. . . literally!
. . . is how Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class wittily described Ed Miliband’s doleful and dispiriting response to the public sector strikes last week in the Labour leader’s television interview with ITV’s Damon Green, above. Owen was speaking at an event at the Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival.
Miliband is in a difficult position as the Tories and their propaganda cheerleaders in the press are still desperate to pin the “Red Ed” tag on him. Ed’s winning the election by a whisker, largely thanks to Union votes, leaves him vulnerable to being painted as the Unions’ puppet. Ridiculous as it is, 40 years on from the 70s and with Britain having the tightest restrictions on Union activity in the Western world, both major parties and the media still regard this as a touchstone issue in contemporary British politics.
And yet, as general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Mark Serwotka’s annihilation of Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister on the Today programme on Radio 4 demonstrated, the government’s position on the pensions issue and the strikes themselves is almost nakedly hypocritical - a cynical, ideological attack on civil service pensions.
But instead of capitalizing on this line of engagement Miliband chose misjudged, clumsily executed and unconvincing triangulation. It makes him look weak.
Tony Blair did triangulation so much better back in the 1990s. But it is not the 1990s any more, and the financial crisis has exposed the fundamental flaws in the Thatcherite neo-liberal project. We need to get rid of it, not compromise with it.
There has never been a better moment for a Labour leader to expose the Tory subterfuge on the cuts, to drive home to the electorate just how ideologically motivated they are, on an issue that every voter can understand - pensions.
Margaret Thatcher overthrew the post-war social democratic consensus by being bloody minded, brave, and unapologetically clear in her pronouncements. Miliband is not going to overturn the Thatcherite consensus by weaseling about with soundbites.