One Nation Under a Miliband
- October 03, 2012
I always find the party conference season to be a bleak confirmation of the essential vacuity of mainstream politics. I especially hate the parts where the party leaders express their ‘values’ and their ‘vision’, and engage in contrived and cringeworthy attempts to reveal ‘personalities’ which are in fact nothing more than carefully-constructed holograms designed to suit the perceived electoral needs of the moment.
Labour Party conferences are particularly grotesque and stage-managed affairs. During the Blair years they were like waking political nightmares, in which debate was carefully stage-managed and dissidents were marginalized or even frog-marched out of the conference chamber, while grown men and women hung on the Great Leader’s closing speech, delivering standing ovations with the glassy-eyed fervor of a gaggle of apparatchniks celebrating Stalin’s birthday.
Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have continued the same tradition. Last year Miliband used the word ‘values’ something like two dozen times in a speech in which he somewhat laughably tried to present himself as a politician with the ‘heritage of the outsider. The vantage point of the insider. The guy who is determined to break the closed circles of Britain.”
Yesterday Miliband gave another demonstration of his ‘values’ and ‘passion’ ‘ in a speech without notes, replete with personalised ‘ordinary guy’ references to his immigrant background and his education at a comprehensive school.
And of course, there was a ‘vision’ too. And who is the inspiration for it? Gosh, it’s Benjamin Disraeli, whose One Nation Toryism was appropriated by Miliband into an uplifting narrative of national unity, in which business and labour, north and south, rich, poor and the squeezed middle, young and old, employed and unemployed – in a word everyone – will live together in harmony, inspired by ‘ a shared destiny, a sense of shared endeavour and a common life that we lead together. That is my vision of one nation, that is my vision of Britain, that is the Britain we must become.’
Naturally this claptrap got a standing ovation. How could it not? And the media loved it too. The Guardian called the speech ‘audacious’, while Steve Richards at the Independent described it as ‘stunningly artful in positioning and projection.’
Yeah right Steve, soooo stunningly artful. Just Cameron’s ‘we’re all in it together’ Big Society version of the Eton Boating Song was artful. On the same day that Miliband was sharing his ‘vision’ with the nation, Liam Byrne, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, could be found on the Today programme, promising that Labour will make cuts in welfare spending and change the social security system in order to ‘get people back into work.
Byrne also declared that the social security system must become ‘much smarter’ in the way it deals with disabled people. Why is this necessary? Because, according to Byrne
‘ the world of work has changed very radically since social security was set up back in the 1940s and for many people in work they don’t actually feel they get much out for the pressures they have to contend with in everyday life, so I think that fractures support and I think that’s why we do have to reinvent social security for modern times and the world today.’
This is the same Liam Byrne whose only experience of ‘everyday life’ before becoming an MP was working for the multinational consultancy Accenture and a merchant banker’s firm. As Borders and Immigration Minister Byrne used to boast that Labour was ‘removing’ an ‘illegal immigrant’ from the UK every eight minutes and that the government was seeking to quicken the pace of removals
Now, the unemployed and disabled look set to become the next scapegoats who must be targeted in order to please the Daily Mail and demonstrate, as if we didn’t know already, that Labour can be just as ‘tough’ as the Tories. Following Ed Balls’ promise to make ‘ruthless’ spending cuts, Byrne’s intervention is another indication of the kind of future that awaits us under a Labour government.
And that is why I don’t find Miliband’s One Nation Labourism innovative or audacious, but merely shallow, slick and ultimately hollow.