Ed Miliband might make you cringe, but if you care about inequality he’s the only option you have

Rampant and unjustifiable inequality is the biggest issue Britain faces, and he gets it.

Rampant and unjustifiable inequality is the biggest issue Britain faces, and he gets it

Ed Miliband looks terrible eating a bacon sandwich. He should also get his hair cut with much greater regularity. Yet despite these obvious foibles, he understands the biggest issue of our age in a way that New Labour politicians – and for obvious reasons the heirs of Thatcher – do not. As Miliband put it in his Hugo Young Lecture earlier this year, “tackling inequality is the new centre ground of politics”.

Increasingly it is; and so it ought to be. Which is why Ed Miliband should be the person who leads Labour into the election next year, and why harking back to New Labour is not the answer.

The bubble of financial capitalism burst back in 2008. Ideas once considered clever are now recognised as at best cavalier and at worst callous and idiotic. Overbearing trade unions are not the problem: rampant inequality is. While the archetypal trust fund baby George Osborne lectures “shirkers” at the Commons dispatch box without a hint of irony, the 1 per cent are moving even further away from the rest of us – and pulling up he drawbridge as they go.

The five richest families in Britain now own more than the poorest 20 per cent combined. The middle classes too are falling behind. A property millionaire is created every seven minutes, mainly in London, turning what were once family homes into “investments” and “portfolios”. Meanwhile a million people had to use a food bank to eat last year and London is the unpaid internship capital of Europe.

All talk of social mobility against this backdrop is pure wind. The privileges of the parents almost always become the privileges of the children, hence why poor but bright children are being overtaken by their less intelligent classmates from wealthier backgrounds in the very first years of schooling.

Those who justify eye-watering levels of inequality on the basis that what really matters is equality of opportunity ought to ask themselves why we live in a country where the top professions are so dominated by those with cut-glass accents and that peculiar sort of fatuous self-confidence imbibed on the playing fields of Eton. Just 7 per cent of British children are privately educated, yet their alumni make up 33 per cent of MPs, 71 per cent of senior judges and 44 per cent of people on the Sunday Times Rich List.

Obscene inequality of outcome invariably means more inequality of opportunity.

For all his sometimes cringe-worthy flaws, Ed Miliband appears to get this. He understands that the most urgent task facing Britain today is not to hobble the trade unions or introduce further costly privatisation, but is to take on the pseudo-meritocratic consensus which confers eye-watering rewards and the top and revolting squalor at the bottom.

25 years ago this week a process was set in motion which ultimately ended communism and with it the Cold War. The annus mirabilis of 1989 resulted in an intellectual crisis on the left. If command economics were unable to keep pace with capitalism and produce the goods (quite literally) then what was left at the turn of the century but to embrace the capitalist triumphalism of Francis Fukuyama and his ‘end of history’?

And indeed many did just that. In part due to electoral expediency, but also because of a lack of any alternative, Tony Blair’s New Labour dropped any pretence of socialism and swapped the red flag for the red-in-tooth-and-claw free markets of its Tory opponents. And for all that New Labour were berated by the left for a supposed “betrayal’”of socialist orthodoxy, there were few options available for progressives at the turn of the 20th century.

However, unlike New Labour Miliband cares about the biggest issue we now face in Britain: rampant and unjustifiable inequality. This is why he should be the person to lead Labour into the election next year. It’s also why harking back to New Labour is not the answer.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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24 Responses to “Ed Miliband might make you cringe, but if you care about inequality he’s the only option you have”

  1. david denton

    Having been accused of being geeky, maybe Miliband should go the wholehog? In praise of hedgehogs.


  2. swat

    Not much of a choice then. Oh well…
    I’ve never been convinced that the other side ‘don’t care’.
    They do, but aren’t as sensitive to all the nuances.

  3. madasafish

    “However, unlike New Labour Miliband cares about the biggest issue we now face in Britain: rampant and unjustifiable inequality. This is why he should be the person to lead Labour into the election next year”

    I agree with Ed. I am sure he will confirm his equality credentials and remove those members of the Shadow Cabinet who had the unfair advantage of private schooling…Seven iirc including Ed Balls and H Harman..

    The removal of Ed Balls would be an improvement

  4. Jim Bennett

    Let’s talk policy. What policies do Labour under Ed have to stop, let alone reverse the rampant inequality that you write about? None. Labour is simply a nicer face to austerity. I couldn’t give a tinker’s toss about Milliband’s ability to eat a bacon roll. I want to know how a £0.30 a year rise to the minimum wage is going to help take anyone out of poverty.

  5. Richard

    A few years ago the head teacher of school in a UPA shoed me the work of one of the brightest children in his school at the end of year 1 saying that was the standard of work of a child entering school in a nearby affluent neighbourhood. That child would therefore need to catch up a year between ages 5and 18 to have equal chance of a university place. It’s not just about state v Eton it’s about pre-school and parenting skills.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    No, there are plenty of austerity-pushing parties who will increase austerity.

    If it’s unjustifiable now, it’ll be even less so if you increase it. Which is what austerity does.

  7. Guest

    Keep dictating what parties should do from outside (the UK), as you fight a multi-party system.

  8. AlanGiles

    One of the problems Labour has is that there are far too many old New Labourites still in positions of influence in the PLP. I honestly don’t think Miliband has the authority of his own party, still less the country at large, to tackle inequality – or anything else for that matter. He is as one of his own MPs said recently, a Hampstead socialist, who doesn’t really understand the everyday problems of ordinary people

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    He’s commited to austerity, so he’s NOT opposing inequality on that measure alone.

  10. JoeDM

    The deficit deniers are back !!!

  11. Jæßun Jötnarjäger

    The fact that he wants to raise the minimum wage up to over £8 without detailing exactly how he intends to juggle inflation and costs to business shows that Labour hasn’t learnt a thing about basic economics.

    It would be much easier and better for equality if they simply did away with half of the benefits they currently pay out to those who are working and earning under a set amount, and just raise the amount you can earn before you pay taxes up to £15-16k.

    And for someone to be the calling himself the champion of the people when these wankers arrogantly refuse an EU referendum, something most of the public want a voice on, just speaks volumes really.

  12. Guest

    Yes, you are. Keep denying the deficit in jobs, which unlike money can’t be printed.

  13. Guest

    Magical socialism.
    As you say your 1% problems are ordinary.

  14. SemiPartisanSam

    Ed Miliband can talk about inequality until the cows come home, but in his “failure to relaunch” speech he articulated precisely zero new ideas for tackling it from the bottom up, empowering people to help themselves. Worse still, the speechwriting was just awful. Look at how American progressives like Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson articulated their visions – never oversimplifying or talking down to the people:


    And then look how Ed Miliband speaks in five word sentences, assuming that the electorate are too dumb to understand any nuance or complexity. No wonder he is in trouble – if Miliband so obviously doesn’t trust the British people, why should they trust him with their vote in 2015?

  15. TruthHurts2013

    If you are talking about inequality then Labour, the communist Ed and the left in general are the problem. I’d say only UKIP are in touch with what people really think.

  16. Cole

    She’s right about removing Balls – though that’s nothing to do with where he was educated. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks he’s any good. Why does he have such a senior position?

  17. Cole

    Balls a communist? He spends most of his time sucking up to the City. Still, you’re a kipper, so you’ll believe anything. Btw, Ukip have well under 20% in most polls, so they’re hardly the voice of the people.

  18. TruthHurts2013

    Polls don’t mean anything. Deep down you know how the people of this nation think. Voting turn out is pathetic in this country but you know how we all think (apart from the self-righteous left). All we have to do is get those people to get to the polls and we’ll break the monopoly of power. That is our battle ….. we will not lose. The future of this nation depends on it. The worse possible thing that could happen is another Labour government. That would be a disaster for the people and for the country. Socialism just doesn’t work.

  19. Liberanos

    Mr Miliband is right to point to the phenomenon of low wages in our economy. What a pity that much of the cause…the unstoppable flood of cheap labour from Europe…doesn’t seem to worry him. He also seems blissfully unconcerned about the consequent build-up of pressure these ever-increasing numbers place on our public services. He’s not even prepared to put these problems to the electorate in a referendum. Extraordinary.

  20. WheresTheEvidence?

    Hang on. Labour support austerity. They’ve now abandoned Keynesian economics which might address unemployment, and therefore poverty and inequality. There’s no evidence that austerity will work. It will make life harder for the poor. It’s not clear if Labour now genuinely believe in neo-liberal economics, or they just think that arguing for more debt won’t get them elected. If it’s the latter they’ve basically betrayed the working class for the sake of the own careers. And while we’re about it, they have no policies to address too-big-to-fail banks.
    So screw the poor and suck up to bankers, that’s what caring about the biggest issue we now face amounts to.

  21. Cole

    So Kippers are now channelling the deep desires of the British people, and the polls are all wrong. Well, enjoy living on your deluded private planet. Reality will catch up with you pretty soon…

  22. treborc1

    Nobody else wanted it, it has the kiss of death even Darling decided to give up then come back

  23. treborc1

    If most of the country wanted a referendum, I’m sure they would all vote either Tory or UKIP so lets wait and see. UKIP has been going since 1994 so it had enough time to win an election and if people want to have a vote they have two parties to do it with.

  24. Jæßun Jötnarjäger

    Group psychology, people will often vote together. I think people have naively believed that the mainstream parties would give a referendum at some point.

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