Shock! Horror! Labour leader says he is a “socialist”!

Quote of the day.

Yes, I am a socialist.

That was the Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, speaking on Radio 5 Live this morning. And I see that the Tories, in the form of the teenage children who seem to be in charge of the party's Twitter feed, have used the quotation to push their ridiculous "Red Ed" line again. Fraser Nelson has got rather excited as well and his colleagues at the Spectator Coffee House blog even took time out to transcribe much of the Labour leader's interview with Nicky Campbell.

Miliband may indeed be keen to "move on" from New Labour – and right to do so – but to pretend his "I am a socialist" remark is proof of such an approach or, on the other hand, a gaffe, is just silly and ignorant. Don't they know that Tony Blair, the architect of New Labour and rewriter of Clause Four, also described himself as a "socialist"? Not just in 1983 but in 1994, too.

From Sunder Katwala's Next Left blog:

So here is Tony Blair the socialist, as he prepared to rewrite Clause Four of the Labour Party in 1994:

"The socialism of Marx, of centralised state control of industry and production, is dead. It misunderstood the nature and development of a modern market economy; it failed to recognise that state and public sector can become a vested interest capable of oppression as much as the vested interests of wealth and capital; and it was based on a false view of class that became too rigid to explain or illuminate the nature of class division today.

"By contrast, socialism as defined by certain key values and beliefs is not merely alive, it has a historic opportunity now to give leadership. The basis of such socialism lies in its view that individuals are socially interdependent human beings – that individuals cannot be divorced from the society to which they belong. It is, if you will, social-ism."

Only two years ago, Cherie Blair saw fit to describe herself as a socialist in a Guardian interview. And during summer's Labour leadership campaign, all five candidates – including a seemingly reluctant David Miliband – affirmed their socialist credentials.

From the Next Left blog in June:

Emma Burnell asked the candidates for the Labour Party leadership, "Are you a socialist – and what does the word mean to you?" at the hustings event co-hosted by the Fabian Society, Compass, LabourList, Left Foot Forward, Progress and the Young Fabians at the Institute of Education in London. Gaby Hinsliff challenged the candidates to give a "one-line" ideology for this final question of the hustings event.

Each of the candidates [was] happy to use the phrase, though David Miliband was perhaps the most indirect in his answer: "It says on the Labour Party card that we are a democratic socialist party, and I am happy to subscribe to that."

So why the hoo-ha over Ed M's remark on 5 Live this morning? As the Labour leader said during his conference speech in Manchester:

Come off it. Let's start to have a grown-up debate in this country about who we are and where we want to go and what kind of country we want to leave for our kids.

On a side note, you can see me discussing what socialism means in 2012, with Tony Benn on Newsnight, here.

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.