Ed Miliband visits the Five Points Brewing Company in Hackney. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband champions business. Now he needs business to champion Miliband

The Labour leader's vision of "responsible capitalism" would gain credibility if he could find more responsible capitalists.

Ed Miliband's speech today on business is being presented by some as a desperate repositioning. After years spent bashing the corporate world, the Labour leader, it is said, has finally seen the light and launched his own prawn cocktail offensive. Having gone "tough on welfare" (with a policy that was presented by Labour as progressive but spun by the media as punitive), he is now going soft on the City.

Labour sources argue, with some justification, that this is wide of the mark. Rather than abandoning his previous stances, Miliband is merely emphasising, as he has before, how tackling "broken markets" such as banking and energy would benefit both businesses and consumers. As he will say at Policy Network's "Inclusive Prosperity" conference (hosted at the Science Museum): "Entrepreneurship is key to our future success. That requires dynamic, competitive markets in every area that can serve our aim of the race to the top our country needs. So the next Labour government will be pro-competition: reforming markets that don’t work, not defending them.

"A healthy, competitive financial services industry is vital to the health of all of our businesses. That’s why we are determined to reform the banks with more competition so that businesses can get access to the finance they need to succeed in the future. And we will also reform other markets when we need to - including energy so it works better for the customer and better for businesses."

But there has been an unmistakable shift in tone. Miliband is unlikely to speak today of "predators and producers" (a distinction some in Labour regarded as dangerously crude), still less of "bringing back socialism". Aware that his party has often appeared preoccupied with how wealth is distributed, rather than how it is created (a particular concern of Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna), he will invite business to join him in a "shared mission" to "create wealth, jobs and profits [emphasis mine] for the future".

It is a smart pitch, supported by policies such as devolving money and powers to city regions, establishing a National Infrastructure Commission (to tackle Britain's "chronic short-termism"), building a more skilled workforce by improving vocational education, and ruling out an arbitrary EU referendum. But it is one that would be more persuasive if Miliband could produce some business leaders who support his vision. In the eyes of the voters, being pro-business is like being ladylike: if you have to say you are, you probably ain't. His word alone is not enough. For the electorate to be convinced that Miliband is pro-business, he needs business leaders to declare that they are pro-Miliband. Yet 10 months away from the election, it is unlikely that a single FTSE 100 boss will endorse Labour.

This is hardly Miliband's fault alone. One might reasonably ask of the City: where is the British equivalent of Warren Buffett or Lilliane Bettencourt? But the awkward truth for Labour is that "responsible capitalism" is a lot harder to sell when you're short of responsible capitalists.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage