Ed Miliband in his maiden speech at Conference said that the Iraq war was wrong, much to the obvious anger of his brother David and Alistair Darling sitting in the audience. Undoubtedly other strong supporters of the war were equally angry off camera. When listing the Labour Government’s failures, Ed Miliband also rejected, verbally at least, New Labour itself, its willing subordination to market forces, soft regulation of the banks, privatisation, and cavalier attitude to civil liberties. Importantly he has rejected the Brown/Darling line on the debt which was to reduce it by 50% over one Parliament. He has said that this is too quick and that more should be raised from taxation rather than cuts — including a further tax on the banks. David Miliband by contrast had defended the Blair/Brown legacy and pledged to continue the Blair revolution.
In the leadership campaign Ed steered left and gained strong support in the trade unions and among genuine rank and file activists because they believe ,or hope, that he will fight the devastating Tory cuts. Whatever else the leadership campaign showed, it represented a small shift to the left in the Labour movement and in society at large and showed that public opinion is moving against the savage Tory plans to reduce the deficit. There is a growing recognition that the cuts will dismantle many of the post-war gains of the movement represented by the welfare state and the NHS, and will lead to mass unemployment.
However, as Salma Yaqoob explained in an initial response on her blog she was underwhelmed by Ed’s victory, reporting that, “his first statements as leader are designed to lower expectations, not raise them, with the BBC reporting that ‘Mr Miliband pledged not to oppose every government cut, saying public services would need to learn to do more with less…’ This rapid readjustment back to the political centre ground and accommodation to the media consensus was reinforced in his Conference speech where he made it clear that he would not be supporting ‘waves of irresponsible strikes’ against the cuts. He has already called on the BBC unions to call off the strike due to take place during the Tory Party conference. The ranks of trade union leaders at conference, who had financed and backed Ed Miliband’s campaign and who had, up to this decisive point in his speech, been enthusiastically clapping their new leader, sat stony faced at his rejection of strike action. Len McCluskey, a candidate in the election for Unite’s general secretary and who has rightly opposed all cuts, shouted “rubbish”. Ed Miliband even stated that if elected to power (in five years) he would not be in a position to reverse all the damage of the Tory government.
In his first few days as leader Ed Miliband has shown himself, on the decisive issue of this parliament, to be only marginally different to his right-wing brother. David is clearly furious at being so out-manoeuvred. Ed Miliband may be just an opportunist, or too weak to challenge the pro-market and anti-public service establishment consensus. In any case he has shown himself, as Salma wrote, “too willing to concede the argument [on cuts] before it has even begun.” We can be sure that there will be a big media campaign to keep Ed within the bounds of the establishment consensus, while arguing that if the Labour movement ‘rocks the boat’ Labour will becomes unelectable.
We in Socialist Resistance are against all cuts, which must be fought at every level, through campaigns, mass demonstrations and strikes. The capitalist offensive to make the working class and the middle classes pay for the crisis of the capitalist system, and a slavish media consensus arguing that the books must balance and the cuts made, can only be challenged and rolled back by the kind of actions we have seen in Greece, Spain and elsewhere. Ed Miliband has already made it clear he will be on the wrong side of this fight.
The Socialist Resistance executive committee made this statement on October 2nd 2010.