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Ed Miliband must trust his instincts and stand up for real change

If Ed Miliband is to seize the initiative in 2012, this has to be a year of surprises. He should jet

On the face of it, these look like bad times for Labour and for Ed Miliband's leadership. There seems to be no strategy, no narrative and little energy. Old faces from the Brown era still dominate the shadow cabinet and they seem stuck in defending Labour's record in all the wrong ways - we didn't spend too much money, we'll cut less fast and less far, but we can't tell you how.

Labour is apparently pursuing a sectional agenda based on the idea that disaffected Liberal Democrats and public-sector employees will give Labour a majority next time around. But we have not won, and show no signs of winning, the economic argument. We have not articulated a constructive alternative capable of recognising our weaknesses in government and taking the argument to the coalition. We show no relish for reconfiguring the relationship between the state, the market and society. The world is on the turn, yet we do not seem equal to the challenge.

Shock of the new

That is how it looks: Labour stranded in a Keynesian orthodoxy, with no language to talk straight to people. As Gramsci said of the 1920s, the old is dead and the new is not yet born, and in the meantime all kinds of morbid symptoms emerge, including the fraternisation of impossibles. I am aware that Blue Labour is seen in that light by many, a symptom of malaise rather than a strategy of renewal. But if Ed is going to offer the possibility of a transformational Labour government, then he is going to have to break the grip of progressive policy rationalism and grasp a bigger political change. He is going to have to be both insurgent and establishment, conservative and radical, democratic and competent, patriotic and internationalist.

In other words, 2012 must be a year of surprises, of engagement with the people and their concerns. Ed is going to have to show some leadership and courage if the political dynamics of this year are to be different.

The good news is that he has. Ed built his leadership bid around the campaign for a living wage, and has not renounced it. The logic of the living wage is that workers should earn enough to feed their families. It is an alternative to tax credits and welfare. It recognises the importance of work, family life and relationships. It is a change within the economy and not a transfer outside of it. This has been built upon in suggestive and interesting ways. The representation of workers on renumeration committees must be the start of a fundamental change in corporate governance.

The biggest problems with New Labour's inheritance were an excessive reliance on managerialism in both the public and the private sectors, a disregard for the workforce and an unhappy and abusive relationship with the unions. These things need to change. We will get out of this mess only by establishing relationships, reciprocity and responsibility in what Marc Stears calls "everyday democracy". Ed understands this.

He was right, too, to distinguish between predatory and productive capital. Finance capital, outside of all relationships and calling the shots, is by nature promiscuous and exploitative. We need to call time on its nasty ways. The problem with Brownite political economy is that, even though it was true that a 3 per cent deficit was not excessive in the context of economic growth, it was debt that was growing at the time, rather than the real economy. A vast, sustained expansion in private debt fuelled the financial sector throughout Brown's tenure as chancellor and then prime minister. There was not enough investment in the productive economy, not enough private-sector growth.

The financial sector and the welfare state were the public-private partnership that underwrote the wealth of the nation, and this needs to change. The heavy reliance on tax receipts from the City of London was not accidental, but spoke of a fundamental dependency on invisible earnings that was only exacerbated by the growth of the virtual economy.

Courage of convictions

Endogenous growth, flexible labour-market reform, free movement of labour, the dominance of the City of London - it was all crap, and we need to say so. Stanley Baldwin had a far more robust industrial growth strategy than Brown and Mandelson could conceive of, let alone Cable and Osborne.

The endowment of local banks constrained not to lend beyond county borders and able to provide support for local businesses is an important part of leaving this toxic legacy behind. So is a central role for the vocational economy, though this will require hard choices in higher education. An integrated approach to economic renewal is also about democratic renewal, a redistribution of power and an investment of trust in the people. Ed needs to break out of internal party discussions and address the issue of national decline and how to reverse it. A balance of interests in corporate governance, a vocational economy, regional banks and fiscal discipline offer a platform for growth.

In 2011 Ed kept the Labour Party together, avoiding the splits it suffered in 1931, 1951 and 1979. However, he has not broken through. He has flickered rather than shone, nudged not led. It is time for him to bring the gifts that only he can bring. He should leave behind stale orthodoxies and trust his instinct that change is essential. He must show the kind of courage needed to steer the ship of state through uncharted waters. Now is the time for leadership and action. So far Ed has honoured his responsibilities but has not exerted his power. It is time that he did so. And we all need to show him love and support in return. I'm backing Ed Miliband.

Maurice Glasman is a Labour peer and co-editor of "The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox"

Maurice Glasman is a Labour peer and director of the faith and citizenship programme at London Metropolitan University

This article first appeared in the 09 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Forget Obama

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Chrissie longed to be one of the boys. Unlike us, she didn’t have riot grrrl

Chrissie Hynde has been accused of victim blaming. But her plight seems to me very much the plight of a female rock fan of her age.

I keep thinking about Chrissie Hynde’s memoir Reckless, and the controversy that has swirled around her apparent blaming of herself for a sexual assault she suffered as a teenager. The whole sad story says so much about what it used to mean to be a rock fan and a rebel in the Sixties and Seventies. Chrissie tells her tale in a style of swaggering bravado, eulogising her male rock heroes – “I wanted to be them, not do them” – and the biker gangs she idolised (“I loved the bikes and I loved the way they talked about honour and loyalty and brotherhood”).

I heard Chrissie interviewed on the radio about the book and squirming through a line of questioning that accused her of having the wrong attitude to her rape. Hang on, she objected, I never used the word “rape”. And it’s true, she never does, describing the assault instead in a tone which implies that she regarded it more as some kind of awful initiation. She says getting her “comeuppance” was her fault for failing the code, for being too mouthy. All she wanted, it seems, was to be respected by the bad guys, to be admitted to their ranks.

This, understandably, hasn’t gone down well, and Chrissie has been accused of victim blaming. But her plight seems to me very much the plight of a female rock fan of her age. Born in 1951, she had no female role models. To be a woman meant to have no place in the rock scene she adored, and so, she writes, “I thought sex was, like becoming ‘a woman’, something to put off for as long as possible.” Desperate to be one of the guys, she accepted their rules – no complaining, no whining, taking it like a man. Hence her macho stance, refusing to blame anyone but herself.

I found Chrissie’s book quite cold and sad, and so I was greatly cheered by then reading Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. Carrie’s band Sleater-Kinney sprang from the Washington punk and indie scene of the early Nineties, and what her book showed was how much changed in the 20 years or so that separated the two women.

Chrissie Hynde had acted as an individual, an outrider. She grew up going to see the Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin, and as for female rock stars at that time, she said, “You could count them on one hand.” But Brownstein was born in 1974, her first gig was Madonna, and by the mid-Nineties she had the whole riot grrrl scene to call on – “a network of people finding their voices”. Both the participants and the subject matter had changed: “Girls wrote and sang about sexism and sexual assault, about shitty bosses and boyfriends.” Feminism and gender politics had reasserted themselves, and this time the girls in music weren’t playing second fiddle.

I remember going to a riot grrrl gig in London. The bands were Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill, the audience was women only, and it was thrilling, very unlike the days of punk, when there may have been women onstage but usually men ruled the room. The recent documentary The Punk Singer shows Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill on stage at another gig. “All girls to the front,” she yells. “I’m not kidding. All girls to the front. All boys be cool for once in your lives. Go back. Back –” and she waves the guys out of the moshpit and towards the back of the club, finally laying claim to a literal space for women to inhabit. It felt like the culmination of a years-long rebuttal of the rules of rock’n’roll.

So it can be easy to forget now that once upon a time, the only available musical identity was male. Even Patti Smith, our heroine and champion for so long now, wrote about seeing Keith Richards and wanting to be him. In the words of that great feminist saying, quoted by Caitlin Moran, “I cannot be what I cannot see,” but Chrissie’s generation took that fact and turned it on its head. They wanted to be just like the guys – and sometimes that came at painful expense to themselves, but in doing so they opened up the options for female identity. And those of us who followed: we could be something new, because we could see them. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis