Myleene Klass clashed with Ed Miliband over the mansion tax. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why Ed Miliband's bizarre mansion tax feud with Myleene Klass works in Labour's favour

A former popstar's attack on the Labour leader's tax proposals could help him out.

Last night on ITV's The Agenda, an intriguing new genre of the political panel format was invented: minor early-noughties celebrities scolding party leaders. Unsurprisingly, it went well with the internet, and soon articles popped up everywhere suggesting that Myleene Klass – star of stage and screen (Hear'Say and M&S adverts) – had "owned", or gone "full Paxman" on, Ed Miliband over his proposal for a mansion tax.

Here's what she had to say:

For me, it's so disturbing – the name in its own right: 'mansion tax'. Immediately you conjure up an image of these Barbie-esque houses, but in London, which is where 80 per cent of the people who will be paying this tax actually live, have you seen what that amount of money can get you? It's like a garage.

When you do look at the people who will be suffering this tax, it's true a lot of them are grannies who have had these houses in their families for a long, long time. 

The people who are the super-super rich buying their houses for £140m, this is not necessarily going to affect them because they’ve got their tax rebates and amazing accountants. It’s going to be the little grannies who have lived in those houses for years and years.

For all her passion, and the fact that it is mordibly wonderful to watch one-time Popstars contestants having a go at nonplussed politicos, this row could work in Miliband's favour. 

Not only has Klass' suggestion that £2m will only land you a "garage" in London received a great deal of mockery but the mansion tax is an undeniably popular policy. YouGov recently found that it is supported by 72 per cent of people. As well as this, a majority of people want more money spent on the NHS, which is what Miliband's mansion tax would pay for. This row will do more to bring an already overwhelmingly popular policy proposal to the attention of voters than embarrass Miliband.

Also he did a Hear'Say pun:

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

If the left leaves it to David Cameron, we'll have Brexit for sure

Only an upbeat, leftwing case can keep Britain in the European Union.

After months flapping and hesitation, and with much of the reporting and detail so dull that it has barely penetrated the consciousness of even those who speak the language of ‘directives’ and treaty provisions, the EU referendum is upon us. With David Cameron signalling concrete outcomes for negotiations, we seem to be set for June, whatever the protests from opposition parties about the date being too close to local and national elections.  

Cameron’s deal, whose most substantive element consists of denying in-work benefits to European citizens, exemplifies the kind of debate that Conservative strategists want to create: a tedious, labyrinthine parochialism, blending the EU’s procedural dullness with an unquestioned mythology of the little Englander. Try actually reading the various letters, let alone the draft decisions, that Cameron extracted from Donald Tusk, and the agreement turns to putty in your head. But in summary, what Cameron is negotiating is designed to keep the EU debate as an in-house affair within the right, to continue and formalise the framing of the debate as between two strains of anti-migrant sentiment, both of them backed by big business.

The deal may be reactionary, but it is also mediocre in its scope and impact. The worries that many of us had in the leftwing pro-In camp, that Cameron’s deal would push back freedom of movement and working and environmental protections so far that we would be unable to mobilise for continued membership of the EU, can now be put to bed. Quite the opposite of allowing Cameron's narrative to demoralise us, the left must now seize an opportunity to put imagination and ideas back at the heart of the referendum debate.

The British political landscape in which that debate will play out is a deceptively volatile environment. Party allegiance is at a nearly all time low. Inequality is growing, and so is the gap between attitudes. The backbone of the UKIP vote – and much of the Out vote – will come from a demographic that, sometimes impoverished by the legacy of Thatcherite economic policy, sees itself as left behind by migration and change. On top of the class war, there is a kind of culture war underway in today’s Britain: on one side those who see LGBT rights, open borders and internationalism as the future; on the other side, those who are scared of the future. About the only thing these groups have in common with one another is their anti-establishment instincts, their total disdain and mistrust of politics as usual.

The only political movement to have broken through the fog of cynicism and disillusionment in British politics has come from the left. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour has unleashed something new - and while large parts of the press, and some Labour backbenchers, have portrayed this rise as a crusade of the “croissant eating” metropolitan elite, the reality is very different. The rise of the new Labour left has given voice to a renewed socialist and working class politics; its explicitly radical, outsider approach has given it traction across the social divides – among the young looking for a future, and among Labour’s old base. 

A politics of hope – however vague that term might sound – is the only real answer to the populist Euroscepticism that the Out campaign will seek to embody. Radical politics, that proposes an alternative narrative to the scapegoating of migrants, has to find voice in the course of this referendum campaign: put simply, we need to persuade a minimum wage worker that they have more in common with a fellow Polish migrant worker than they do with their employer; we need to persuade someone on a social housing waiting list should blame the privatisation of the housing market, not other homeless families. Fundamentally, the real debate to be had is about who the public blames for social injustice: that is a question which only the left can satisfactorily answer.

The outsider-led volatility of British politics gives the EU referendum a special kind of unpredictability. For voters who have lost faith in the political establishment – and who often have little materially to lose from Brexit – the opportunity to deliver a blow to David Cameron this summer will be tempting. The almost consciously boring, business-dominated Britain Stronger In Europe campaign makes a perfect target for disenfranchised public sentiment, its campaigning style less informed by a metropolitan elite than by the landed gentry. Its main weapons – fear, danger and uncertainty – will work on some parts of the electorate, but will backfire on others, much as the Better Together campaign did in the Scottish referendum.

Last night, Another Europe is Possible held a launch meeting of about a hundred people in central London - with the backing of dozens of MPs, campaigners and academics across the country. It will aim to provide a radical, left wing voice to keep Britain in the EU.

If Britain votes to leave the EU in June, it will give the Right a mandate for a renewed set of attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, migrants and freedom of movement. But without an injection of idealism and radicalism,  an In vote will be a mandate for the status quo - at home and in Brussels. In order to seize the real potential of the referendum, the left has to approach the campaign with big ideas and demands. And we have to mobilise.