Miliband's intervention is a victory for the Occupy Movement

The protesters are helping to shape the terms of the political debate.

Let's be clear. It is impossible to imagine a Labour Party led by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown -- in opposition or in government -- having a single positive thing to say about the protesters huddled around St Paul's Cathedral. But Ed Miliband has penned a piece for today's Observer that, with a few predictable caveats, argues he is coming from the same place as the Occupy movement. The protests "reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run," he argues.

Firstly, it's a victory for Occupy. The left is so accustomed to defeat that it is often incapable of acknowledging a step forward, however limited or modest in scale. For some, Miliband is to be damned whatever he does: to be rightly condemned if he denounces the protests, and to be accused of attempting to co-opt them if he welcomes them. But the fact that a Labour leader is at all upbeat about the Occupy movement in the Sunday papers shows that pressure from below pays off. The movement is helping to shape the terms of the political debate.

After all, Miliband would not have written this piece if Occupy was the object of widespread hostility, or if it had failed to strike a chord. A poll for ICM two weeks ago revealed that, while 38 per cent felt the protests were "naive" and that "there is no practical alternative to capitalism", 51 per cent believed that "the protesters are right to want to call time on a system that puts profit before people".

Though some have argued that Occupy has been derailed by the stand-off with the Church, the presence of those tents has prompted a discussion about issues the media would otherwise choose to ignore. Last week, I took part in a 5 Live debate about the future of capitalism; I pointed out that we were only talking about it because of the hundreds of activists outside St Paul's.

But Miliband's piece is further evidence that there has been a shift at the top of the Labour leadership. He slams "many of those who earn the most, exercise great power, enjoy enormous privilege" for having "values that are out of kilter with almost everyone else". He attacks "a system of irresponsible, predatory capitalism"; energy companies and banks come under fire, too. And he openly taps into the signature slogan of the Occupy movement: "People feel let down by aspects of business, finance and politics which seem in touch with the richest 1 per cent -- but badly out of touch with the reality facing the other 99 per cent." Can anyone seriously imagine either Blair or Brown making such a case?

I'm no Labour leadership sycophant: while his analysis is broadly correct, his proposed solutions (such as they exist) are timid, to say the least. Talk of cutting student fees from £9,000 to £6,000 will excite nobody and simply helps reinforce a consensus around education. He remains committed to "measured spending cuts" that would be anything but that -- while they would not be as fast or as deep as the Tories', they would remain the most devastating since the 1920s. A coherent alternative to the cuts agenda has yet to emerge.

Last week, the Labour leadership refused to oppose the government's criminalisation of squatting at a time when millions are languishing on housing waiting lists; and its rhetoric and policies around welfare have conceded much ground to "scrounger-bashing".

And, of course, it is a damning indictment of just how far to the right New Labour had drifted that Miliband's rhetoric is worth commenting on at all. But that the Labour leadership feels obliged to develop a trenchant critique of modern capitalism shows that the old neo-liberal consensus is crumbling. What's more, it opens up space for far more radical demands.

During last year's Labour leadership contest, I argued that David Miliband had to be defeated at all costs. If he won, he would have capitulated to Cameron's "small state" agenda; indeed, his lauding of R A B Butler -- the postwar Tory politician who argued that the Conservatives must accept the key policies introduced by Clement Attlee's postwar Labour government -- suggested he would do just that. Ed Miliband is no left-winger but I believed that -- in contrast to his brother -- he could be shifted by pressure from below. Today's article is evidence that this is true after all.

Privately, I suspect Ed Miliband is committed to some kind of revival of old-style social democracy. He refers to the two previous governments that established new political consensus: Attlee in 1945 and Thatcher in 1979 (though, mistakenly in my view, he includes Blair in 1997 -- but he would have provoked an almighty internal party row if he had not). If the Labour leadership is to genuinely break from the neo-liberal consensus established by Thatcher, there needs to be far more pressure from below: both to create political space to make it possible, but also to drag the Labour leadership -- kicking and screaming if needs be -- to give a real alternative to Tory cuts.

No, I don't expect or want the Occupy protesters to mock up posters of Miliband as Che Guevara. The Labour leadership must come under fire when it gives ground to the Tories. But today's Observer piece suggests that the political winds are starting to blow in a different direction. It's an opportunity that desperately needs to be exploited.

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

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How a dark night for Paris was made easier by British messages of support

The French Ambassador to the UK reflects on the Paris attacks, and how Britain's response helped make the aftermath more bearable.

I was at a dinner with members of London’s French community when news of the 13 November attacks in Paris first reached me. Our initial reaction – one that I think was shared the world over – was of shock. Young people, out on a Friday night, doing normal things that young people do: chatting, laughing, drinking, dancing. Enjoying the pleasures that are their right, in a city that lives and breathes music, conversation and, above all, liberty.

I felt a tragic sense of déjà vu as I followed the events unfolding on television. Less than a year ago, our country was attacked by murderers and fanatics who wanted to destroy the values that we hold dear. And again on 13 November, I watched as France fell victim to another cowardly and barbaric attack on its way of life.


Fraternité, solidarité

The grief that was shared by the French community here in London was made easier to bear by the messages of support that flooded in from around the country – if anything, even more than after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I received countless phone calls, emails and letters from British friends, dignitaries, members of the public and faith groups, all conveying sympathy and friendship. I was particularly touched by a statement presented to me by representatives of 140 leaders of the Muslim community.

None was more powerful than the football match between England and France at Wembley, just four days after three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France in Paris. Never has the word “friendly” taken on such a literal meaning. It wasn’t about the football that night; it was about coming together and showing that we won’t live in terror. There have been so many stirring renditions of the French national anthem these past weeks – not least that of the French bass Nicolas Courjal following my appearance on The Andrew Marr Show – but the singing of La Marseillaise by the whole stadium, including the Prime Minister and Prince William, really did move me. I think the front cover of the Metro the next morning summed it up best: “England. France. United.”


Fitting tributes

The embassy in London was a focal point for many who wanted to show their support in the wake of the attacks. A sea of flowers and candles quickly formed outside, with a constant stream of people coming to sign the book of condolence that has now been sent to Paris. Once again, the British people showed that we can count on them in difficult times. I led a minute’s silence alongside the Home Secretary, Theresa May, which was observed all around the country in memory of the victims of the attacks.

Her presence was fitting, given the close relationship that our respective home secretaries have built. There are constant exchanges between the French and British security services, for the threat of terrorism is not faced by France alone. The whole of Europe must ensure that stronger security measures are put in place. We wish to preserve Schengen and the border checks are only temporary measures. But the external border needs to be much more secure and European border guards need to be present.


Beyond Calais

I’m glad that, after a tough summer, our message that Calais is only one part of a Europe-wide migrant crisis seems to have got through. The kind of criticism I heard in July, when I was asked time and again by the press why France wasn’t doing more to prevent migrants crossing the tunnel, is now much rarer. Indeed, Franco-British co-operation has been effective in Calais. But the “Jungle” is still there, inhabited partly by people who would qualify for refugee status and who will need to be taken care of. France is already doing a lot in that regard.


Current climate

Migration was on the agenda last week at the London School of Economics, where I opened a conference on its link with climate change, the last in a series of Franco-British events that the embassy has held in the run-up to the UN climate summit in Paris, which starts on 30 November. Life has to go on as normally as possible after the atrocities. Any­thing else would be a victory for the terrorists. The sense of momentum ahead of the summit is strong and hasn’t been diminished by the attacks. If anything, the sense of urgency is greater than ever. This summit is about securing the future of humanity – what could be more important than that?

Nuclear energy is one of the ways we can reduce CO2 emissions. President Xi Jinping of China’s recent visit to the UK resulted in decisive steps being taken towards the building of a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point by the French company EDF. This project will provide secure, low-carbon energy to UK homes and reinforce the alliance between France and Britain for decades to come.


Old alliances

On Monday I attended a breakfast in Paris between David Cameron and François Hollande. Witnessing this new testimony to the strength of the century-old Entente Cordiale, I could not help but think, bemused, of those commentators who claim that to ensure the success of the British renegotiation, there will have to be a highly visible Franco-
British spat at a forthcoming European council . . . Speaking of friendship in times of crisis, two days before the Paris attacks, I presented 19 British veterans with the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest honour, in recognition of their role in securing France’s liberation during the Second World War. Over 1,000 have received their medals so far and many more will get them in the months to come. I’ve received a number of poignant letters from them as a result. In the midst of the grief and despair, it will be all the more moving to honour these veterans. They are a reminder that courage, determination and, above all, solidarity will triumph.

Sylvie Bermann is the French ambassador to the UK 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State