Thursday, 23 September 2010

There Is Only One Thing That Is Bennite About Ed Miliband

The right wing popular press have already christened Ed Miliband as 'Red Ed'.

Bagehot takes up the point here:

According to the newspaper narrative, Ed Miliband, the younger brother and former cabinet minister in charge of climate change, is significantly to the left of David Miliband, the elder brother and former foreign secretary. I have seen the word Bennite bandied around, in homage to Tony Benn, the former Labour cabinet minister who really was a proper lefty in his day, advocating capital controls and the wholesale nationalisation of British industry. It is true that the pair have been sending little hints and signals since the contest became a two horse race, indicating that MiliE is to the left of MiliD (as some call them) and is more tempted than MiliD by some form of core vote strategy to woo back disaffected Labour voters and former Liberal Democrat voters who are disgruntled by the Con-Lib coalition. But Bennite? Come off it.

There isn't much Bennite about Ed Miliband.  He is still, seemingly attached to the idea of unelected European Commissioners having more power than elected politicians.  As far as I'm aware, he isn't advocating unilateral disarmament, or capital controls, or industrial democracy, or withdrawal from the EU.

There is however one thing that links Ed Miliband and Benn together.  That is the sudden transformation of their worldviews after an election defeat.  Michael Foot told the story of the Benn transformation brilliantly in his 'Loyalists and Loners':

"Tony Benn was once an up and coming, middle of the road Labour MP with an excellent chance of becoming Prime Minister... in the attitudes he adopted on questions of policy, there were not so much as a list towards left-wing demagogy.  He gave every impression of being a good administrator and was always a good defender of his Department in the House of Commons.  He was a strong supporter of Britain's entry into the Common Market.  He backed... In Place Of Strife.  He was not notable for protesting against the Wilson Government's support for the American war in Vietnam... He had never been a member of the Tribune group or the Keep Left group or the Victory for Socialism Group... he did vote for Gaitskell in the 1955 leadership election... However, during the decade of the 1970s he was transformed - the word is too weak; reincarnated might be better - into a different political animal altogether."

Such a transformation seems to have occurred to Ed Miliband over the past few months.  From Brownite minister, he has transformed himself into some kind of keeper of the Bevanite flame.  The man criticising the New Labour establishment was, after all, the man who depended on that establishment for his advance.  He did serve, without showing any open signs of disloyalty or hostility, under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  He did serve as an adviser to New Labour for many years before that.  He did, after all, write the election manifesto in 2010.

I'm not of course suggesting that the younger brother's sudden volte face on a number of issues is an opportunist one.  It has, though, been almost as sudden as the Benn conversion of the 1970s.  Benn suggested that it was "his experience as a Labour Minister" that brought about his transformation.  Similarly, Miliband claimed [in today's Guardian] that he had been "liberated to say what he finally believed."

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