Labour’s historic reforms if they were ever to rebuild support for themselves.
And that is what David Miliband’s campaign boils down to: if he is elected leader, Labour will not put up a serious fight against the Tory cuts; and if he is ever elected prime minster, Labour will not try to reverse the damage that these cuts will do.
David Cameron has already made it clear that his cuts are not made out of necessity, but out of conviction – public services will not be restored even if the economy revives. He can rely on the Lib Dems to put their careers before any principle. Now it seems he can rely on the New Blairite Miliband as well.
I have been asking for some time, what on earth is the point of the Lib Dems? If David Miliband takes Labour down the same Tory path, millions will be asking what is the point of the Labour Party? And with all three main parties selling the same rotten economic line, who will speak up for us?