In the shadow of the state

David Miliband on his father, Labourism and the state in capitalist society.

I've written a piece about David and Ed Miliband's late father, Ralph, the Marxist intellectual, for the next issue of the magazine. While researching the piece, I asked both brothers which of their father's books they most admire. David's answer was particularly intriguing: "Parliamentary Socialism for its unsparing narrative. The State in Capitalist Society for its first line."

Parliamentary Socialism was Miliband's first book (published in 1961; a second edition, with an even more "unsparing" postscript, came out 11 years later). It's a comprehensive analysis of the culture of "Labourism" (I'm pretty sure Miliband was the first to use the term), which he sees as a set of dogmas about democratic socialist politics, the parliamentary system and the institutions of the British state.

Simply put, Labourism holds that Labour politics begins and ends with the capture of the institutions of the central state -- not in their democratisation or reform. Its apothesosis, in Miliband's account, was the Attlee government of 1945-51.

And here's the connection with the first line of The State in Capitalist Society (1969) that so impressed Miliband's elder son, for that reads as follows: "More than ever before men live in the shadow of the state."

Would it be too fanciful to detect Ralph's influence in some of David's recent public statements? Take, for instance, his Keir Hardie Lecture, delivered in July, in which he depicted Hardie as "a socialist not a statist". And in which he attributed some of New Labour's failings to a strain of "paternalist authoritarianism" that runs deep in the culture of Labourism anatomised so brilliantly by his father.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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