The unfairness of Ed Miliband
Since the election there have been a slew of former Labour ministers keen to tell us that Labour needs to change by listening to the voters and their concerns. The speeches and articles are sprinkled with anecdotes from conversations that these ex-ministers had with voters in their constituencies. In many cases it is obvious that going and talking to voters had been a rather novel activity.
Ed Miliband's speech today, in which he announced himself as a candidate for Labour leader, gave two particularly obnoxious examples of this genre. On immigration, he announced that:
"But the truth is that immigration is a class issue.
If you want to employ a builder it’s good to have people you can take on at lower cost, but if you are a builder it feels like a threat to your livelihood.
And we never had an answer for the people who were worried about it.
When competition is driving down your wages and your pension rights, saying globalisation is good for you and for the economy as a whole is an example of what I mean about becoming a technocrat. Because it is a good answer for economists but it is no answer for the people of Britain.
So, for that voter in my constituency, and many others, we need to rediscover our sense of progressive mission."And on what he charmingly calls "people at the other end of society":
"And if we didn’t do enough to enforce fairness at the top, nor did we do enough to enforce it at the bottom.
I am a great defender of the welfare state. It is what a civilised society depends upon.
But the night before the election I was in my constituency and I met a guy who had done well under Labour.
And he said, look, I am not voting for you.
I’ve voted Labour all my life but I am working all the hours that God sends to make a decent living, and yet, he felt, that there are people down the street who could work but were not doing so.
Now we know we did act on this issue, but perhaps too late.
We have hard thinking to do
We need to re-found the welfare state: not just on need, but also on the original Beveridge mission of responsibility and contribution."*
Firstly, Miliband's responses to these concerns are waffle and drivel (what's a "sense of progressive mission" when it is at home? How should we "re-found the welfare state"?) But more than that, he treats migrant workers and unemployed people as unPeople, unworthy of mention except as a problem who need to be dealt with by the Labour Party adopting different policies.
In the cause, ironically, of "fairness".
This is the Margaret Hodge c. 2006 approach, where an out of touch government minister goes and visits the little people in the provinces for the first time in many years and finds that they hold different opinions from people at Westminster, and announces that something must be done.
It is not "fair" for wannabe Labour leaders to repeat right-wing rhetoric and call for their party to make life even harder for migrant workers and unemployed people, and as Barking in 2006 showed, it isn't effective either. "Addressing concerns" about immigration led to Labour ministers passing laws to lock children up and force people to leave Britain through the threat of starvation. Under any conceivable definition of a "progressive mission" we need a different and more humane approach.
Miliband should take his own advice, and learn from Labour's successful campaigns in the recent elections. In the areas where Labour were successful, they didn't spend their time going on about the need to change immigration policy or welfare reform. Instead they mobilised volunteers - from all sections of the community including migrants and unemployed people - to help people, take up and sort out problems, and do effective grassroots campaigning all year round, with hard-working candidates rooted in their communities.
Labour needs a leader who understands that this is what is needed, and who is committed to making sure that we campaign in every community and that our policies nationally reflect and draw on the experience of people at the grassroots. That's the way to make Britain fairer.