This blog has never been Russell Brand’s head cheerleader, but the author of Revolution has come a long way since he stole the show (and the message) from the People’s Assembly March for the Alternative protest against austerity back in June, and once in awhile he says something very perceptive on his YouTube news channel, The Trews (true news).
Sure enough, approximately 1.5 minutes into Brand’s latest Trews dispatch (above) he hits on an important question: why do politicians (and Miliband in particular) spend so much time telling us how “passionate” they are about anything and everything?
Last week, Labour’s ex-leader-in-waiting Ed Miliband went to Senate House in London to make the ninth or tenth relaunch of his rocky tenure as Leader of the Opposition. The partisan crowd assembled, the press corps gathered, and out strode Miliband to bore us again with his passion for changing the country, his sleepless nights spent obsessing about struggling families, and his determination to do away with inequality once and for all. No policy ideas, no detail, no new national goal to capture our collective imaginations and harness our own efforts, but more passion than you could shake a stick at.
Three days later and the speech is almost entirely forgotten, marked only by the grudgingly approving newspaper reactions which praised Miliband for doing a “fine” job (the mere fact that he made it through the speech without setting his podium on fire or accidentally endorsing David Cameron constituting success according to the low bar we now set for him). Nobody will ever quote Ed Miliband’s Senate House speech, or long recall his previous efforts – that’s how he gets away with delivering the same urgent yet bland remarks every time someone shoves a television camera in his face. But we will always remember the heapings of passion.
This is Britain, six months before a general election. The economy is growing again but the people are hurting – too few of us are feeling the fruits of the nominal recovery. The surveillance state continues unchecked and unsupervised, we are conducting open-ended military action in Iraq once again, anger at immigration is fuelling a rise in the populist right and distrust in British politicians and institutions is at an all-time low. There is a lot to be angry about.
But there is also a sense that we have ground to a halt as a nation, that we are treading water aimlessly – and in a place that leaves too many British people struggling to keep their heads above the surface. Having secured a “No” vote in the Scottish independence referendum to ensure the continued survival of our country, it’s not clear what we are supposed to do next. What is the next great challenge of our times? We don’t seem to know. And a people without a sense of mission or destiny are prone to fall into mindless bickering, personality-based politics and increased support for populist insurgencies. Does that sound at all familiar?
This is precisely why nations need visionary leaders in challenging times – to see the big picture, identify the righteous new cause and convince their people to expend their taxes, time and energy in pursuit of worthy goals. The goals can be geopolitical, scientific, economic or social, but there should be something or some blend of initiatives that gets us safely from place A to place B.
Ed Miliband made clear in his failure to relaunch speech that he has no tangible goal for the country at all, let alone any idea of the means to achieve one. Passion and empathy slosh around in useless abundance where ambitious, hard-headed strategy should sit. He talks about equality a lot, which is fine as far as it goes, but hardly counts as a national goal. What, for example, are the wealthier, more prosperous Brits supposed to do while they wait for the economically depressed and disadvantaged to catch up with them – just sit idly and twiddle their thumbs?
Worse still, when it comes to dealing with Britain’s inequality, Miliband’s passion is unequal to the task. Cutting down on tax avoidance? Great. Taxing bankers’ bonuses a bit more? Okay. Raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020? Pitiful, but fine. The problem is that even if Miliband miraculously wins office, commands a Labour majority in Parliament and enacts all of these measures, it will barely make a dent in overall inequality. There is far more tearing down of the rich in Miliband’s prescription than there is building up of the poor.
Fraser Nelson brilliantly sums up the irrelevance of Miliband’s fixation on equality in his latest Telegraph column:
I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking about the best-paid 0.01 per cent, the ones we’re led to believe pay no tax. They earn 1.4 per cent of salary paid in Britain yet stump up 4.2 per cent of all income tax. That is to say, the top 3,000 pay more than the lowest-paid nine million taxpayers put together. Not a figure you’re likely to hear in a Miliband speech any time soon.
Economic inequality is not, in itself, a problem for a society – often, it’s the price for general prosperity. The United States is far more unequal than Britain but it’s wealthier, so its lower-paid workers are better-off than ours. But social cohesion is a different thing. Something needs to hold a country together – as Churchill once put it, a ladder that everyone can climb.
(Fraser Nelson’s Dispatches documentary, “How The Rich Get Richer” will be shown at 8PM on Monday 17th November, Channel 4).
Precisely. Ed Miliband is tearing his hair out worrying that the richest Brits are twenty rungs higher up the ladder than the poorest, but the poorest are far more concerned that their rung leaves them a foot underneath the rising water. They want to move up a couple of rungs so that they can breathe again, not see everyone else forced to climb back down two steps in solidarity with their plight. Passion is only helpful if it leads to useful action, and useful action can only result when passion is directed at the correct issue.
Miliband’s Senate House relaunch speech showed that the Leader of the Opposition’s wayward passion is pulling him in all the wrong directions – certainly wrong for the country, but quite possibly also fatal to his chances of winning the 2015 general election. Punishing the successful with slightly higher taxes and regulating business a bit more are small ideas worthy of a small leader, which Miliband has now conclusively proven himself to be. Does anyone really believe that the man literally wakes up every morning thinking of new ways to help struggling families, as he insists in interviews? How ineffectual must Miliband be, to devote so much of his waking life to a problem and still come away with such limited, pedestrian remedies?
If we must keep talking about passion in politics, let’s at least look at the issue the right way round. It is us, the voters, who are supposed to be impassioned and inspired by our politics and politicians. It is they, the politicians, who are supposed to show us the promised land and exhort us to get there together. But what do we have instead? Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition, spending his precious time taking contemplative strolls around Hampstead Heath in order to draw his own creepily omnipresent passion from the bemused strangers he accosts whilst out walking their dogs.
So please, Ed: no more talk of how passionate you are about our daily struggles, our aspirations, hopes and fears. You may never be in the same league as great leaders such as Churchill or Kennedy, but you can still use their examples as a template:
Set us a scientific, industrial or geopolitical goal that will make Britain the envy of the world and require our universities, research laboratories and high-tech firms to work together to solve new problems, add to human knowledge and grow our economy. Tell us that an incoming Labour government will take immediate action to make a British state education the best in the world bar none, surpassing even Finland and South Korea: an Apollo Program for education. Try to convince us that you believe Britain can be more than just that rainy outcrop of Europe with nationalised healthcare and passable public services.
And if you can’t manage that, at the very least, please stop telling the country that you think about us while you’re in bed.