Following Ed Miliband’s speeches is a thankless task for a number of reasons. They are more often than not vague and full of phrases devoid of any obvious content. But dig a little deeper and you will find an agenda that promises a reactionary continuity in British politics.
The assault on British society that began under the Margaret Thatcher governments was carried further by New Labour from 1997-2010 and has subsequently been deepened by the ConDems. Miliband has signalled he will continue that work should next year’s election send him to Downing Street.
Last night’s lecture at The Guardian positioned the Labour leader in a line stretching all the way back to Thatcher’s governments. He praised the most destructive of prime ministers for her “sense of purpose” in driving through change, although he declined to spell out what that meant for communities all over Britain.
Miliband then outlined a programme of “public service reform” that the Blairites will be cheering. Their “reform” consisted largely of outsourcing vast areas of public spending and decision-making to the private sector in a one-sided “partnership” with the state, where the corporations always win out.
In education, this took the malign form of “academies”. These schools are essentially run by private companies outside of local authority control and are but one step away from being driven by profit making. So Miliband’s promise to give parents power to call poor-performing schools to account is nonsense because the academy system will be left in place under a future Labour government.
So too will the wrecking policies of the ConDems with regard to the National Health Service. Instead of reversing them, a future Miliband government would simply add local people to the commissioning groups of GPs that now hold the purse strings and are busily handing out contracts to the private sector.
And so it goes on. As for the surveillance state developed by New Labour and finessed by the ConDems, Miliband simply wants a “US-style debate” – whatever that is – on the gathering of personal data by the security agencies. Well, they’ve had the debate in the US and the official line is that Edward Snowden is a traitor who has betrayed his country through his whistle blowing while Chelsea Manning is locked up in prison.
Lest anyone thinks that Miliband is a threat to the state with his call to make it “accountable”, his remarks about the role of the British intelligence agencies will clear that up. He said: “My starting point in this is the intelligence services do an important job. As somebody who wants to be the prime minister of this country I know that they do an important job in seeking to keep us safe.”
That’s alright then. A little more “oversight” and we’ll all feel happier while safe in our beds at night. Meanwhile, the surveillance will continue to target legitimate protests and actions against government policies.
Only last week, Miliband won support for changes to the party’s relations with the trade unions that were a deepening of the project launched by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown back in the early 1990s. The collective approach has given way to the individualism first championed in a serious way by Thatcher.
This week he has pledged political and financial continuity, reaffirming last night that a future Labour government would make sharp spending cuts in line with ConDem budget plans. So when it comes to next year’s general election, an application of the “consumer choice” approach will invite us to hang on to our votes rather than wasting them on any of the mainstream parties. The argument that One Nation Labour will be better than the Tories is shallow and totally unconvincing.