Ed Miliband speaks out on Occupy movement

The Labour leader says St Paul's protest reflects wider concerns over "irresponsible, predatory capi

In the New Statesman last month, our leader column called for Ed Miliband to engage with the protesters outside St Paul's Cathedral in London:

Haunted by the spectre of the 1980s -- when Labour was marginalised as a party of protest -- Ed Miliband has avoided engaging with the movement. But he should not miss the opportunity to channel its anger into a coherent political programme. As his deft response to the phone-hacking scandal demonstrated, there are gains to be made when the normal laws of politics are suspended . . . Mr Miliband was ridiculed for his division of businesses into "predators and producers" but his yearning for a better, more ethical capitalism is widely shared. (more here)

Today, the Labour leader has done exactly that. Unsurprisingly, he does not back the protesters directly, but instead outlines how he believes their concerns are reflected by wider society:

Certainly, few people struggling to makes ends meet and worried about what the future holds for their children will have either the time or the inclination to camp outside a cathedral. And many people will not agree with the demands or like the methods of the protesters. But they still present a challenge: to the church and to business -- and also to politics. The challenge is that they reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run.

He goes on to identify high unemployment as the key challenge facing Britons, particularly young ones. There are some positive suggestions, as, after all, "the role of politicians is not to protest, but to find answers".

Miliband makes several concrete proposals of how he would talk to the "99 per cent". First, a tax on bank bonuses, then using the money saved by reversing Tory tax cuts for banks to reduce the maximum student tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000.

In a move that will play well with the Daily Mail -- and fits his "squeezed middle" rhetoric -- Miliband promises to reduce fuel bills by "break[ing] up the rigged market of the energy cartel so that new competitors can drive prices down". (David Cameron has also identified this as an important issue with voters: in October, he summoned representatives of the "big six" energy firms to a Whitehall meeting.)

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Getty
Show Hide image

For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era