Thursday 26 September 2013

The centre ground doesn't mean doing nothing

I make no apology for returning, for the second day running, to Ed Miliband’s speech (well, OK, I am sorry actually). But the reaction to it by much of the media preyed on my mind all day yesterday.

The overwhelming reaction was that the speech marked the return of ‘Red Ed’. The headlines took the part of the power companies, threatening black-outs if their prices were cut. Matthew d’Ancona in the Evening Standard talked about him “abandoning the centre”.

Now, I’m as sceptical as the next man about the Labour leader. When he talked about bringing back socialism, I did blanche a little – but not because I think he will. But I can’t understand his commitment to a defunct political creed, which lived and died in the era of Fordist modernism.

The main criticism of Miliband seems to be that he has pushed his party to the Left because he has promised to act – on rising prices and market failure.

Yet that is what we used to expect party leaders to do. When they see the damage being done by the monopolies that have been allowed such power over our lives – largely by the Blair and Brown governments – then we expect politicians to tackle them.

And if tackling them means controlling the power of private monopolies – or, as they used to do in medieval times, setting a ‘just price’ – then that is what is has to be done, at least until you can break them up.

I say this partly because of my fears for my own party (the Lib Dems). There have always been marketing people around the leadership – and I have crashed four leaders so far as a party member – who try to reduce the message of Liberalism to mere strategy and positioning.

I don’t believe that the centre ground means never promising to change anything, as Matthew d’Ancona seemed to imply. I don’t believe for a moment that Nick Clegg thinks that either.

But clearly the Conservative press do. So maybe I need to revisit what I wrote yesterday about the Left endlessly defending the past rather than looking to the future.

I don’t believe Miliband represents the future, because he leads a party with no ideological bearings – which could turn out to be absolutely anything in power (and often does).

But I wonder if the complaints of the Right are, in a different way, a sign that they are also falling back on the great mistake of defending the solutions of the past rather than looking to the future.

Personally, I believe, that politicians who act on monopoly power – and find a means of doing so effectively – will inherit the earth, or the nation at least. We will see.

In the meantime, I'm debating some of these issues - around class and the future -at the Soho Literary Festival tomorrow afternoon.  This includes my long-awaited encounter with Owen Jones of Chavs fame.  

The organisers will no doubt want us to clash on class terms - in fact, it seems to me that the interests of the working classes and middle classes are now very similar.  Either way, please come along and join in.  It would be good to talk about it!

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