By Mike Small
How red is Ed? Is he a hint of pink, or a lollipop red? Pure dead Bolshevik red, or squeamishly mildly-redistributively red as-in once popped his head round the door at a Fabian meeting? You might think that there would be a clue in that he is a Brown protege, and despite desperate Labour mythology, Brown is the man who wrote the cheques for Iraq and deregulated the financial services of the UK (ie ‘not very red’).
But no, the media is clear. He’s going to ‘lurch to the left’ (which as we know would be an end to the world as we know it). Or, as the Scottish Labour-media have it: “He’s a solid lefty, just like the Scots and, the SNP have had it. Might as well chuck it in now Salmond. All that posing as to the left of Labour, by taking hospitals back into public onwership, well there’s no chance now. ” I paraphrase. But you can read for yourself David Maddox’s coverage at the Scotsman on yesterday’s paper on the front page ‘Labour: ‘Red Ed’ will help us defeat the SNP’.
There’s more of this sort of stuff then on pages 4, (‘Labour in Manchester’) and a special on ‘Gray to pledge ‘living wage’. Then again on pages 6 and 7 ‘I won’t push the party to the left, says ‘Red Ed’ Miliband’ (eh, I thought you just said that he would?). Also, in case you think David needs to cover this story in a bit more detail there is a special ‘Analysis’ piece by David Maddox (‘Political Correspondent’). Here he flittingly stumbles on the heart of the matter: “Mr Miliband’s problem is that while his message will go down well in Labour heartlands such as Scotland, the election is won elsewhere, in England”.
Hmmm, that’s a bit tricky.
But wait a minute, what message is it that will go down well in Labour heartlands? The Scotsman’s own editorial writes: “There is not a single new idea or originality of approach by which voters can judge how much of a change he repesents.”
Ah. David’s front page scoop is bit more upbeat: “During his first visit to Scotland as part of the leadership campaign, Ed Miliband said Mr Gray should be setting the agenda for Scottish Labour.” Okay, sounds good. But as Bill Jamieson’s recent analysis in the Scotsman’s own pages pointedly put it: ” “Alex Salmond needs only to whisper the two most deadening words in Scottish politics, a whispered name that could cause his most raging critics to slump comatose on the parliament floor. It is a name that reduces barking dogs to a whimper and makes the most neurotic cats sleep through a march past of mice. Throw away the sedatives and repeat until the urge to fall asleep closes totally in: Iain Gray.” Oh dear.
The latest polls showed 31% approved of Alex Salmond as best choice of First Minister while only 9% named Iain Gray.
For Labour, despote the Maddox cheerleading, it gets worse. If, the argument goes that Red Ed Miliband’s ascendancy will unleash all the talents of Scottish Labour then you have to look at next May’s election as a choice between:
Alex Salmond or Iain Gray
Nicola Sturgeon or Jackie Baillie
John Swinney or Andy Kerr
Kenny MacAskill or Richard Baker
Mike Russell or Des McNulty
As one Scotsman poster put it: “Alex Salmond grew up in a council house and attended local council school before gaining honours degree at St Andrews University and becoming a senior economist at Royal Bank of Scotland and First Minister of Scotland.Iain Gray had a privileged upbringing at fee paying Watson’s College then managed a very ordinary degree followed by a brief stint as a teacher. He is the only recent Scottish Labour parliamentarian to lose a seat to the Tories. Couldn’t hold any portfolio for more than 12 months and only political achievement as minister was to instigate Labour’s flawed Edinburgh tram scheme.”
I digress, I’m sure it will all work out fine. So how red is he?! Is he as red as ‘Red Wendy’, or ‘Red Diane Abbott’? Is he redder than that firebrand Stephen Curran or as red as RED, Bono’s credit-card thing?
Would he for example re-nationalise the railways (an idea that has widespread popular support?) No. Will he stop the privatisation of the Post Office, a move that has widesperad popular opposition? No. Might he take a principled stand on Palestine or Afghanistan? No. Might he – after his background as climate change minister – change course from Labour’s bizarre support for new nuclear power? A policy supported by hardly anyone in Scotland. No. Might he be thinking about a radical housing alternative and stopping the right to buy? Nope. How about a shift in the opposition to minimum pricing to halt the massive impact of alcoholism and binge-drinking that affects the poorest in Britain the worst? No. Is he going to abolish the monarchy? Stop trident? Create a maximum wage? Deal with the city? Er, no, his dad was just a lecturer.
Okay, so maybe he’s not that red but it’s a great boost for Scottish Labour, right? Mr Maddox explains: “Labour leaders at Holyrood are delighted that the younger Miliband, dubbed ‘Red Ed’ by some (really?!) beat his Blairite brother”. But wait a minute, most Scottish MPs backed David Miliband and his campaign was run by Jim Murphy and Wee Dougie Alexander.
Moving swiftly on the mantra is that Ed ‘gets Scotland’, got it? What’s to ‘get’? According to the BBC’s Blethering Brian ‘He gets policy autonomy’. Wow. You begin to see why he’s risen to fast. So Gordon didn’t? Or David wouldn’t have ‘got’ this? It’s all a bit strange.
In what passes for politics in this country the Miliband brothers fraternal troubles is a welcome sideshow from the policy-merger that exists between all the parties of big business and the Union. The reality is that Ed’s ‘redness’ is about alliteration not ideology. If he moves the the left he will be annihilitaed by the tabloid press (which has now infected coss-media platforms) and ignored by Middle England. The spin of a promise of more freedom for the party in Scotland to set its own policy and agenda is a wheeze concoted by cheerleaders like David Maddox. It will not come to pass. Why?
Because Labour has no faith in Iain Gray or the Labour team, as witnessed by the parachuting in of Jim Murphy at the last election. As Joyce McMillan put it earlier this month: “The Labour Party, divided, impotent, ideologically brain-dead, and as lacking in parliamentary flair and ideas at Holyrood as it is now bereft of influence in London, the party has never been in worse shape.”
As last nights episode of Newsnight, Labour are about as harmonious as a Miliband family reunion. Margaret Curran couldn’t even answer the question: “Who is the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland”. John McTernan – sent north to lance the boil of nationalism – looked extremely uncomfortable under the light of reason from Iain Macwhirter and the affable Henry McLeish. So much so that he came out with the classic “New Labour isn’t dead”. This kind of denial points to the still-simmering civil war of Labour, new, old or neo. And one look at Iain Macwhirter giggling (see 20.00) shows you that John McTernan’s “We’re proud of being British” line is one whopper too far.
The problem for McTernan and Scoittish Labour is that the real issue is not Ed’s Redness but Iain’s Grayness that will matter next year.