“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.

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Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.