What would Red Ted make of Red Ed?

The Labour leader has nothing on his infamous namesake

The right-wing prints have been hysterical in their reaction to the fact that Ed Miliband may be mildly to the left of Tony Blair. "The new Labour leader, dubbed 'red Ed'," as the Mail on Sunday put it - yes, dubbed by papers like the MoS, not by anyone with the slightest sense of proportion.

It then went on to claim that the result was "hailed as a 'disaster'" by supporters of the former prime minister, although curiously none of them appeared to be willing to be named in the report. (Wasn't New Labour best when it was boldest? Anyway, I digress.)

I'm not sure whether the label "Red Ed" is just a handy stick with which to beat Miliband, or whether one particular historical allusion is intended (probably not, as I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere). I refer, of course, to "Red Ted" Knight, the former leader of Lambeth Council in the early 1980s, and a man who really did deserve the adjective.

He's still around - a local community website reported his vocal criticisms of the leader of Southwark council over cuts only two months ago ("Some may argue that being harangued by Ted Knight is a sign of political arrival," was the response of the councillor in question) - but his excesses seem to have been forgotten.

This is a shame, for although they may not have been terribly amusing for the people of Lambeth at the time, in retrospect the gestures of this "tightly knit group of politically motivated men and women", to paraphrase Harold Wilson, were frequently beyond satire. No cause was too extreme for Knight and his allies to espouse - naturally, they supported all the obvious ones - and their ideology remained as pure as the council's finances were chaotic.

Knight's successor as leader of Lambeth, Linda Bellos, was black, Jewish, working class, lesbian and Marxist, a remarkable - some might even say praiseworthy - combination, but one that Tory commentators had much fun with. However, after Labour's disastrous showing at the 1983 general election, Knight had handed those who wished to characterise the party as being overrun by loony lefties with an even greater gift. Many felt the result was cause for reflection and revaluation. Not Red Ted. "There can be no compromise with the electorate," he declared.

As the Independent reported after the Labour regime (a word I use advisedly) in Lambeth finally fell in 1994: "Knight once flew to Nicaragua, then ruled by the Sandinistas, at the ratepayers' expense to tell the bemused Latin Americans: 'I bring you greetings from the people of Lambeth and solidarity with your revolution.'" Well, I'm sure they were grateful.

According to the Guardian's Michael White, Miliband used to be known as Ted while at university. "Red Ted? That sounds cuddlier already," he concludes.

Given that moniker's past history, I'd say that was one for Miliband to avoid at all costs.

 

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism