Miliband reburies socialism at Google

Praising Tony Blair and criticising Ralph Miliband, the Labour leader said the choice was not between socialism and capitalism but "responsible" and "irresponsible" capitalism.

While it's Ed Miliband's comments on Google and tax avoidance that will inevitably attract the most media attention, by far the more interesting section of his speech at the company's "Big Tent" event at The Grove hotel in Hertfordshire was on capitalism and socialism. 

The Labour leader opened his address by showing four pictures, of Ralph Miliband, Willy Wonka, Margaret Hodge and Google, and, in the manner of Have I Got News For You, asking the audience to guess the odd one out. The answer, he continued, was his dad "because he’s the only one who thought that the route to a fair society was not through capitalism but through socialism based on public ownership."

In a reference to Labour's old clause IV, which called for "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange", Miliband added that "It wasn’t just my dad who thought it, of course. Until 1995 this view was enshrined on the membership card of the party I now lead." He then praised Tony Blair, the man who recently warned him in the NS not "to tack left on tax and spending", for scrapping it "because nationalising the major industries is not the route to a fair society." Though it may be surprising that a Labour leader still feels the need to say so, capitalism is the only game in town. 

But Miliband was clear that this doesn't preclude debate about what kind of capitalism Britain should adopt. After all, the Americans, the Chinese and the Swedish all do capitalism but they do so in very different ways. For Miliband, returning to the theme of his 2011 Labour conference speech, the choice is not between capitalism and socialism but between "responsible capitalism" and "irresponsible capitalism". Citing The Simpsons' Mr Burns as an example of a neglectful capitalist ("Of course, he is a cartoon character," he helpfully noted), he argued: 

[T]there is a choice to make.

A choice between an “irresponsible capitalism” which sees huge gaps between the richest and the poorest, power concentrated in a few hands, and people are just in it for the fast buck whatever the consequences.

And a “responsible capitalism”, and this is an agenda being led by business, where companies pursues profit but we also have an equal society, power is in the hands of the many and where we recognise our responsibilities to each other.

And my case is a “responsible capitalism” isn’t only fairer but we’re more likely to succeed as a country with it. 

By adopting this stance, Miliband is taking on both the socialist left, for whom "responsible capitalism" is an oxymoron, and the neoliberal right, for whom a deregulated market economy is the only guarantee of prosperity. 

In the Q&A that followed, no one asked the Labour leader whether he would still describe himself as a "socialist" (as he did in November 2010), but on whether socialism has any relevance today, it's worth highlighting the smart answer he gave to the Telegraph's Charles Moore last year. After he was asked  whether "the great lesson from his parents is ‘that socialism was a god that failed?'", Miliband replied that it was not a rigid economic doctrine, but "a set of values", and "a tale that never ends" since "While there’s capitalism, there’ll be socialism, because there is always a response to injustice."

Ed Miliband at Google's "Big Tent" event at The Grove hotel in Hertfordshire.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.