Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Miliband's weakness

In his conference speech, Ed Miliband blamed his recent calamity on external forces, while Andy Burnham identified ‘vested interests’ opposed to his leadership.  The right-wing press had a good laugh about this, since such claims manifestly ignored all the evidence of discontent in the PLP and even the shadow cabinet.

Part of the problem is that he cannot acknowledge the nature of the divisions within the Labour Party.  His entire strategy of leadership is based on triangulating between Blairites, the old Labour Right, and the moderate centre-left while simultaneously - and this is impossible - rebuilding the social basis of Labourism, and regaining the 5m working class votes lost by New Labour.  And he’s trying to do all this within the constraints of a broadly accepted austerity agenda, and on the basis of a strident ‘Britishness’ in Scotland, which undercuts him repeatedly.  The SNP are trolling Miliband expertly along these two axes.

In this context, the simultaneous weakening of the British economy and the secular decline of the British state isn’t just bad for Cameron - it weakens Miliband’s own position.  On top of this, his precarious balancing act repeatedly collapses into incoherence - over the extent of austerity, how much Labour will ‘reverse course’ and so on.

The Blairites are much more coherent and single-minded.  They have been willing to take on not just rival leadership factions, but their own members, the unions, the wider Labour electorate, repeatedly.  They have done so with some success in the past.  They don’t mind losing working class voters if a viable cross-class electoral coalition can be built around the ideology of aspiration and on the basis of a mainstream pro-business agenda.  And to reconcile Labour and its base to that project - the only one they think of as plausible - is the purpose of their existence: a strategy which Gramsci once referred to as ’transformism’.

This is why they find Miliband so intolerable.  Recently, there have been columns and editorials in The Guardian, the New Statesman and the Telegraph by various Labour figures fantasising that he is a Bennite, or thinks like a Marxist who doesn’t get ‘aspiration’.  I can only understand this a coded way of saying that he is not totally committed to the Blairite project.

It is not about ‘vested interests’.  These ‘external forces’ are entirely internal to the Labour Party today.  That is what Miliband can’t say.