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Leader: Why Ed Miliband should be the next Labour leader

Labour needs a bold, charismatic, compassionate and visionary leader to renew the party. Ed Miliband

The Labour leadership contest began in earnest with the New Statesman debate at Church House in Westminster on 9 June. In retrospect, all the themes of this summer-long contest were apparent that evening: the rivalry between the Miliband brothers, the pugnacity of Ed Balls, the boldness of Diane Abbott and the positioning of the underrated Andy Burnham as the voice of working-class aspiration. But it was the clashes between the Milibands - as Ed attempted to define himself against David and the New Labour establishment - that were the most fascinating and offered a clear sense of the direction of travel.

Many of our readers despair of Labour and will never forgive the authoritarian tendencies of Tony Blair, or how he allowed the party to be drawn into a fatal and militaristic alliance with the neoconservatives of the Bush administration. Nor will they forgive the neoliberal market dogmatism that resulted in the British economy becoming so unbalanced and so over-reliant on reckless financiers.

We empathise with them. In our first issue, of 12 April 1913, we outlined our founding mission as being the creation of a state in which "health, comfort, culture and personal freedom are the rules instead of the exception". The New Statesman would be "an independent journal in the fullest sense of the word". That remains as true today as it was then. Above all, we remain beholden to no one political party - including the Labour Party.

Indeed, there are many aspects of the coalition government's programme of which we approve, notably its commitment to constitutional reform and enhanced civil liberties, and the willingness of the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to make poverty and dispossession a defining issue of our political discourse. Yet we still believe that Labour is the party that offers the best hope of achieving the progressive transformation of British society that we seek, perhaps one day in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

However, we do not agree with the caricature that the leadership contest has done little more than dramatise the dilemmas of a directionless party speaking only to itself. It takes time to recover from the trauma of defeat after 13 years in office. It takes time to understand how the party that preached "prudence with purpose" left government with the largest Budget deficit in our peacetime history. First, there is shock, and then the reckoning begins. In many ways, because Labour knew it could not win with Gordon Brown as prime minister, the party was collectively mourning its defeat long before the general election was called. This has been liberating: a period of mourning can be that much longer if a death is unexpected. But New Labour's obituary has been happily written during this campaign as all five candidates - the Milibands in particular - elaborate on their vision of a transformed party.

Now, slowly, we are witnessing the first signs of renewal. There has been a preparedness to admit mistakes and ask painful questions about why so many of its natural supporters ended up feeling so betrayed by or isolated from Labour. So far, of all the candidates, it is Ed Miliband who has been most prepared to challenge New Labour orthodoxies, to use a different kind of language. He advocates a Labour agenda that is confident, forceful and empowering, committed to greater freedom, social justice and, above all else, reducing inequality.

The primary task of the next Labour leader has to be to develop a political economy that addresses the fundamental inequalities and inequities that have blighted British society for so long - and which will only worsen as the Con-Lib coalition's doctrinaire spending cuts begin to bite. To talk of tackling social mobility, as coalition ministers do, without addressing the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, is disingenuous. The fight for a more equal society has to become a priority again and Ed Miliband understands this (see his column on page 21). Witness his living wage campaign, his proposal for a high pay commission and his insistence on keeping the new top rate of tax for high earners.

Ed Miliband also understands that the Labour Party must once more become part of a much larger and wider movement for change - a true movement, transcending class divisions and geographical boundaries. Rightly or wrongly, he is less contaminated than his brother and Ed Balls by the fall-out from the radioactive Brown-Blair wars. With the exception of Diane Abbott, he has been most robust in denouncing the Iraq war as a great wrong, a moral failure. He has placed civil liberties and the restoration of freedoms lost during Labour's 13 years in office at the centre of his campaign. On constitutional reform, he supports the Alternative Vote, if not full proportional representation, and is an instinctive pluralist. However, he needs to think harder about the relationship between the individual and the state and accept that we are grappling with not only market, but state, failure, too. It would be wise to incorporate the ideas of groups such as Compass and London Citizens because, as pluralists, they are seeking to reconnect Labour with an older and deeper tradition of mutualism, reciprocity and association.

Our endorsement of Ed Miliband is not a rejection of his brother, nor indeed of Ed Balls. Mr Balls in particular has been impressive during this contest. As an astute and experienced economist, he is the most numerate of all the candidates. As the coalition has already discovered, he is a formidable opponent, unrelenting and forensic. Like Robin Cook when he was in opposition, Mr Balls has the potential to destroy the careers of Tory ministers. But he is a victim of his unquestioning loyalty to Gordon Brown and his statist instincts. Of all the candidates, unfairly or otherwise, he has a reputation for political thuggery. Yet he would make an excellent shadow chancellor; certainly he has a more sophisticated understanding of economics than George Osborne. As Irwin Stelzer - no leftist - writes on page 22, he and Mr Brown made the right decisions in response to the financial crisis. The Conservatives did not.

The contest, however, is a two-horse race. David Miliband deserves his title of "front-runner". Despite his mistaken support for the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the elder Miliband has the intellect, eloquence and experience to be Labour leader and prime minister. When his stock was low in the party following his bungled bid for the leadership in August 2008, we refused to believe that he lacked political courage or was merely a Blairite stooge, and published an 8,000-word interview-profile of him in January 2009.

So we supported David Miliband when his reputation was at its lowest and we have not been disappointed by his leadership campaign - his Keir Hardie Lecture was powerful and persuasive, and he is correct to remind us all that if Labour is to win again, it must appeal to affluent voters in the south of England. He has been caricatured as a Blairite, but his call to abolish the charitable status of private schools in order to pay for free school meals for the poorest children in our society, and his support for a mansion tax, reflect his strong social-democratic credentials.

There have been whisperings to the effect that if he does not win the leadership, he will leave politics altogether. That would be a tragedy: David Miliband is an outstanding politician and a man of integrity. He has a major to role to play, either as Labour leader or his brother's lieutenant-in-chief.

The elder Miliband remains the bookies' favourite, the best-funded candidate, with the support of the New Labour establishment and much of the right-of-centre commentariat. For all of this, the race is open. Voting begins on 1 September and we urge all undecided MPs and MEPs, and Labour Party and trade union members, to vote for Ed Miliband. He is the "change candidate" who has the greatest potential to connect with a wider electorate and especially with those politically engaged young people, internationalist in outlook, who have lost faith in conventional Westminster politics but yearn for a more democratic, fairer and freer Britain. Labour needs a bold, charismatic, compassionate and visionary leader to renew the party and begin the journey back to government. Ed Miliband has shown us he could be that leader.

This article first appeared in the 30 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Face off

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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.