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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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times