The workers’ flag is palest pink, since Gaitskell dropped it in the sink, now Harold’s done the same as Hugh, the workers’ flag is brightest blue ….
My hopes for Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party are limitedly optimistic. One of the first things I did after the result was to lift my copy of The State in Capitalist Society off the shelf, where his father wisely writes (p. 244):
“social democratic leaders in government illustrate particularly clearly the limits of reform. For while they raise great hopes among their followers and many others while in opposition, the constrictions under which they labour when in government, allied to the ideological dispositions which lead… them to submit to these constrictions, leave them with little room to implement their policies.”
Indeed. Still, Ed Miliband represents a great improvement on New Labour in one crucial respect. Blair, Mandelson, Milburn and the rest of the gang not only failed to achieve Labour’s goals concerning inequality and social justice, they abandoned them, an abandonment summed up in Mandelson’s notorious statement that he was “intensely relaxed” about people at the top becoming “fithy rich”. New Labour, taking their cue from the Clinton Democrats, abandoned the distributive objectives of the left on the basis that the rising prosperity engendered by growth, markets and globalisation would benefit everyone. Well it hasn’t. Personally I think it was never going to, for “spirit-level” type reasons, among others. But anyway, that model ran into the wall of the banking crisis and we’ll shortly see the absolute standard of living of the poorest falling as the deficit gets clawed back at their expense. The aspirational middle classes, who Blair and Mandelson wooed will also be having a tough time of it: so I’m far from convinced that a renewed emphasis on distribution will cost Labour the centre ground. A continuation of New Labour would, though, certainly doom the party with its core constituency, many of whom would lapse (further) into apathy or would be tempted by the several varieties of right-wing populism (BNP, EDL) on offer.