In this week’s New Statesman: Ed the Unready

What happened to Labour's optimism? asks Rafael Behr. PLUS: Mark Carney profiled and Laurie Penny and Mehdi Hasan on web snooping.

Cover Story: Will the real Ed Miliband stand up?

The polls suggest that Ed Miliband is on course to become Britain’s next prime minister in 2015. Yet few people in his own party seem so optimistic, writes Rafael Behr in our cover story this week. Behr identifies a “sceptical ripple” passing through Labour ranks at the thought of Miliband as prime minister: “there is palpable disbelief at the assertion that Miliband will make it to Downing Street”. Is there anything Ed the Unready can do about this?

Westminster doesn’t treat Miliband as a winner – and neither do many Labour MPs. “I backed Ed because I thought he would grow into the role,” says a prominent member of the cohort elected in 2010. “Now I don’t think he can. I don’t think we can win from here.” . . . In their public pronouncements Labour MPs still put up a formidable front of unity, but sit down for a quiet cuppa and you quickly uncover gloomy forecasts of defeat. The party’s mood seems out of kilter with its maths. Why?

Much of the negativity around Miliband, his cheerleaders say, reflects a habit of mind that hasn’t caught up with the facts. There is an irreconcilable faction that harbours a feeling that Ed didn’t even win the leadership election properly, because he was not the first choice of most party members or MPs.

Miliband draws both admiration and ridicule for his “Zen” attitude to opposition; yet it is this perceived lack of conviction that could be his undoing, Behr argues.

Miliband pushes his luck, leaving crucial decisions untaken for so long that the party starts to sound restive and discipline looks close to breaking down. Then the leader emerges from his meditations carrying tablets of stone engraved with policy pronouncements.

Few Labour MPs think “one nation” is making any great advances into the public consciousness. There are dismissive comparisons with Cameron’s flimsy “big society” rhetoric. Miliband’s team rejects the analogy, urging patience as the great strategy unfurls. But Labour feels its patience stretched, not least because the Tories look so eminently beatable. Miliband is not so much a victim of his own successes as a casualty of his enemies’ premature failures. The fractiousness of the coalition and Cameron’s tenuous control over his party have invited early speculation about Miliband’s credentials as a successor – and he doesn’t look ready.

 

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

The NS Profile: Mark Carney

The new governor of the Bank of England, the Canadian Mark Carney, has been called “the bankers’ George Clooney” and is often hailed as the saviour of the British economy. But who is he – and is his record that good? From “Canada’s frozen wastelands” to “the salubrious inner courts of the Bank of England”, Alex Brummer profiles the rise of the man George Osborne has called “the most accomplished central banker of his generation”, and he asks if we should be wary of this kind of “hero worship”.

“He is a good banker and competent regulator, but not a messiah,” [another] candidate [for the governorship] said. Indeed, there is concern that by describing Carney as the most accomplished central banker of his generation the Chancellor, George Osborne, has raised expectations far too high . . .

It is a susceptibility to hero worship that led Osborne to become the first western finance minister to back the appointment of the elegant former French finance minister Christine Lagarde as managing director of the International Monetary Fund in 2011. The outcome of this has been distinctly mixed . . .

Similarly, Carney’s relative youth, amid the older eminences of the financial world, his matinee idol looks (he has been referred to as the bankers’ George Clooney) and his seemingly impeccable CV drew him to Osborne’s attention . . . He is a “cleanskin” as far as the British public and parliament are concerned. He carries no taint from the 2007-2008 meltdown in Britain or the LIBOR and money-laundering scandals that have so undermined the reputation of British banking. However, lurking in his background are his 13 bonus-filled years as an insider at Goldman Sachs – which critics regard as the shrewdest but most toxic brand in global finance . . .

Clearly, Carney believes he can do what is necessary at the Bank of England. He exudes an inner confidence that some veteran observers argue verges on smugness. Yet there is evidence that he is fragile when it comes to taking criticism . . .

As Gordon Brown and Labour discovered to their cost in their final years in office, no government or central bank has yet learned the secrets of eliminating boom and bust. Carney’s Canada may have avoided the worst of the pitfalls but it is interesting that [the Canadian lender] Scotiabank, among others, gives him only a B+ for stewardship and reckons that his task is “incomplete”. Far from being a messiah, Carney might just be lucky to be leaving his native country as the reckoning begins.

 

Laurie Penny: If you live in a surveillance state long enough, you create a censor in your head

In her column this week, Laurie Penny writes about the “chilling effect” of government surveillance as snooping becomes “easier and more routine” in the digital realm and we, in response, begin to change our behaviour. As Penny asks: Why is there no graffiti on the London Underground? How has life “in the world’s most surveillance-heavy metropolis” bred a kind of compliant self-censorship?

In a choice between paranoid vigilance and easy participation, few choose paranoia. It’s just easier to change your behaviour. A friend who works in computer security told me that “the most important censorship happens between your head and your keyboard . . .

It’s far less trouble to modify your behaviour so you don’t ever say anything that might give the wrong impression. It’s easier, in short, to behave . . . The chilling disciplinary effect taking place in the digital age affects everyone. Whether we tolerate further intrusions on our privacy or continue to self-censor as a response to surveillance is up to all of us.

 

Mehdi Hasan: On wiretaps and drone strikes, it’s time for liberals to accept that Obama is worse than Bush

With the eruption of the NSA surveillance scandal, Barack Obama is looking increasingly like his far less popular predecessor George W Bush, writes Mehdi Hasan – who drew flak from fellow liberals for suggesting a similarity in 2009. Now, in the light of the new revelations, many more are making the case that Obama goes “far beyond his predecessor in several respects”.

Hasan outlines four areas:

Consider the row over mass surveillance . . . Bush’s former [National Security Agency] director Michael Hayden confirmed that the agency’s surveillance programme had indeed “expanded” under Obama, adding that “there is incredible continuity between the two presidents”.

Second, Obama authorised six times as many drone strikes in his first term in office as Bush did over two terms. Dubbya had terror suspects detained and even tortured; Barack just has them bumped off.

Third, Obama has sanctioned the extrajudicial killing – again, by drone strike – of four US citizens since 2009. Where is the liberal outcry? . . .

Fourth, on war powers. Senator Obama told the Boston Globe in December 2007 that “the president does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation”. Yet President Obama took the United States into war with Libya in 2011 even though Colonel Gaddafi posed zero threat to the security of the US. Despite his imperial pretensions, Bush allowed Congress to vote on the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan; on Libya, Obama didn’t bother to ask.

PLUS

George Eaton: Who’s who on Team Ed?

John Gray: On the Virgin Birth and other myths of the Enlightenment

Uri Dromi: Israel’s dilemma as the war in Syria intensifies

Alan Ryan: Charting the moral collapse of the United States

Stuart Maconie: On Paul Morley’s The North: and Almost Everything In It

Ryan Gilbey: Richard Linklater’s remarkable 20-year Before trilogy comes to a close

Rt Rev James Jones: What makes us human?

 

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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame