Ed Miliband gave himself and the Labour Party a boost in the polls with a conference speech this week. As delegates left Manchester his rating had gone up by 6 per cent and Labour leads at 45 per cent over the Conservatives’ 31 per cent. Since Wednesday, his speech has been hailed as well delivered, powerful, personal, its theme that Labour is now the ‘One Nation’ party, and the Tories have abandoned the label most famously associated with the 19th century Conservative leader, Benjamin Disraeli. Mr Miliband promised a new politics, to tell things as they are. But it didn’t take long to understand that he too is a creature of the PR and the focus group credo of ‘spin’ by which senior politicians appear to live their lives.
He began with his ‘story’ of ‘who I am’ and a ‘journey’ of solidarity – that of his parents who arrived in this country as Jewish refugees from the Nazis, and his own through the gateway of Britain’s post-war, progressively nationalised state, from an NHS delivery ward to a comprehensive school. We were not given a peep into Oxford or the privileged passage through the Labour party which followed. Rather, we were made privy to the ‘values’ handed down and imbibed from post-war era. It was a slick, polished performance, timed jokes, complete with pretty wife and presidential wave. The inheritance, however, seemed to be that bequeathed by Mr Blair to aspiring politicians ever since he first strode up Downing Street in 1997 to the cheering crowds, and left John Major to his miserable soap box and defeat. The appeal was not based on substance. Political parties wish to convey that their appeal and support are not sectional, but broad-based. Rather it was a return to the spin which Mr Miliband has so far avoided.
Mr Miliband is hardly alone amongst the 60 million who would like to leave the country a better place than they find it, nor in aspiring to a more cohesive society. Indeed, though he might not like to admit it, he shares the territory with the Conservatives. But what matters with politicians are the means employed to achieve that aim. Though he was not ideological, he implied, on public or private sector control, when it came to policy he made no bones about his preference for public control. To take the one precise example in the speech, his pledge to return the NHS to where Labour left it before the health act, and to end the free market principles and competition. He would, he implied, restore the full state monopoly and end even the mixed system of Mr Blair, who wanted public, private, voluntary, hospitals open to patients. This, after all, is along the lines of the most successful publicly-funded healthcare systems in Europe. In its place will be the state run monopoly, dominated by the state and its officials. (See Politeia’s Second Opinion: Moving the NHS to a Mixed System)
The problem with the premise is that it assumes that politicians and their officials are better at taking decisions in the interests of people, than people themselves. Public control and paternalism have done little to bring the UK to the levels of public service of comparator countries and certainly they’ve done little to equip the UK to compete in the global market.
Far better for Britain if its Labour leader returned to the values, not of the Labour’s leftist aristocracy, but of those held by generations of Jewish immigrants: overriding respect for learning and intellectual values; dynamic entrepreneurship in business and industry; and an abiding belief that for family and community, voluntarism – supported if need be by public funds – trumps the anonymous and overbearing state every time.