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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Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland