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.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.