The right-wing prints have been hysterical in their reaction to the fact that Ed Miliband may be mildly to the left of Tony Blair. “The new Labour leader, dubbed ‘red Ed’,” as the Mail on Sunday put it – yes, dubbed by papers like the MoS, not by anyone with the slightest sense of proportion.
It then went on to claim that the result was “hailed as a ‘disaster'” by supporters of the former prime minister, although curiously none of them appeared to be willing to be named in the report. (Wasn’t New Labour best when it was boldest? Anyway, I digress.)
I’m not sure whether the label “Red Ed” is just a handy stick with which to beat Miliband, or whether one particular historical allusion is intended (probably not, as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere). I refer, of course, to “Red Ted” Knight, the former leader of Lambeth Council in the early 1980s, and a man who really did deserve the adjective.
He’s still around – a local community website reported his vocal criticisms of the leader of Southwark council over cuts only two months ago (“Some may argue that being harangued by Ted Knight is a sign of political arrival,” was the response of the councillor in question) – but his excesses seem to have been forgotten.
This is a shame, for although they may not have been terribly amusing for the people of Lambeth at the time, in retrospect the gestures of this “tightly knit group of politically motivated men and women”, to paraphrase Harold Wilson, were frequently beyond satire. No cause was too extreme for Knight and his allies to espouse – naturally, they supported all the obvious ones – and their ideology remained as pure as the council’s finances were chaotic.
Knight’s successor as leader of Lambeth, Linda Bellos, was black, Jewish, working class, lesbian and Marxist, a remarkable – some might even say praiseworthy – combination, but one that Tory commentators had much fun with. However, after Labour’s disastrous showing at the 1983 general election, Knight had handed those who wished to characterise the party as being overrun by loony lefties with an even greater gift. Many felt the result was cause for reflection and revaluation. Not Red Ted. “There can be no compromise with the electorate,” he declared.
As the Independent reported after the Labour regime (a word I use advisedly) in Lambeth finally fell in 1994: “Knight once flew to Nicaragua, then ruled by the Sandinistas, at the ratepayers’ expense to tell the bemused Latin Americans: ‘I bring you greetings from the people of Lambeth and solidarity with your revolution.'” Well, I’m sure they were grateful.
According to the Guardian’s Michael White, Miliband used to be known as Ted while at university. “Red Ted? That sounds cuddlier already,” he concludes.
Given that moniker’s past history, I’d say that was one for Miliband to avoid at all costs.