After Ed Miliband’s barnstorming performance this week, it’s hardly surprising that the Tory hacks are now searching for the next chink in the armour. ‘Ed doesn’t look like or behave like a leader’ now has to be binned. So the next complaint, always presented of course as an invitation to help him, is that he needs to ‘take tough decisions’. What that turns out to mean is that he’s got to show he’s prepared to take on his own party (Blair’s dismissal of clause 4 is always quoted as a good precedent) and to ‘defy Left orthodoxy’. How handy – getting a Left leader to show his mettle by castrating himself. What a double whammy – getting him to undercut the loyalty of his own movement and at the same time showing his capacity to sign up to the dirty work of his opponents.
There is of course a lot to be said for a leader who can take tough decisions, provided those decisions are aimed at the right target – not squashing your own side, but taking head-on a power structure which is oppressive, self-centred and authoritarian. As it happens, that is exactly what Ed has already done – far more dramatically and more successfully than any previous leader from the weakness of Opposition – by taking on and defeating Murdoch, one of the most powerful men in the world, over the phone-hacking scandal and BSkyB, but also by his repeated forays against some of the most deeply entrenched interests within predatory capitalism – the banks, the energy companies, the pensions industry, the rail fare exploiters, to name but some.
Nor is it true any more, as the Tory commentariat like to tell us, that the hacks don’t know what Labour stands for. After this Conference there’s no excuse for not knowing. Labour will implement a jobs and growth strategy as opposed to a pure cuts policy becoming ever deeper by the day. Labour will repeal the Lansley anti-NHS programme. Labour will separate the investment from the retail arm of the banks, and will legislate to enforce this if the banks haven’t already complied by 2015. Labour will use the proceeds from the bank bonus tax and (what’s left from) the 4G franchise auction to ensure employment for the 100,000 or more young people who’ve been out of work for more than a year. Labour will tackle the grotesque inequality that now disfigures the country not only through the tax system, but via ‘predistribution’, i.e. boosting the lowest incomes with a real Living Wage rather than a minimalist wage and by squeezing top incomes (perhaps through whole company pay bargaining?).