“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.


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.

Green Party
Show Hide image

Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.