Monday, 9 March 2015

Why is Nobody Aboard the Miliband-wagon?

by Will Dry

The name Miliband has almost become a byword for haplessness; his approval ratings have sunk from +20 at the start of his leadership to -55 in the latest YouGov poll. "Weird" was the word chosen by 41% of voters to describe him; and, it is true, from eating bacon sarnies to giving money to the homeless, there is little Miliband does that could be considered "normal". David Cameron, ever in disagreement with his party, described him as 'useless' - in contrast to most Tory backbenchers who think Miliband will be very helpful in their election endeavours.

However, if the public and media were to ignore his remarkable resemblance to Wallace (see above) and focus on his record, the tale of Miliband is one not of Wallace but of Harry Potter (see below) - a heroic champion rallying against the dark forces of evil that swathe the land:

For Miliband is not just socially odd, but politically odd also. Since Margaret Thatcher, winning the support of Rupert Murdoch was seen as a necessary prerequisite to any electoral success.  Blair is the godfather of one of Murdoch's children and was present at the ceremony next to the River Jordan in white robes - and his intimacy with Rupert has paid many political benefits: 'The Sun' swinging behind Blair two months before the 1997 election was seen as a pivotal moment, and all of Murdoch's 175 worldwide newspapers supported the Iraq war.  Gordon Brown's wife hosted a 'sleepover' party where Wendi Deng, the wife of Rupert Murdoch, and Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, were in attendance. Cameron's dedication to his faith in the Murdoch empire is equally impressive; during his first fifteen months of power he met with News International executives twenty-six times. He also hired Andy Coulson, who had resigned as editor of the 'News of the World' over initial allegations of phone hacking, as his communications director. His text messages to Rebekah Brooks after her resignation from NI were particularly revealing - 'Sorry I could not have been as loyal to you as I have been, but Ed Miliband had me on the run.' 

Ed Miliband, the goofy-eyed man with a squashed boxer's nose, did not just have Cameron on the run but had forced the whole Murdoch empire into full retreat. His unrelenting attacks on Murdoch articulated the concerns of many in the country, describing the current media situation, whereby one person owns more than 20% of the newspaper market and Sky News, as "dangerous" and one that has, and would naturally, lead to "abuses of power." Miliband's personal approval ratings jumped by +7 in one month and contributed to News International removing their bid of £7 billion for BSkyB, a move described by the BBC business editor as "a huge humiliation."

Miliband may have beaten Murdoch in 2011, but Murdoch is not a particularly good loser. His newspapers and other media have been ruthless in their revenge over the last few years. The barrage of hyperbolic coverage, such as his nickname 'Red Ed', and rather humiliating photos - the type that friends post on someone's Facebook wall on their birthday - have not helped him in his battle to appear normal.

Another way in which Miliband has broken with convention is his stance on Syria. Every leader of the opposition is supposed to support the government on foreign policy, as Iain Duncan Smith did with Iraq and Michael Foot did with the Falklands. That is why it was such an audacious political moment when Miliband opposed Cameron's "ill thought out" intervention in Syria. The implications of the vote, which Miliband won, extend far beyond humiliating Cameron, and questioning his authority; it was a move that questioned Britain's unquestioning loyalty towards America's foreign policy. Miliband's unprecedented rejection of the government's foreign policy was castigated by the government and their allies in the media - the Sun's headline the next day was "DEATH NOTICE" "THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP. Died at home after a sudden illness on Thursday, August 29, 2013, Aged 67. Beloved offspring of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt." However, it was not Miliband who deserved such a bludgeoning by the press; only 25% of the public supported missile strikes in Syria and only 9% supported troops on the ground. Similarly, 67% of the public believe that the 'special relationship' was irrelevant in the modern age, and that we should not be concerned with America's feelings. It was Cameron who deserved the weight of the press' scrutiny, he was undermining the due process of the UN, and forcing Britain to rewatch a movie that we know the ending of - more turmoil in the Middle East.

The Tory Party sometimes can't help but shoot itself in the foot: in the week of the HSBC revelations, they held a 'Black and White Ball' where the senior members of the party wined and dined with the wealthiest in our society - bankers bid for shoe-shopping trips with Theresa May. Similarly, the Guardian reported that Cameron had appointed 13 peers, during his term in office, who have collectively donated more than £22 million to the Conservative Party. New Labour were not much better; Lord Mandelson was infamously "intensely relaxed" about "people getting filthy rich" and Blair's premiership was marred from the outset by the Ecclestone affair (in which the Labour party accepted £1 million from Bernie Ecclestone, a donation that was only made public shortly after it was announced Formula 1 would be exempt from a ban on tobacco advertising.) 

The most recent political scalp taken by Miliband resulted from his fight against Lord Fink - treasurer of the Conservative Party - who, Miliband insinuated during PMQs, was 'dodgy'. Fink threatened to sue Miliband if he repeated his claims outside of the Commons, where he would not be protected by Parliamentary privilege. Miliband refused to back down, and the next day repeated the claim that Lord Fink avoided tax. Fink then admitted to 'vanilla tax avoidance', while completing his good PR for the Labour party by claiming that 'everybody avoids tax' - three words that did Cameron no favours in his efforts not to appear as the modern-day 'nasty party'. Miliband has already stated that he would blacklist any tax haven that refused to take steps to become more transparent, and would close the "Quoted Eurobond Exemption", a loophole that allows companies to illegitimately move their profits to tax havens abroad - which loses the country up to £500 million a year.

Miliband is also the first opposition leader in recent decades to actually fulfil his or her role - to oppose. Thatcher claimed Tony Blair was her greatest achievement; the Tories and New Labour were both devoted followers of the neo-liberal economic agenda, and agreed on far too much for any healthy governing to occur. Miliband's policy package - a mansion tax, a restoration of the 50p tax rate, controls on energy prices, and seizure of land hoarding private property tycoons who are refusing to build - has broken the consensus. He has stated that he is "bringing socialism back to Britain." He is a man who has shaped the political context, not been shaped by it; the same cannot be said of David Cameron before the 2010 election. The simple fact that David Cameron has now been forced to make speeches on zero hour contracts, and Boris Johnson has supported the living wage campaign in London is testament to the Miliband agenda. Miliband is not just scared of taking on his enemies, but also his friends; he changed the trade union Labour donation system so that trade unions could not assume all  of their members want to be Labour donors - a move that was made purely out of principle, and one which could cost him the election considering the difference between the Labour and Tory balance sheets.

Life-long supporter of the Labour party Mr Robinson has commented that the party is in a "sad state" and led by "apparatchiks." Miliband is no apparatchik. He was educated at a London state school where the police were regularly called to the school gates to quell mass fights - Miliband himself once punched a fellow pupil, and has since claimed that, despite not being a great fighter, he did "not come out too  badly - it was honours evens." Miliband will need to muster some of that fighting spirit in the upcoming election, and if he wants a convincing majority he will need to come out better than honours evens after tussling with Cameron. Long gone are Miliband's fighting days; he is a man at ease with himself, possessing a genuine warmth on the doorstep, and the rare ability, in a politician, of self-deprecation. He is the son of two immigrants who fled the Nazis, a man who is certain that Britain's political pendulum is swinging leftwards similar to the manner in which it swung rightwards in 1979.                                                            
In years to come, Miliband may become the byword for conviction, hope - or economic disaster. Who knows? But if Miliband fails to become Prime Minister this May, it will be disappointing that he never got a chance to vindicate or ridicule his critics. 

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