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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: Miliband is mere comic relief. Labour should promote Dan Jarvis.

Poor Ed Milipede. He faces in the worst possible problem which can afflict a politician: mockery. A party leader can recover from hatred and even thrive on it (see Margaret Thatcher, passim). But once people are patronising you and deriding you, there is no way back, as poor John Major discovered. Yet it is not all Mr Miliband's fault (still less was it Major's). The Labour party is now confronted by an intellectual crisis. It no longer knows what it believes. 

"Hold on", I can hear people saying: "What about David Cameron's Tories?" That is an extended theme for a later column. But in the short-run, an abbreviated answer is a way into Miliband's crisis. David Cameron's Tories revere their country. They respect its ancient institutions. They believe that the free market is the best route to economic growth. They also believe in strong but limited government. Where government is necessary, it should be effective. Where it is not necessary, it should absent itself. Compare and contrast with Miliband and his friends. They do not revere their country. Their short version of British history is easily summarised: Britain was always wrong. Whenever a Briton was involved in a dispute with a foreigner, especially of a different colour, they have an instinctive assumption: that the foreigner was right. It follows that they have no respect for ancient institutions: mere buttresses of racism, slavery and oppression. They have equally little regard for individual freedom and limited government.

Wise Tories are steeped in history. Unless we have one foot firmly anchored in the past, how can we possibly confront the challenges of the future? Yet we must also remember that other factions have their interest in history: a different history. Until recently, the Tory federasts - Leon Brittan, Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Geoffrey Howe et al - believed that their ultimate victory was inevitable. Tory federasty was always a covert, skulking cult, the political equivalent of the stuff on the newsagent's top shelf, sold to the dirty mackintoshes in a furtive exchange of guilt and hard cash. The socialists were more honest and more self-confident. Their belief in their inevitable victory had deeper roots and would have influenced Miliband's entire childhood. He would have been inculcated in the belief that the march of the future led inexorably in a socialist direction.

All this arose from a fusion of war socialism and marxism. During the war, the entire country was mobilised. If that could be achieved in order to win a war, surely the same methods could be employed to make the victory worthwhile and create a land fit for heroes? Mr Miliband's parents were marxists, another source of belief in historical inevitability. Out of this grew a creed which dominated the Labour party for fifty years. Its tenets were as follows. Wherever there was a problem, the state would provide the solution. Even if rigorous egalitarianism would not be enforced, taxes would remain high. Finally, Britain was always wrong. British history, British traditions were only fit for endless mockery.

This was not only a left-wing view. Many old-fashioned Tories were afflicted with pessimism and assumed that they had lost the battle with history. Then came Margaret Thatcher. The lefties will never forgive her because she re-forged history. She proved that socialism was not inevitable. She revived the animal spirits of the British middle classes. She also revived patriotism. Those victories were reaffirmed and consolidated by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

So where does that leave Labour? Tony Blair succeeded in being a post-Thatcherite Labour Prime Minister because he was a consummate chameleon. Poor young Milipede is not a cosummate anything. if he were honest, he would say that he was still an old-fashioned socialist, who would like to find a version of socialism which the voters might accept. He would also say that British patriotism makes him sick. He cannot say any of that, so he is left floundering from relaunch to relaunch, trying to define himself. And re-define himself. And re-re define...and eventually lose. His own party blames him. But there is an analogy with football, almost inescapable in modern political imagery. If the players are simply not good enough, there is no point in blaming the manager. Sack and replace him, and the blood-lust is appeased - but the problems remain the same. The elder Miliband might be marginally more convincing. Marginal is the word. If he had won the leadership, there would now be a lot of Labour muttering that they had chosen the wrong Milipede. it is hard to believe that either member of the Balls family would be doing much better. There is always Miss Harman. In view of her human warmth, her generosity of spirit and her obvious appeal to the aspirational classes, it is to be hoped that she has not renounced her leadership ambitions. She would have the support - of almost every Tory.

There is a young Labour MP called Dan Jarvis. Although he has only just arrived in Parliament, he exudes class. This might be a Tony Blair with moral depth: a good enough politician to lead his party without solving its basic intellectual difficulties. That said, not yet; give the boy a bit of time. In the interim, the Labour party ought to stop bitching about its Leader and start helping him to work out what he should believe. This may not work. It could be that there is no electorally acceptable answer. Even so, it must be better than relaunches and opportunism. Poor, hapless Milipede will probably be remembered as mere comic relief in socialism's dismissal from history. But he is not the sole source of his party's degringolade.


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