“Red Ed”? Not quite.

Where is the radical candidate who came from behind to win the crown?

Of all the slogans, catchphrases, soundbites and propaganda lines emanating from this Conservative-led coalition government, nothing grates more than George Osborne's High School Musical-inspired "We're all in this together". We're not. The Treasury's own table makes that clear. So, too, does the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

As we approach the end of the year, a time of soothsaying and prophesying, let me make one simple prediction: at the end of this parliament, and as a direct result of this government's policies, the gap between rich and poor will have widened; the rich will be richer and the poor will be poorer. The housing benefit "reforms" are just the tip of the iceberg.

And a new report revealing how FTSE-100 executives received a 55 per cent jump in pay over the past year makes me wonder how they are in this with the rest of us. "Austerity, what austerity?" is the headline over at politics.co.uk. Remember: these are the kinds of people who write letters to the Telegraph urging cuts to public services and fear-mongering about public-sector pensions. Shocking, eh?

But as Jim Pickard notes over at the FT Westminster Blog:

This is why I was frantically seeking political reaction yesterday to the report by Incomes Data Services, which is on our front page today. Criticism came obligingly from Vince Cable, union leaders and from Labour figures including John Denham (Kelvin Hopkins said it was a "moral outrage"). Although it's not quite clear that any of them have a magic bullet to solve the issue.

Ed Miliband's reaction? No comment whatsoever.

It's not as if this isn't a subject close to his heart, supposedly. During the summer he said salary differentials were far too wide – and called for Will Hutton's official review to be extended to the private sector.

So, Ed, where are you? Still running from the "Red" tag? Let's be clear. There is nothing "red" about objecting to reckless, irresponsible and unfair pay rises and telephone-number salaries. In fact, the public would be on your side if you did – polls show voters support a high pay commission and higher taxes on bonuses and object to the growing gap between rich and poor in modern Britain.

Saint Vince of Cable, the Business Secretary, became spectacularly popular in opposition not just because he could dance, but because he relentlessly attacked the excesses and greed of our financial elites. In government too, the sage of Twickenham has been quick to condemn the FTSE fat cats, describing the IDS report as "further evidence that it is time for executive pay to come back down to earth".

I'm amazed – and annoyed! – that Barack Obama over in the United States failed, in the words of Drew Westen, to stake out a "left populist" position on bonuses, pay and corporate excesses in the wake of the financial crisis. And now, the Republicans, fuelled by the popularity of the anti-establishment, right-populism of the Tea Party movement, are expected to retake the House of Representatives from the Democrats in next week's midterm elections.

So I do hope Ed Mili, who ran as an outsider, and to the left of the neoliberal "centre ground" where New Labour had camped out, will learn the lessons of Obama's counterproductive caution and conservatism about finance, bonuses and bailout-related issues. And, as Pickard concludes:

You can understand his determination to shed the Red Ed tag and try to position Labour as close to the centre ground as possible. But those who heard him during scores of summer hustings may now be confused about what he does stand for.

UPDATE:

Given some of the debate and disagreement on Twitter over this blog post, let me clarify a few points:

1) I am still a strong supporter Ed Miliband, who is by far the best, most progressive and inspiring of the three main party leaders. But – shock, horror! – I remain to the left of of "Not So Red" Ed.

2) I do think the left should hold centre-left leaders like Obama, Brown, Miliband, whoever, to account and not give them a pass. See the example of the right/centre right.

3) It is indeed rather boring to see lefties always cry "betrayal" when their leaders disappoint them, but, on the other hand, legitimate criticism of those leaders shouldn't instantly be dismissed, or misdescribed and/or ridiculed as screams of "betrayal". Geddit?

4) I am starting slightly to worry that Ed Mili may have made a rather cautious start to his leadership on the subject of cuts and high pay/bonuses/etc. I suspect that the coalition's fiscal policies will backfire on it and Labour will not be able to exploit the fallout if its own policies/approach/rhetoric are seen as not dissimilar by the public at large. (See Tories and Iraq; see Darling's cuts v Osborne's cuts during election campaign.)

5) Unlike Sunny Hundal and others, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect Ed Mili to come out loudly and passionately on FTSE pay rises today, given the centrality and importance of the High Pay Commission proposal to his victorious Labour leadership campaign only a few weeks ago.

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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Britain has built a national myth on winning the Second World War, but it’s distorting our politics

The impending humiliation of Brexit is going to have a lot more in common with Suez.

The Crown, Peter Morgan’s epic drama covering the reign of Elizabeth II, ended its first series with a nemesis waiting just off-stage to shake up its court politics. In the final episode, Egyptian president Gamal Nasser gives a rip-roaringly anti-imperialist – and anti-British – speech. The scene is set for the Suez Crisis to be a big plot point in Season 2.

Suez has gone down in history as the great foreign policy debacle of postwar Britain. The 1956 crisis – which saw Israel, France and Britain jointly invade Egypt to take control of the Suez Canal, only to slink off again, nine days later, once it became clear the US wasn’t having any of it – is seen as the point at which it became clear that even the bigger states of Europe were no longer great powers in the world. “President Eisenhower’s humiliation of Britain,” Jack Straw wrote in his 2012 memoir, “had been total.”

This was, though, a fairly limited sort of humiliation. Britain was not invaded or occupied; there was no sudden collapse in living standards, let alone a significant body count. Our greatest national debacle is nothing more than the realisation that Britain could no longer do whatever it wanted without fear of reprisal. As humiliations go, this one’s up there with the loss of status men have faced from the rise of feminism: suddenly, Britain could do what it wanted a mere 80 per cent of the time.

The Crown begins in 1947, when Prince Philip gives up his Greek and Danish royal titles and becomes a British subject, so that he can marry Princess Elizabeth. That year saw another British foreign policy debacle, one on which the show remains oddly silent. In the partition which followed India’s independence from the British Empire, 70 years ago this week, upwards of a million people died; in the decades since, the borders drawn up at that time have been the site of numerous wars, and Kashmir remains a flashpoint.

All this, one might think, might count as a far bigger regret than Suez – yet it doesn’t feature in the national narrative in the same way. Perhaps because partition was about the withdrawal of British forces, rather than their deployment; perhaps it’s simply that it all happened a very long way away. Or perhaps we just care less about a body count than we do about looking bad in front of the Americans.

I think, though, there’s another reason we don’t talk about this stuff: the end of empire is hidden behind a much bigger part of our national myth. In the Second World War, Britain is undeniably one of the good guys; for 12 months, indeed, Britain was the only good guy. Never mind that it still had the largest empire the world had ever seen to fall back on: Britain stood alone.

The centrality of the Second World War to the national myth warps our view of history and our place in the world in all sorts of ways. For starters, it means we’ve never had to take an honest account of the consequences of empire. In a tale about British heroes defeating Nazi villains, British mistakes or British atrocities just don’t fit. (Winston Churchill’s role in the 1943 Bengal famine – death toll: three million – by ordering the export of Indian grain to Britain rarely comes up in biopics.) In this dominant version of the national story, the end of empire is just the price we pay to defeat fascism.

More than that, our obsession with the Second World War creates the bizarre impression that failure is not just heroic, but a necessary precursor to success. Two of the most discussed elements of Britain’s war – the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the Blitz – are not about victory at all, but about survival against the odds. The lesson we take is that, with a touch of British grit and an ability to improvise, we can accomplish anything. It’s hard not to see this reflected in Brexit secretary David Davis’s lack of notes, but it’s nonsense: had the Russians and Americans not arrived to bail us out, Britain would have been stuffed.

Most obviously, being one of the winners of the Second World War infects our attitude to Europe. It’s probably not a coincidence that Britain has always been both one of the most eurosceptic EU countries, and one of the tiny number not to have been trampled by a foreign army at some point in recent history: we don’t instinctively grasp why European unity matters.

Once again, Suez is instructive. The lesson postwar France took from the discovery that the imperial age was over was that it should lead a strong and unified Europe. The lesson Britain took was that, so long as we cosied up to the US – Athens to their Rome, to quote Harold Macmillan – we could still bask in reflected superpower.

Until recently, Britain’s Second World War obsession and national ignorance about empire didn’t really seem to affect contemporary politics. They were embarrassing; but they were also irrelevant, so we could cope. Brexit, though, means that hubris is about to run headlong into nemesis, and the widespread assumption that Britain is a rich, powerful and much-loved country is unlikely to survive contact with reality. India will not offer a trade deal for sentimental reasons; Ireland is not a junior partner that will meekly follow us out of the door or police its borders on our behalf. The discovery that Britain is now a mid-ranking power that – excepting the over-heated south-east of England – isn’t even that rich is likely to mean a loss of status to rival Suez.

Morgan says he has planned six seasons of The Crown. (This looks entertainingly like a bet the Queen will be dead by 2021; if not, like Game of Thrones before it, he might well run out of text to adapt.) It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles Brexit. It began with the royal family facing up to a vertiginous decline in British power. As things stand, it may have to end the same way. 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear