Has Ed Miliband’s moment arrived?

by Jonathan Todd

“In 2008-09,” Gordon Brown recently told New Statesman, “we tried to persuade people that it made sense to run a deficit and it was not a problem in the long term if debt rose in the short term. We failed to persuade people. If anything contributed to the return of the Conservatives to power, it was their ability to scare people about the deficit and debt.”

After succeeding Brown as Labour leader, Ed Miliband attempted to become prime minister by positioning Labour to the left of New Labour. This strategy was thought to be justified as the financial crisis of 2008-09 had enlarged public appetite for stronger regulation and an expanded economic role for the state.

In 2015, Labour and the rest of the country moved in opposite directions. Labour’s general election defeat brought into doubt the extent of the appeal of Miliband’s more muscular state. Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent indicated that Labour considered Miliband’s offer too tepid.

“Now,” Brown continued in his New Statesman interview, “the fiscal orthodoxy has changed. What we were criticised for in 2009-10 is understood to be the best way of dealing with a crisis. We’ve got to understand that the only way that you can replace spending power and economic activity when the private sector fails to be able to invest, and consumers are not spending and people are not able to work, is that the government steps in.”

It must be hoped that Brown is right about the fiscal orthodoxy. Yet Jo Harding reminded Uncut, “local authorities are facing a £10 billion black hole due to coronavirus.”

This is despite Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick telling 300 English council leaders and sector bodies in a conference call on 16 March that the government would do “whatever is necessary” to help them tackle coronavirus.

The gulf between Jenrick’s unfulfilled promise and Harding’s bleak reality suggest Brown might be wrong – at least insofar as fiscal orthodoxy is interpreted by the government. This is worrying because to add austerity to coronavirus disruption would be to needlessly deepen our economic and social malaise.

While the actions of Jenrick indicate otherwise, Boris Johnson’s insistence that his government will not revert to austerity reveals a recognition that the public mood has changed since the Conservatives enjoyed victories in 2010 and 2015 with an emphasis upon deficit reduction.

The masses are austerity fatigued and some elites are newly sympathetic. For example, in mid-May an FT editorial was headlined, “now is not the time to worry about the UK debt burden”.

Our Thursday night clapping may have seeded a desire for the kind of bigger state that Miliband anticipated after the financial crisis. Persistently low interest rates may also provide the means of financing this.

Right on cue, Miliband is back on the frontbench. “When crisis occurs,” Miliband recently recalled Milton Freidman saying on the Talking Politics podcast, “the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” Miliband reassured Talking Politics that there are more ideas around on “building back better” than there were in 2008-09.

“Is there some idea,” Miliband was asked, “where you really think, ‘oh, the time is now’?” “The Green New Deal.”

If low interest rates sustain an expanded role for the state, green infrastructure is one the best targets for this spending – after £10 billion has been found to plug the gap in local government finances.

The perils of “picking winners” is a traditional objection to government playing a bigger economic role. As there are only so many ways for us to get to a zero-carbon economy, this risk is minimised in relation to green infrastructure.

We are not picking a business or sector but a societal mission. Targeted upon zero emissions by 2050, with half of this reduction being achieved by 2030.

There is, therefore, an imperative to bring forward as much investment in green infrastructure as possible over coming years. When combined with a heightened public intolerance for austerity and a new fiscal orthodoxy, this environmental urgency adds to the sense that Miliband’s moment approaches.

The old may be dying but for the new to be truly born, Miliband does not just need to be back on the frontbench; he must return to government.

Talking Politics raised Rutger Bregman’s new book with Miliband (“a declaration of faith in the innate goodness and natural decency of human beings,” Stephen Fry). “Do you buy this argument?” “Yes!”

Human goodness – pace Bregman and Miliband – is not innate but a product (or not) of our environments. The point of Labour should not be to assume an innate goodness but to build a society where the goodness of as many people as possible finds expression.

This social nurturing would benefit from more physical nature – with Miliband referencing the importance of reforestation and tackling air pollution on Talking Politics. But Miliband should not get lost up Bregman’s intellectual cul-de-sac of innate goodness.

Good people are not good all the time, bad people are not bad all the time – context is everything.

Miliband should quest for a return to government, where he will be able to craft more contexts that bring out goodness. Assuming nothing along the way, least of all an innate goodness.

Then his moment will have arrived. Not a second too soon.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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8 Responses to “Has Ed Miliband’s moment arrived?”

  1. anosrep says:

    “Ed Miliband attempted to become prime minister by positioning Labour to the left of New Labour.”

    No he didn’t. That was the problem.

  2. Alf says:

    Can’t see the point of a Tory-lite Labour government. Starmer would be nuts to listen to Miliband and the Blairites. Let’s stick with the policies we’ve got.

  3. John P Reid says:


    Ed Miliband
    I’m not tony Blair
    I’m not new labour new labour is over
    We’ve got our party back
    Unlike in the past I’m moral(implying new labour was immoral

    Even if what you said was true it’s the perception he wasn’t new labour that lost it
    He thought he’d get Ex Libdem votes back who were too the left of labour
    But lost the working class

  4. John P reid says:

    Blue labour had the guardian publish a story against it again today.

    they are against it because It was trying to get back working-class votes which would likely show the guardian labour needed them.

    the graun thinking Labour don’t need working-class votes will get they were still sceptical to idea of getting back working-class votes as those who criticised Owen Jones idea that there was this mythical radical working-class left vote in the early two thousands that would deliver Ed Miliband to victory, but those are the other side of the argument on who labours should get the votes of,

    with Blue labour trying to get working class votes might not have worked as those who were socially conservative economically too the left were told to keep their views to their selves but when they try to talk to them about not only getting middle-class votes they ignored us, Ok their was the third way ,Andy Burnham went for ge working class votes but keep middle class ones, saying it will abandon the working class with their option of trying that, but the fact blue labour was so happy because so many middle-class liberals hope the working class finding the tory party means they’ve got hold of the party now, when there it isn’t the party left t there’ll have to justify their hatred of the working class.

    blue Labours view of Resistance to commodification with the position of the radical tradition that pursues the common good. as Blue Labour, are resting their views on commentary.” Yet we’ll have to trade with the rest of the world as our European competitors have been slowing down trading with us for a century now and we are now behind several EU countries. The City of London is bloated and abusive (and has not bought out the covid crisis so Blue labour would have to use the fact that Blue labour is not neo liberal to suggest new ideas.

  5. Anne says:

    Gordon Brown was a very underestimated politician – probably overshadowed by Blair. He was an excellent chancellor- he bailed out the banks and prevented a major economic outcome. I still like to hear him speak, and I am sure he will be called upon when Scotland again ask for another referendum on independence.
    Regarding Ed – I think he is a talented mp and I am pleased he has been brought back into the frame in the shadow cabinet – he has a lot to contribute, especially on environmental issues.
    The shadow cabinet are doing well – far more talent than the abysmal performance of the present government.

  6. Tafia says:

    It was Alistair Darling that was Chancellor for the bail-outs. He designed them in conjunction with the Bank of England and delivered them. He also illustrates exactly when Labour went into long term decline. Je should have taken over from Blair, not Gordon Brown.

  7. John P Reid says:

    So Renie anjeh and jenna Davis have both said the phrase BAME is daft as classifying anyone not white as a group is taking away individual concerns groups may have
    The race Disparity Audit for targets for minorities hitting the mark still it was recorded that all the ladies who had got the jobs Were Christian/Hindu or Sikh asian women
    But this is quite a good description from someone who doesn’t normally criticise identity politics

    We can show solidarity to each other without being labelled as something that literally means ‘anyone who isn’t white.’ It is called ‘othering’ and centres whiteness

    Similar we can show solidarity to trans people white not changing our views in Biology snd when we fought for LGB rights and no one asked us about adding the letter T
    It’s not saying disrespect teams people but it’s not a sexuality and it also mean that if trans is a classification then trans people all have the same Concerns( trans men don’t get prostrate trouble)
    And non binary /gender fluid people aren’t the same and it’s not one collective political opinion

  8. Agnostic says:

    “Green new deal” sounds like hogwash to the electorate, IMO. The environment is so far down people’s list of priorities that it is madness to elevate it to a central policy plank. What matters is regaining power, and that means looking at what people care about in anonymous polling, and now about what is shouted about on the media etc.

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