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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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

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