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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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