Tuesday, 7 October 2014

If you can't handle greatness, it's probably best not to have it thrust on you

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

It’s hard to imagine a time when Britain might need a Labour government more than now. We have a Tory-led administration, supported by walking-dead Liberal Democrats, which has decided that nothing matters more than to get the public sector deficit under control. And, what’s more, that the poor should pay.

They’ve inflicted serious pain pursuing that goal, with legalised loan sharks seeing their business grow astronomically, a huge increase in dependency on food banks, terminally ill people being deemed fit for work, and many of the poorest facing eviction from their accommodation for having a spare bedroom.

And yet they’ve failed to come anywhere near the target they set themselves, at the last election, of eliminating the structural deficit by today.

Just last week, the Conservatives announced that, given the chance, they will do it all again and more. There will be a tax bribe for the middle class, and an attack on support for the poor, and not just the unemployed, but the working poor too. The “hard working” individuals for whom they claim to speak.

This additional suffering, they promise, will let them do in the next five years what they promised and failed to do in the last five.

Even more worrying, for 70 years, the National Health Service has been providing healthcare based on a key principle: it should be free at the time it’s delivered. Nobody in need of care would be asked whether they had the means to pay for it. Now, though, there’s talk of introducing a nightly charge for hospital admissions. Ability to pay and not need might determine access to care. A major liberating component of the post-Second World War settlement is in jeopardy.

In the circumstances, we desperately need Labour back in power, to start to set the balance straight. Labourites launched the NHS; we need them back to defend it. Labour is the party most attached to the welfare state; we need Labour back to keep it alive.

What’s actually happening? Labour, which had an eleven point lead in the polls, saw it fall to seven, and then to three or four. But that lead remained stubbornly in place for months. Nothing the Tories could do would dislodge it. Clearly, as we went into the party conference season over the last few weeks, the key task for Labour was to protect, and if possible extend, that lead.

Instead, Labour had a dire conference. The worst performance was by the leader, Ed Miliband. He insists on giving his keynote addresses without notes. It’s as though we were expected to be impressed by his ability to memorise a speech. He doesn’t seem to have grasped that it’s about as overwhelming as seeing a politician juggle knives: admirable if he does it right, but hardly relevant; and if he does it wrong, he could end up damaging himself seriously.

Ed Miliband, Labour leader: sincere and well-intentioned.
But has he decided to win? Because we need him to
Which is what Miliband did. Intent on proving that he could remember an entire speech, he forgot a key passage from it: he failed to mention the economy. 

An open goal to the Tories, already massively more trusted on the economy – despite failing to keep their promises – than Labour. “Miliband isn’t interested in the economy. He’s forgotten about it,” they proclaimed in their delight.

And went on to hold a far more tightly organised conference where they launched their tax bribe to the middle classes. Result? They increased their “more trusted than Labour on the economy” lead to 20 points, and turned Labour’s 3-4 point lead in the polls overall into a 2-point deficit.

Far from consolidating its position, Labour has lost it.

Sadly, even the walking dead of the Liberal Democrat Party have performed better. Though they’re in coalition with the Tories, their leader Nick Clegg – David Cameron’s deputy – described Cameron as unable to decide whether he was a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher or a rich man’s Nigel Farage. That had him to a tee: caught between an iconic figure of his own party, adulated by its grandees, and the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking populist leader of UKIP, adored by some of the smallest people in the land.

Oh, if only Miliband, Cameron’s opponent, could be as effective in demolishing him as Clegg, his ally.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness. Miliband had his greatness thrust upon him. He ran for leader of the Labour Party and was losing to his brother, David, right up to the last round of voting, when the unions expressed their view – and gave him a wafer-thin victory.

I often wonder whether he ever really intended to win, or expected that his brother would beat him, as most of us did (and rather hoped: David Miliband has the image and persona of a leader, in a way Ed simply doesn’t). Perhaps he hoped to come a strong second and guarantee himself a big role in his brother’s team.

But then he won and had to decide what to do with his victory. And he doesn’t seem to have decided yet, if fluffing his lines at the last conference before an election is anything to go by. And the question now is, will he ever make up his mind? Is he going to have serious stab at becoming Prime Minister? Or is going to keep on shooting himself, and us, in the foot?

It could be quite funny, in a bleak sort of way. But sadly rather a lot of people depend on it.


Dameocrat said...

The game of the neoliberal opposition, is to win on not being your opponent, so nobody expects anything from you. This is what Obama has taught them.

They would rather lose than have anybody expect anything of them.

David Beeson said...

The they're in a real bind: everyone hoping for a Labour win expects a great deal of them. The present leaders won't be forgiven if they lose – or if they fail to meet expectations. And nor should they be.

But you're probably right

David Beeson said...

The they're in a real bind: everyone hoping for a Labour win expects a great deal of them. The present leaders won't be forgiven if they lose – or if they fail to meet expectations. And nor should they be.

But you're probably right