Ed Miliband “gets” social democracy

Look beyond the presentation skills.

That Ed Miliband is an impressive and accessible orator with a human touch is a much-voiced argument. I buy that. But what enthuses me about his campaign for the Labour leadership is that his language is more than just eloquent; it reveals an independent mind, a willingness to challenge orthodoxy, and above all a consummately social-democratic philosophy, free of the triangulating tendencies of the previous generation of party leaders.

Perhaps this is a product of Ed's spell as energy and climate change secretary, a portfolio predicated on the use of state intervention to tame and harness the chaotic effects of globalisation. It is to his credit that he flourished in a role defined by such a peculiar mixture of the generationally long-term and the precipitously immediate.

The Climate Change Bill, in particular, represented a triumph of his ambitious, responsive dirigisme. It lifted the target for 2050 emissions cuts from 60 per cent to 80 per cent and heeded calls to curb aviation and shipping emissions. The director of Friends of the Earth admitted that "the government has listened", and the lead scientist at Greenpeace claimed: "In a decade in power, Labour has never adopted a target so ambitious, far-reaching and internationally significant as this."

Moreover, at the Copenhagen summit last year, Ed was widely praised for his role in rallying international governments around an amendment that, according to the environmentalist Franny Armstrong, "prevented the talks from collapsing". As climate secretary, he also introduced a more interventionist approach to cutting domestic energy use: obliging energy companies to meet 60 per cent of insulation costs, offering loans for energy-saving technologies and introducing grants for small-scale energy generation.

Ed is putting this commitment to the active state at the heart of his leadership campaign, offering a break from that desiccated managerialism whose stated raison d'être was (in the words of Alan Milburn) to help people "earn and own". It is a break that can be found in his call to "take on the power of the markets", in his communitarian support for a national network of Post Banks, and in his willingness, rare among former ministers, to talk not just about equality of opportunity, but about equality of outcome.

"The connection between our sense and the people's sense of fairness frayed and we need to acknowledge that," he has said. "It frayed over excesses at the top. And it frayed over the people at the other end of society as well."

On Friday, he will launch a campaign for a National Living Wage. This is an encouraging sign of things to come. Imagine it on the 2015 pledge card: three words telling a powerful story about Labour's vision for the good society.

But beyond the policy's social merits, a debate on the living wage could also give the party the chance to discuss issues that in the past have been swept under the carpet: the distribution of wealth, the work-life balance, the impact of globalisation on wages, housing and public services. Ed is going the right way about putting these back on the agenda.

So, solely to foreground the younger Miliband's personal skills, his rhetorical style and ability to "talk human" does the man a disservice. Both as a cabinet member and now as a leadership candidate, he has been distinguished by what he says, more than how he says it.

Where others use "aspiration" as an empty buzzword, he explains that it must mean more than prosperity. Where others talk about "making work pay", he adds that work must also be dignified. Where others discuss "fairness" in the abstract, he talks about the need to address the gap between rich and poor. As such, I believe that he would make an excellent leader of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Cliffe is a a convenor for Compass and a student at Oxford University.

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To heal Britain’s cracks, it’s time for us northern graduates in London to return home

Isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

I’m from Warrington. The least cultured town in the UK. My town.

I moved to London almost exactly five years ago. Not because I particularly wanted to. Not because I wanted to depart the raucous northern town that I still call home. Because it was my only choice, really. I’d done my stint in the call centres and had some fun. But that couldn’t, surely, be my lot?

After university, I’d already started feeling a little weird and out of place back in Wazza. There were fewer and fewer people who didn’t look at me like I’d just fallen off a futuristic space flight that’d given me a different accent and lofty ideals.

Of course, that’s because most people like me had already skipped town without looking back and were all in the capital trying to strike beyond the ordinary.

The young, the cities, the metropolitan elite are still reeling after last week’s vote and wondering how people, half of our people, have got it so horribly wrong. We’re different, divided, done for.  

One thing I’ve clung onto while I’ve been in London is the fact that I’m from Warrington and proud. It might not be a cultured town, but it’s my town.

But I wasn’t proud of the outcome of the EU referendum that saw my town vote 54.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent to leave.

To be fair, even in my new “home” borough of Hackney, east London, the place with the third-largest Remain vote, one in five people voted for Brexit.

Yes, in one of London’s hottest and most international neighbourhoods, there are quite a lot of people who don’t feel like they’re being taken along to the discotheque.

Perversely, it was the poorest places in the UK that voted in largest numbers to leave the EU – that’s the same EU that provides big chunks of funding to try to save those local economies from ruin.

In many ways, of course, I understand the feelings of those people back in the place I still sometimes think of as home.

Compared to many suffering places in the UK, Warrington is a “boom town” and was one of the only places that grew during the last recession.

It’s a hub for telecoms and logistics companies, because, ironically, its good transport links make it an easy place to leave.

But there are many people who aren’t “living the dream” and, like anywhere else, they aren’t immune from the newspaper headlines that penetrate our brains with stories of strivers and scroungers.

Warrington is one of the whitest places in the UK, and I’m sure, to many locals, that means those immigrants are only a few towns away. There’s already a Polski sklep or two. And a few foreign taxi drivers. Those enterprising bastards.

We have never seriously addressed the economic imbalance in our economy. The gaping north-south divide. The post-industrial problem that politicians in Westminster have handily ignored, allowing the gap to be filled by those who find it quick and easy to blame immigrants.

When schemes like HS2, which is plotted to smash right through the place I grew up, are pushed against all of the evidence, instead of a much-needed, intercity Leeds to Liverpool investment to replace the two-carriage hourly service, it’s like positively sticking two fingers up to the north.

But I am also a big problem. People like me, who get educated and quickly head off to London when things aren’t going our way. We invested in ourselves, sometimes at state expense, and never really thought about putting that back into the places where we grew up.

There weren’t the right opportunities back home and that still stands. But, rather than doing something about that, people like me lazily joined the gravy train for London and now we’re surprised we feel more kinship with a 20-something from Norway than we do with someone who we used to knock on for when we should have been at school.

That’s not to suggest that our experiences in the capital – or mine at least – haven’t made us a thousand, million times better. 

I’ve met people who’ve lived lives I would never have known and I’m a profoundly better person for having the chance to meet people who aren’t just like me. But to take that view back home is increasingly like translating a message to someone from an entirely different world.

“You know, it’s only because you live in a country like this that a woman like you is allowed to even say things like that,” assured one of my dad’s friends down at the British Legion after we’d had a beer, and an argument or two.

Too right, pal. We live in what we all like to think is an open and tolerant and progressive society. And you’re now saying I shouldn’t use that right to call you out for your ignorance?

We’re both Warringtonians, English, British and European but I can increasingly find more agreement with a woman from Senegal who’s working in tech than I can with you.

It’s absolutely no secret that London has drained brains from the rest of the country, and even the rest of the world, to power its knowledge economy.

It’s a special place, but we have to see that there are many people clamouring for jobs they are far too qualified for, with no hope of saving for a home of their own, at the expense of the places they call home.

It’s been suggested in the past that London becomes its own city-state, now Londoners are petitioning to leave the UK.

But isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

We can expect local governments to do more with less, but when will we accept we need people power back in places like Warrington if we want to change the story to one of hope?

If this sounds like a patronising plan to parachute the north London intelligentsia into northern communities to ensure they don’t make the same mistake twice... Get fucked, as they say in Warrington.

It was Warrington that raised me. It’s time I gave something back.

Kirsty Styles is editor of the New Statesman's B2B tech site, NS Tech.