It’s not the despair Ed, it’s the hope

by Rob Marchant

So, a week in which, to the great surprise of practically everyone, last week the two Eds came up with a set of policy announcements – or at least, position statements – to “get their retaliation in first” in advance of the government’s spending review. U-turning on a range of issues which they previously stood up for since January 2010 when they first formed their leadership tag team. This could just have been the week when history will remember that it all changed.

Could, not necessarily will, as we shall see.

But good things: child benefit, for example, where Balls has finally accepted the self-evident reality that if he does grant it to rich people, he will have to find a couple of billion from somewhere else, something which will hurt much more. Or the pretty-much-confirmation, by Ed Balls to Andrew Neil, of adherence to Tory spending limits, something which, ahem, Labour Uncut suggested two years ago.

The thing is, we should all be delighted. At the very least, it looks like Labour are finally getting serious about winning, they have paid attention to the polls showing that it’s not where it needs to be, as well as the election results which backed them up. It would, really, be entirely churlish to be critical at this point.

So, as regards the rest of this piece, the nice people can go home and you others, this one’s for you: all you churls out there.

One criticism is that, although the symbolism of the change is hugely important, the change itself doesn’t necessarily go far enough and is flawed in places (such as the house-building programme, as John Rentoul argues here). There are plenty more areas where things need to change.

But, fair enough, it’s a start. As the veteran MP – and welfare specialist – Frank Field brilliantly put it: “Today Ed Miliband said ‘I’m in a hole and I’ve stopped digging’. He’s now got to get us out the hole.”

The second is simple: that this may just be too little, too late. If this is the turning point, it comes more than two-and-a-half years into a parliamentary term. In other words, we now have less time to spend changing people’s perceptions than the time we have already spent letting them form the wrong ones. It will be hard. But it is possible.

The third is: do they really believe in this stuff, or are they just saying it because they think it’s what people want to hear? If they don’t truly believe it, they’ll convince no-one in the long run. Hopi Sen generously extends his belief metaphor to include the coalition as well, but it’s clear who’s the least likely to be believed:

“…with the best will in the world…any British politician standing up and swearing fiscal responsibility is, at best, like a reformed alcoholic declaring teetotalism. Even if you believe their sincerity, you don’t want to give them the key to the drinks cabinet, just in case.”

The fourth and final concern is that we cannot be sure that, even if they do believe it, there will not be cold feet. We cannot be sure there will not be a repeat of the exercise which happened with the announcement, January 2012, that Labour would stick with the coalition’s public sector pay freeze.

Remember that? The unions got upset, cages were duly rattled and Miliband and Balls barely mentioned it again. Will they have the bottle to follow through this time? As an old professor of mine used to say, “best indicator of future behaviour? Past behaviour”.

And it is this last reason which makes one feel the worst. Suddenly there is a little light at the end of the tunnel, a light that says there could still be a Labour government, with a majority. It is flickering, there is a gale blowing outside, but it is there.

But have we the appetite to struggle relentlessly for the next two-and-a-half years, towards something truly worth achieving, or will we dip our toe in the water and come running back again to our comfort zone?

The truth is that many of us have merely become dizzy with Labour’s hokey-cokey political journey since 2010 – now flirting with the electoral centre who can win them the election, now flashing a bit of leg to the unions. It sometimes feels like we are watching our favourite Championship team lose, then win, then lose again on its tortuous way back towards the Premiership; or that we are reading one of the less depressing chapters of John O’Farrell’s Things Can Only Get Better, on Labour’s maddeningly slow route back to power.

To paraphrase John Cleese’s desperate character in the comic disaster movie, Clockwise, it’s not the despair, Ed. We can stand the despair. It’s the hope.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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15 Responses to “It’s not the despair Ed, it’s the hope”

  1. Nick says:

    How do you get out of the debt hole?

    Pension debts – increasing at 734 bn a year
    Borrowing – increasing at 120 bn a year

    You can’t.

  2. Terry Casey says:

    The things I hope for is to enjoy the rest of my life maybe meet another special someone, I want to live around comfort on my pension without penury, I hope I can stay in my home and heat it in those winter days when extra clothing becomes inadequate, I hope my friends who have had their wages slashed are able to keep their houses and those that have lost their jobs can find one that allows them to live without the state having to subsidise them.
    The hopes of the Labour Party are far removed from that of ordinary people, We have MPs more interested in prostituting themselves to outside interests rather than fixing the mess in the country, we have become America with little interest in ordinary workers, wages have gone down since 2002 and I would love a Labour Party member to explain how that happened while the city of London was booming, They started the boom and bust, boom for the City and bust for the rest of us.
    The two Eds now tell us there will be more, so we can expect wages even further eroded while they make their changes to our economy to our detriment before the Tories again come back to reverse those again to our detriment, it’s a farce, it’s criminal and the rich in the meantime are taking advantage as Lord Young says “fill your boots” take advantage of the ignorant work force, Our millionaire MPs sit back and accept it for us, well what would you expect.
    Hope is in us all but it has rapidly been expunged for the working class by successive governments with little hope of any improvement in the future, The Labour Party increasingly making their name a misnomer has given them little hope, Apathy is growing in the country and an election in 2015 will probably be the lowest turnout in history, they want hope and nobody is offering any, they see the rich get richer as they are getting poorer why vote for more of the same. Hope Ed we need hope!

  3. Rallan says:

    It’s not the hope we can’t stand. It’s the candidates.

    Do you think either Cameron+Osbourne or Miliband+Balls are up to the job? At a time of nation wide crisis would you honestly choose either team to lead, inspire and reassure the nation? Do you think they command the confidence & respect of the electorate? Do they have a good track record? What (positive) professional achievements can they point to? How do they select the teams around them? Do they have a grounding in the real world?

    So many lies, so much deceit. None of them are trusted or wanted. The 2015 election will mark a dismal low point in British politics. This is a miserable choice between two different turds at a time when we need solid leadership. Is this the best our “leaders” have to offer? Under the current circumstances, is this the choice that our two main parties should be providing?

    No-one is going to vote Labour or Conservative with enthusiasm. Whichever party wins, it’s unlikely to have enough democratic support to claim much legitimacy.

  4. steve says:

    “an old professor of mine used to say, “best indicator of future behaviour? Past behaviour”. ”

    If so and Labour win we’re doomed: more disastrous wars, more privileging of the financial sector and general mismanagement of the economy, more inequality and more constraints on civil liberty.

    Thanks for the warning.

  5. Terry Casey says:

    Steve, Did Major and Thatcher not go to war? did we not join and have to leave the ERM wasting £27b (1992 prices) propping up the £, did they not start a class war, the Tories have nothing to be proud of, and this must be the most incompetent Government we have ever had. the sad thing is Labour look increasingly unlikely to improve on them.

  6. John Reid says:

    Terry, shame that Diane Abbott dientwinthe leadership, if that’s what you think,

  7. Terry Casey says:

    Sorry John you lost me there mate,

  8. John Reid says:

    I meant that Ed was always going to be a social democrat, who was against Iraq, rather than a far left winger

  9. steve says:


    Thanks for that. Sort of proves the old professor’s point.

  10. Mike Homfray says:

    I don’t think you get it, Rob.

    Its a question of sheer practicality. The government’s policies have failed, so the money situation inherited will be that much worse.

    All governments effectively inherit the first years spending totals from their predecessors in any case.

    What has been proposed is simply the expected exercise of prioritising. I don’t think there’s been any ‘conversions’ at all.

  11. Rob Marchant says:

    @MikeHomfray: completely wrong, as it is in stark contrast to everything else they’ve been saying for the last two-and-a-half years.

    But most importantly Mike, you have got through a comment without mentioning Israel, not even once. Well done.

  12. Renie Anjeh says:

    Mike, I know you like to believe that Ed Miliband is on your side but he isn’t. Last week proved what I expected all along, Ed Miliband knows Labour needs to win on the centre but he has not been loud enough. It was a good step, I think John Rentoul was wrong on the housebuilding stuff – we need to have housing at the top of our manifesto, not just social homes but affordable private homes for aspirational first-time buyers. However, it seems like there people in the party who just cannot accept that the party leadership have endorsed fiscal responsibility which is a shame. I’d rather they get angry about it than delude themselves.

  13. Rob Marchant says:

    @Renie: basically agree, just a small point – if you click thru on the link you’ll see that John Rentoul is not against housebuilding at all. He is simply saying – and it’s a convincing argument – that you have to deal with housing benefit at the same time, or it will fail.

  14. Stephen Hildon says:

    The actual quote from Clockwise is:

    “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

    Which is hardly a paraphrase is it!

  15. uglyfatbloke says:

    A massive investment in social housing would be the right idea fro either a socialist or capitalist perspective but no party is going to really embrace that. Two is that it would reduce house prices. For decades governments have traded on the idea that house inflation has made home-owners rich, so neither party is going tom do anything that would undermine that.
    Second reason? It would reduce the amount of money available for the fancy ship-window projects that politicians like so much.

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