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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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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