The New Statesman endorses Ed Miliband

Why we’re backing the younger brother for the leadership of the Labour Party.

I am pleased to inform you all that the New Statesman has decided to back Ed Miliband for the Labour leadership.

But let's be clear: we believe that both Miliband brothers would make decent, able and progressive prime ministers, and could lead Labour to victory over the Con-Lib coalition at the next election. And there was much debate, discussion and agonising here in the New Statesman offices, with different members of the team backing different candidates.

In the end, however, we agreed that Ed Miliband best represents the historic ideals, values and ambitions of this magazine.

From this week's leader (which hits the newsstands tomorrow):

So far, of all the candidates, it is Ed Miliband who has been most prepared to challenge New Labour orthodoxies, to use a different kind of language. He advocates a Labour agenda that is confident, forceful and empowering, committed to greater freedom, social justice and, above all else, reducing inequality.

The primary task of the next Labour leader has to be to develop a political economy that addresses the fundamental inequalities and inequities that have blighted British society for so long -- and which will only worsen as the Con-Lib coalition's doctrinaire spending cuts begin to bite. To talk of tackling social mobility, as coalition ministers do, without addressing the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, is disingenuous. The fight for a more equal society has to become a priority again and Ed Miliband understands this (see his column on page 21). Witness his living wage campaign, his proposal for a high pay commission and his insistence on keeping the new top rate of tax for high earners.

Ed Miliband also understands that the Labour Party must once more become part of a much larger and wider movement for change -- a true movement, transcending class divisions and geographical boundaries. Rightly or wrongly, he is less contaminated than his brother and Ed Balls by the fallout from the radioactive Brown-Blair wars. With the exception of Diane Abbott, he has been most robust in denouncing the Iraq war as a great wrong, a moral failure. He has placed civil liberties and the restoration of freedoms lost during Labour's 13 years in office at the centre of his campaign. On constitutional reform, he supports the Alternative Vote, if not full proportional representation, and is an instinctive pluralist.

But our editorial position should not be seen as an attack on the other candidates and, in particular, David Miliband and Ed Balls, as the leader goes on to argue:

Our endorsement of Ed Miliband is not a rejection of his brother, nor indeed of Ed Balls. Mr Balls in particular has been impressive during this contest. As an astute and experienced economist, he is the most numerate of all the candidates. As the coalition has already discovered, he is a formidable opponent, unrelenting and forensic . . . The contest, however, is a two-horse race. David Miliband deserves his title of "front-runner". Despite his mistaken support for the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the elder Miliband has the intellect, eloquence and experience to be Labour leader and prime minister.

The leader concludes:

The elder Miliband remains the bookies' favourite, the best-funded candidate, with the support of the New Labour establishment and much of the right-of-centre commentariat. For all of this, the race is open. Voting begins on 1 September and we urge all undecided MPs and MEPs, and Labour Party and trade union members, to vote for Ed Miliband. He is the "change candidate" who has the greatest potential to connect with a wider electorate and especially with those politically engaged young people, internationalist in outlook, who have lost faith in conventional Westminster politics but yearn for a more democratic, fairer and freer Britain. Labour needs a bold, charismatic, compassionate and visionary leader to renew the party and begin the journey back to government. Ed Miliband has shown us he could be that leader.

So will Ed M win? That's the $64,000 question. I have a hunch that Ed will win it by the narrowest of margins, thanks to transfers of votes from Balls, Burnham and Abbott supporters.

But it's just a hunch. That's all it is. Like the general election result, which all the pollsters and most of the commentariat got wrong, this Labour leadership race is too close to call. The party hasn't had a leadership election in 16 years -- and, back in 1994, Tony Blair had no credible rivals. And the 2007 deputy leadership election is a reminder of how second preferences can make all the difference.

Let the voting begin!

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.