Labouring under a misaprehension

David Milliband’s comment article for the Guardian this week was an excellent outline of the only way Labour could be brought back from the state of internal negativity they’re in right now.

He said a lot which needed to be said:

When people hear exaggerated claims, either about failure or success, they switch off. That is why politicians across all parties fail to connect. To get our message across, we must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements.

He outlines where he things things have gone wrong with the NHS (not soon enough), Iraq (better planning), devolving of power to more local levels (more), and that a low-carbon, energy efficient economy is where we should be driving. He said:

The Tories overclaim for what they are against because they don’t know what they are for. I disagreed with Margaret Thatcher, but at least it was clear what she stood for. She sat uncomfortably within the Tory party because she was a radical, not a conservative. She wanted change and was prepared to take unpopular decisions to achieve it.

The problem with David Cameron is the reverse. His problem is he is a conservative, not a radical. He doesn’t share a restlessness for change. He may be likable and sometimes hard to disagree with, but he is empty. He is a politician of the status quo — even a status quo he consistently voted against — not change…

…But in government, unless you choose sides, you get found out.
New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again. So let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves, enjoy a break, and then find the confidence to make our case afresh.

The British public, as a whole, has an obsession with centre politics – neither radically left nor radically right. But the blandness of the centre ground can have unexpected consequences and lead to vacuous policies of the Cameronites being more popular than less ambiguous Labour alternatives when people think they’re bored of eleven years of the same. Some people go further and believe it’s not just the lack of change but arrogant out of touch policies that fuel the thriving alternative.

But the fact is it’s easy to bash the other side when you’re in opposition. In government you cannot afford this luxury. Milliband lists some of the populist claims and the reality: a broken society – but crime is falling (but recognising the need to deal with serious crime); more single parents living off the state – but employment for lone parents has risen; more asylum seekers – simply untrue.

The Daily Mailism of politics drives a downward spiral of self-perpetuating depression about the perceived inability of politicians to do anything.

This leads to a whole other argument about politics in a globalised world where the state is stripped of its key roles and multinational corporations drive direction – but that’s not for here… In this context it’s the change that’s required, it’s the drive, momentum and movement that are required… and that’s what Milliband’s article called for.

The main problem – and here the point of this post’s title – is that the press have pursued the Daily-Mailist self-destructive argument. They’re obsessed by the potential for self-destructiveness (“he didn’t mention Gordon Brown once”) rather than the fact that what he said needed to be said – and to more people than internally… Whether Gordon Brown can lead them through this change is for him to prove. He’s not a glamour politician, he’s gruff, steadfast and sturdy… when he took over leadership of the party there was hope of change, and that’s what he needs to go for now. If he can’t then Labour will need to think about how they go forward. But only then. Milliband’s article was a challenge to the Tories, but a kick start for Labour and they can’t allow it to stall.

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