The Hollow rhetoric of Miliband’s New Politics

Barry Biddulph argues that Labour will never be on our side 

Striking is irrelevant for Ed Miliband. He had an awkward lesson for September’s TUC conference: trade unions should offer better relations with their employers. What Labour needed was a continuation of the partnership between business and the unions. The way forward was not negative strikes, but a positive “new economy” built on the Labourite value of cooperation, not conflict in the workplace.


Ed Miliband


But this  desire for social peace is traditional Labour politics. The Labour Representation Committee originally founded Labour on the basis of  Keir Hardy’s resolution rejecting class war in favour of parliamentary  constitutionalism. Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the first Labour Government in 1924, advocated and acted on the commitment to growing  capitalist society, not building a working class alternative.

Labour’s perspective has always been to make themselves respectable enough to manage capitalism.  Miliband was not even proposing a return to Keynes as a way out of recession. He was simply rehashing the Labour mantra, dating back to 1976 when then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, said to the party conference: We would like to think we could spend our way out of recession.  I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists.

Ed Miliband implied that you would like to think you can strike your way out of recession but “strikes are always a consequence of failure”.  ‘Red Ed’ was opposed to the pension strikes in June. Even if the negotiation with the unions was not meaningful on the government’s part, strikes were still morally wrong.  The Parliamentary Labour Party and its leadership have a long history of opposition to strikes since they are not on the parliamentary agenda. To give a few examples. Labour leaders were  against strikes in  the great unrest 1910-14, the general strike of 1926, the seafarers’ strike in 1966, and the miners’ strike 1984-85.  And so on.

Ed Miliband denied being fatalistic. He was not saying ‘accept whatever the employers offered and do not strike’… well, he was saying that but he was also implying something positive: don’t strike but vote Labour at the next election. There was an unwritten promise to provide a few crumbs of comfort for the trade union leaders.The future Labour government would facilitate more apprenticeships and would negotiate in good faith unlike the Tories. But obviously the trade union leaders would have to do the decent thing and help Britain’s economic recovery, and the cuts which were being implemented throughout the country by local Labour councils would not be restored.

Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party conference was full of the usual bourgeois rhetoric about ‘new politics’. He was bringing ‘new values’ like the youthful Tony Blair in 1997. It was the same old Labourite call for a ‘new morality’ which has been in the party’s DNA since its foundation. He called for an end to fast buck Britain and the quick profit. Even so Miliband is aware he cannot morally regulate capitalism: capitalism cannot be ethically run.Underneath the apparent sincerity is the usual phoney sound bite.

The goal of moralising people at the top of capitalism has never been more than dishonest political posturing. Remember ethical foreign policy and then imperialism in Iraq. And all the hypocrisy about how wrong it is for ordinary hard-working people to be squeezed. All this from the leader of a party that is in favour of cuts to jobs and services. Behind the ethical stance is the respectable financial orthodoxy which has run the Labour Party for a century. No surprise then that, Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, announced a future Labour government would not reverse the Tory cuts.


2 thoughts on “The Hollow rhetoric of Miliband’s New Politics

  1. It is important to remember, as the article points out, that ‘New’ Labour’s hatred of strikes, embrace of neo-liberalism (and indeed dislike of immigrants) is not ‘new’ but purest ‘vintage’ Labour. We need not be misty-eyed or nostalgic about Wilson, Callaghan et al. Of course, ‘New’ Labour operated in a different context from ‘Old’, with less social-democratic veneer and more naked repression of working class people – ASBO’s, dispersal zones and the like – which has made the Coalition’s current attacks on ‘lawless’ alleged rioters easier. But it is the same rancid wine in a different shaped bottle. In the 1980’s, many leftwingers flocked to Labour in opposition, as it opportunistically tacked leftwards (myself included). It looks unlikely that the large numbers of young people radicalised by the crisis and the Spring Revolutions will be as naive as we were.


  2. Another reason people flocked to the Labaour party in the 1980’s was the influence on the left of Lenins tactical recommendations from the early 1920’s for communists to vote labour,attempt to affiliate to the labour party and generally critical support the party as a compromise to aid the struggle for socialism.

    At the time lenin freely aknowledged that the Bolsheviks were compromising or in alliances pacts blocks with all kinds of political and social forces including those with communist blood on their hands,to consolidate state power in Russia. These compromises included those with state officials,managers,capitalists,capitalist production methods and so on. So from the point of view of this kind of realism which helped establish a dictatorship over workers and socialism in one country what was the problem with compromising with Labourism?

    The assumption of parliamentary decadence was mistaken and there never was any possibility of Henderson or any of the leaders of the parliamentary Labur party allowing communists to organise freely within the party. This perspective always was unrealistic given the changes in the party structure after the first world war. Lenins position was a continuation of the left reformist outlook of the British Socialist party,a constituent part of the CPGB, who had a perspective of turning labour left.

    The tactic of voting labour to help labour into power also lacked lacked understanding of parliamentarianism. Also the general tactical formula of putting your opponents into power so that the masses can experience their weaknesses has been disasterous for the workers movement. It just gave a lever for anti revolutionary forces to crush or severely weaken revolutionary forces. Labour in power did mean an historical detour of “parliamentary socialism” and all the illusions and negative consequences for an independent communist party.

    The tactic of voting for the labour party and the assumption that the communists could act as a ginger group on Labour or push it left or the idea that the Labour party in power was a way forward undermined communist independence. The tactic assumed a mass communist party which would have the political and social clout to engage workers in the manner proposed. The CPGB was tiny and the tactics only helped labour establish itself in local areas and form the political mold which has survived to this day.


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