An open letter to Ed

Dear Ed Miliband,

I used to be a Labour loyalist. With my leftwing convictions hardened by inspiring conversations with my late grandfather, who was a shop steward, a book about the Labour movement by Jeremy Seabrook called What Went Wrong? and the persuasive, intelligent propaganda of Red Wedge, Billy Bragg and the NME, I voted Labour in 1987, and again in 1992 and 1997. I had been a Labour party member in 1992, but cancelled my subscription in a fit of self-destructive pique after the failure of a robust Neil Kinnock to unseat the deeply unimpressive John Major, leading to the Tories’ fourth consecutive victory.

Like many Labour supporters, I saw Tony Blair as a new start – despite the tragic circumstances that led to his election as party leader – and fell for his matey charm and modernising dynamism. When he took New Labour to power in 1997, I was as euphoric as anybody else who’d considered Labour unelectable. The scales soon fell from my eyes.

First there was Bernie Ecclestone. Then tuition fees. And then 9/11, which saw Blair line up right behind the most dangerous American President in history, ready and willing to send British troops to wherever Bush ordered them to be sent. The invasion of Iraq was the flashpoint for a lot of disillusioned, betrayed Labour supporters. To march that day against the war and be roundly ignored was a cosmic slap in the face, not least because Blair had already struck a deal behind the scenes, later verified by the New York Times in the form of a memo written by Blair adviser David Manning after a meeting on January 31, 2003, in which Bush names the date, already set.

Who was this monster we had elected only six years before? New Labour, new danger indeed. When Blair was re-elected in 2005, it wasn’t a victory for New Labour, but a defeat for the dilapidated Tories, who had replaced the unpopular Iain Duncan-Smith with the even less popular and frankly creepy Michael Howard. With a majority reduced over four years from 167 seats to 66, this was Labour exposed as a mess, with the lowest percentage of the popular vote of any majority government in British history.

Tony Blair finally stood down in 2007, a total liability. Gordon Brown, who presided over the economy when times were good, turned out to have booby-trapped it, and the bubble soon burst, taking any shred of Brownite credibility with it, despite his ascension. It was almost as if Blair had waited until the very worst moment to hand the reins of power over to his hated rival. It was a depressing period. I cannot lie: by the time of the 2010 election, I wanted to see the back of Labour. I actively wanted them out of power. I didn’t want the Tories in, and I knew the Liberals couldn’t do it, and when they formed a Coalition, I didn’t know what to think. I hated the fact that my support of Labour had curdled to active opposition, but an optimistic part of me hoped that maybe out of power they would re-group and come back without the “New.”

You, Ed Miliband, beat your brother to the leadership. You were handed the moral high ground on a silver platter. Cameron’s Tories were worse than Thatcher’s. Out of touch, preening, self-serving, a bit thick, lacking in empathy and life experience, and seemingly without passion or ideology, driven only by greed and self-interest. Their shock-doctrine response to the recession was to kick the poor when they were down and punish them for ever claiming a benefit, or taking a part-time job, or having a baby, or being disabled, or getting old. Hey, it was a recession – a recession inherited from Labour! Their hands were tied! If ever there was a time for the new Labour leader to emerge, like a nerd in a Marvel comic, as a superhero, it was now.

I don’t know if you are up to the job, Ed. I sort of need you to be. But something toxic is happening, and you seem to be letting it happen: the return of Tony Blair to Labour politics.

We learn that he is to take his most active part in the Labour party since retiring from frontline politics, contributing ideas and experience to your policy review, “giving advice on the Olympic legacy” and in particular how to “maximise both its economic and its sporting legacies”. Your words. Because Blair was in charge when London won the Olympic bid in 2005, you are now using this to paper over all the ill he caused at the very same time (not least firing up terrorism at home through his gung-ho colonial actions abroad, as evidenced by the horror of the day after we got the Olympic bid that July).

Do you really want Blair to reinforce your chances of election? Have you forgotten what he did to Labour? If I were you, I wouldn’t have even shared a platform with the money-grabbing egotist at the fundraising event at the Emirates stadium (organised by Alastair Campbell, as if to underline its old boys’ reunion party vibe). You were a Brownite, Ed. Sucking up to Blair is not “uniting the tribes,” it’s taking his side. It’s signing up to his “legacy”, which will always be that of a warmonger, not as a Middle East envoy or jet-setting author and after-dinner speaker. (To quote his vocal critic at the Leveson inquiry: “This man should be arrested for war crimes.” Exit, pursued by a bear.)

You praised him publicly, feeding his voracious ego, calling the Olympic bid “one of the many proud achievements of the governments that Tony led”, adding the following proud achievements: “saving the NHS, rebuilding our schools and cutting crime”. Saving the NHS? He pulled its guts out before handing it to the Tories to finish off. He and Brown put “public” and “private” together and made sure that the public sector ended up with a massive bill from the private sector for all its new hospitals and schools. Blair only rebuilt our schools by handing private contractors juicy contracts that the taxpayer would pay for, no matter how high they spiralled.

You again, Ed: “I want to thank Tony for what he did for our party and for our country. And I know how committed he is to Labour winning next time.” Yes, only if he can take some of the glory. Labour will not win next time if you allow Tony Blair anywhere near a platform you’re on.

Your spin doctors have been quick to warn us not to “over-interpret” Blair’s prodigal return to Labour. I call it plain old “interpret”: he’s back, and he’s going to win the next election for you. Except he isn’t. I can’t be the only person who would be physically unable to place a cross next to a party with Tony Blair in it.

Londoners were lucky enough to have Blair “guest-edit” an edition of the London Evening Standard last month. This was clearly the first stepping stone in his return to prominence. He told the paper, “What I can do is contribute to the debate, whether it is Europe or the Arab spring or areas to do with economy and public service reform here.” Of the financial crisis, he said, “My view is that you still, in order to win from the Labour perspective, have to have a strong alliance with business as well as the unions … I understand that some people think the financial crisis has altered everything. And the mood is against this. Personally I don’t think that’s correct.”

Keep your friends close, Mr Miliband, and your enemies at arm’s length. Ideally, keep them outside, in the car park. Tony Blair is not your friend. You do the maths.

A concerned voter

22 thoughts on “An open letter to Ed

  1. Absolutely spot on. Mr Collins. There is need for a new Labour movement untainted by the past balls ups. I remember quite clearly Robin Cook talking about how New Labour wouldn’t tolerate corrupt regimes or sell arms to dictators or despots. Next thing, our Tony is off to Tripoli. We were all disappointed and now is not the time to turn to Blair, still with the ignorance and diffidence of the public who knows!!!
    I’ve rejoined the Labour party, I shall let you know how it goes.
    Antony Silson

  2. Andrew quite rightly took offence at my rather snide comment above and told me so. I replied in slightly grovelling terms and suggested he post it to his blog to show me up. But he hasn’t so I have (see below). Gave me a chance to correct a spelling mistake or two.

    I just generally find the constant griping by everyone about politicians tiresome and hypocritical. Maybe Andrew is a breed apart but I can’t understand why people expect standards from their politicians that they don’t adhere to themselves.

    Take the expenses scandal for example, who do you know who wouldn’t have done the same thing if they could get away with it (and probably do each month in their offices)? And why the obsession with ‘honesty’? I don’t need an honest prime minister, just need an effective one. The more dishonest ones are probably more effective. Mandelson would be brilliant.

    Anyway here’s how I grovelled:

    “Hello Andrew

    I don’t find your writing disappointing at all or I wouldn’t have bothered with you for so long. I’ve been reading your articles and blog for years and used to engage with you quite regularly (under the name Oldnathan) but more recently I just read them. It’s good stuff. Probably because I usually agree with you and generally like your liberally-leftie standpoint on things. But this one just sounded a bit naïve to me, sorry. I was trying to be funny but yeah, probably only achieved snidey. Got me…

    Bit surprised to get an e-mail from you but I must admit your directness did make me stop and think, as I’m sure you intended it to.

    So, sorry for any offence. Happy to leave a more constructive comment if you wish. Or you could post this reply up there if you want, and hang me by my own petard.


  3. Who wouldn’t have done it?
    Well, me for a start, and plenty of people I know or work with. I guess your statement tells us all we need to know about your ethical standards. I do adhere to those kinds of standards – I firmly believe that a large number of people WANT to do the right thing. In business, we teach about the importance of an ethical environment; there’s two key points: one, people are happier when they work in what they perceive to be an ethical place; secondly, it takes an adherence to, and promulgation of, a firm ethical standard to help create that environment.

    We shouldn’t have to choose between honest and competent politicians – that’s a false dichotomy. We should be able to have both.

  4. I originally logged in to thank Andrew for his post and to log my own broad agreement with his sentiments, but reading down the comments I got distracted by Richard’s observation “why the obsession with ‘honesty’?”. Then I got so depressed I lost my train of thought.

  5. Having grown up in a very pro-Labour household I remember the heady excitement and sense of hope and optimism that the 1997 election bought, even though I was nowhere near old enough to vote myself at the time. As the years passed and I began to vote I still felt an affinity to core Labour values but staunchly opposed the direction the party took, mostly on the issues you’ve already outlined in the post and stupidly, so so stupidly, voted for the Lib Dems in 2010. The problem I now see facing those of a similar age to myself is that we’re being left with fewer realistic choices – nothing on this green Earth would *ever* compel me to put a cross in a box next to a Conservative candidate, nothing, but what am I left with? A spineless Lib Dem party who have effectively destroyed their chances of being trusted by a whole generation of voters to ever be true (as true as a political party can be) to their word or a Labour party intent on brushing the hideous actions of their leader under the carpet, continuing down a path leaning ever more to the Right and further from anything they used to stand for? It’s a bleak, bleak prospect and these recent turn of events is nothing to be proud of from Ed Milliband’s, or the Labour party as a whole, point of view.

  6. It’s irrelevant who is elected, between carrying out the will of the banks, the USA, and the EU they can just about decide what colour pants to wear in the morning… everything else is pretty much handed to them as a done deal.

    Call me cynical but the facts have borne this out time and time again. We need to make a new world without the ‘help’ of these jokers and this broken system.

  7. Miliband has a balancing act to perform. He won the leadership under the frankly stupid AV system, which allows multiple “majorities” and has no strategy for picking the best one. Maybe he had the “best” vote, in which case he was indeed gifted the moral high ground. I doubt he did though. And even if he did…
    He was in New Labour. He was in a New Labour cabinet. He can’t simply say that he didn’t believe in any of that. And more importantly there’s a great swathe of Labour MPs who do – incredibly – still believe in the Blair myth and who don’t want Miliband to do that. And lest we forget, they didn’t want him as their leader either, even if he did win.
    As I say, a balancing act.
    Regardless of all that, you could stick Blair in a room full of booing, shoe-throwing haters and he wouldn’t get the message. Equally you could tell him that his advice on where to stick those relay batons has made a real difference to Labour’s chances and he’d believe you, because he really does think that he has some kind of magic touch.
    On that basis I think it’s possible that Miliband is doing the right thing.

  8. Crikey, I feel like a troll but it’s of my own making so I can’t complain. I’m not going to war on someone else’s blog but I have to say two things.

    Believe me when I say my own ethical standards were not on display, just my total cynicism of everyone else’s (apart from Simon and his mates obviously). And you really want totally honest politics do you? A totally open and honest prime minister for example? Think it through and then decide where you draw the lines.

    • “Think it through and then decide where you draw the lines.” I draw the line at the edge of The Truth, just before you reach Lies. Tony Blair lied to Parliament about when exactly he made the decision about Formula One, if I remember correctly. This is a man who, looking back over his glorious career, only seemed to regret one thing: pushing through the Freedom of Information Act, which he now wishes to repeal, if only he had the power.

      • No, Andrew – Tone is ‘a pretty straight kind of guy’…..hahaha one of the biggest lies he ever told, and that is really saying something….

  9. This was really great stuff, I also voted Lib Dem in the last election.
    Until the Labour leadership apologise for Iraq they won’t be receiving my vote, it looks like you couldn’t slide a fag paper between the three main parties(and their leaders) anyway.

    I’ll be voting Green in 2015.

    • voting Green is trending across the Pond as well…the only promising party in Canada with any sense of vision for the future, accountability and, so far, transparency. I don’t love all of their policy choices, but I find them breath of fresh air from underneath the juggernaut that is our current majority government.

  10. Maybe I’m just a bit odd, but I find what Richard says to be somewhat intriguing. Perhaps it’s because I come from an American audience (or American-in-Australia audience), and the only thing being flung about in my home country is lies. My cynicism is right there with his. I know that, if I were in their position, I would never do anything to intentionally cause a scandal as they have; I know that I would prefer people know the truth of the matter.

    That isn’t to say I disagree with Andrew. I quite enjoy reading his political banter because it gives me one more eye to see it from; it lets me see how Britain’s political scene is doing from one of many and try to understand what’s going on. I feel much in the same way as he does; I sort of like what was referenced as “naive” because it is what a lot of people are feeling. It’s the sort of thing we should be fighting for, to get back to the truth (in a sense of reality, not in the politically historical aspect).

    I think, too, that I find that “naive” stance amazing because it’s the same thing I see as a teacher. Students ask the same things, but it’s in a different light. They want to know why something affects something else, and they want to understand why it is that these people continue getting into office if they’re only keeping things the same or making them worse.

    • I live in the States (British expat), and I watch both political processes. It’s enough to make you want to cry. And I too have a profound cynicism about the process and most who participate in it.

      That doesn’t mean that we have to accept it, or not want something or someone better

      • That’s exactly why I love seeing people question it in such a way. Why should we sit idly by and let people who are obviously lying to us continue their pursuit of unjustified power? It’s absurd, and we shouldn’t allow that.

        At the same time, I also appreciate the cynic who is willing to point out that very fact. It’s the same view from two positions, and I find that absolutely fascinating.

  11. Unlike Andrew I’ll still vote Labour. I’m still a party member, although often with a heavy heart. Voting Tory is simply selfish and evil – putting yourself first, giving no consideration for those less fortunate. And my in-laws are active LibDems who I’ve watched bury their principles and support this vile coalition. Clueless Tories but with sandals. Look where protest votes against Labour got us in 2010. This.

    Unfortunately, as proven at the last election, there is only one way of keeping the Tories out and that’s by voting Labour.

    Labour needs to be radical. It needs to mimmic Hollande and tax the super rich. It needs to make people understand that super wealth is actually undesirable and damaging to societies and the individuals concerned, and it needs to stop accepting and encouraging it.

    The Rausings (Tetra Pak) this week are yet another example of families f*cked by obscene wealth, along with the Getty, Goldsmith, Guinness, Hilton, Kennedy families and countless other super rich.

    On business, Labour needs to be not be anti-business, as many would like, but their support of business needs to be refined towards those running businesses to make themselves and those who work for them a living and not a fortune, and Labour needs to turn away from the venal City of London and the markets.

  12. Your explanation of where you would draw the line works fine Andrew, when you are talking about whether a dossier is ‘sexed up’ in order to take us to war but the vast majority of politics isn’t like that. It’s just a series of negotiations.

    Despite how it may sound I do consider myself to be pretty honest and I DO respect honesty in others. But I bought a new car a couple of months back and told a whole series of lies to try and ensure I got the best deal possible from the dealer. From how much I was expecting for my old car (vastly inflated) to how much cash I could afford to bring to the deal (vastly deflated) and t how much I was prepared to borrow. I did this in the knowledge that the dealer was doing the same thing, waiting for the moment he said he’d “have a word with his manager, to see what he can do” when all he was really doing was considering how far he was prepared to eat into the margin he’d built into the deal right from the start. I got a deal I was happy with in the end and bought the car. I lied to help me get it and would hope that even pious Simon wouldn’t condemn me for my actions? I was just looking after my own interests.

    Well that’s what the vast majority of politics is like. It’s a negotiation based on self (hopefully the country’s, but sometimes the party’s or the individual’s) interest. And once you start to pull (prepare for a sickeningly unnecessary analogy) on the loose end of what is purely negotiation and what constitutes a lie, the jumper of truth unravels very quickly. That’s why people who bang on about wanting honesty for MPs do my head in. We all lie all the time.

    Tony Blair was particularly good at it and was probably our most effective PM of recent times. I don’t like him but I can see how he got to where he’s at and have a certain type of respect for him because of it (I really don’t expect abuse for this!). I never expected a new Camelot when he came to power anyway so I never felt particularly betrayed when it didn’t materialise. I know that makes me sound rather pompous but it’s the truth…

    …or maybe I’m lying to try and sound like I’m right clever…

    … no honestly it’s the truth.

    p.s. The MPs expenses system that caused the nation’s mock apparent outrage was introduced to compensate them via the back door for the fact that we don’t pay them enough in the first place (and the vast majority of them operated within the terms of that scheme whether we think it ‘immoral’ or not). And we don’t pay them enough because whenever a pay rise is mooted it gets knocked back because it’s considered to be political suicide with the electorate. That’s right, we want the most talented (honest) politicians but we don’t want to pay for it. So we have a situation where the CEO of the country is paid a pittance of what the manager of Manchester City is. That’s why politics is increasingly attracting those with existing personal wealth like the current Tory cabinet when we need more Alan Johnsons . That’s outrageous but it’s partly our fault.

    On a more important note, I don’t like the Vaccines much but ‘No Hope’ is a very welcome addition to the vacuum that The Libertines created.

    • I’m sure Tony Blair and the expenses-fiddling MPs are grateful to have you defending them so stoutly, Richard. You and the car dealer can lie as much as you like: it’s a contract between a retailer and a customer. The rest of us didn’t vote for either of you. Lying can be a benign act, designed to protect. But I simply don’t buy the sob story about how much MPs get paid. I am idealistic enough to believe that politics is a career for those who are passionate about politics.

      There are enough above-the-line perks, and they are paid from the public purse, and they know this, and to fiddle expenses to the extent that some of them did – “flipping” homes etc. – was the equivalent of fleecing the taxpayer. The real payday for politicians comes after they leave politics and enjoy the high life of directorships and consultancy fees and book advances and speaking fees etc.

      They can cash in then, like Blair has done. I would personally rather not see the duplicitous Jacqui Smith employed as a TV presenter/commentator, but there she is, very often taking money from the BBC, which of course we pay for.

      The discrepancy between private-sector pay and public-sector pay – the manager of Man City comparison you make – is only to be expected. But we must police our elected representatives and call them out when they lie or cheat.

      I hope you don’t feel “abused”, Richard. I moderate these comments for that very reason, and anyone stepping out of line forfeits their right to comment here.

  13. What the expenses scandal exemplifies is the clubby nature of Westminster. It would be a mistake to assume that outrageous expenses claims were a very recent development. Hundreds of MPs – some no doubt sturdy and respected – have passed through without feeling inclined or obliged to blow the whistle. I doubt it’s just something they put in the water.

    There’s something about being “in” that makes MPs feel like they’re part of something powerful and important that the rest of us aren’t privy to. It makes them feel more important than us. They talk about ordinary men and women and ordinary families like ordinary is some kind of affliction. Parliament flatters them and frankly most people who want to be MPs are likely to respond well to flattery. Blair is a prime example of that but I’m not sure he’s that much worse than most of them. He was just the wrong person to be in the right place at the right time. Thank goodness that couldn’t happen again.

    MPs are a self-selecting bunch. Westminster is their club and it has a rigorous vetting system implemented through the party system. You’d have to be fairly suspicious of anyone who thinks, “Yes I’m the one to represent these people,” or, “Yes, I should imagine I’m the best person to be running the country right now.” What marks Blair out is merely his inability to disguise the vanity necessarily at work there.

    While I don’t dismiss Labour’s period in office as easily as some (anyone who still thinks there’s nothing to choose between the parties has got something either terribly wrong or terribly right with them), I don’t credit Blair with anything. Some people say he was a good leader but I just don’t see it. To me he was just this disappearing Chesire Cat figure: a vacuum with a grin. Beyond uttering inanities and, you know, strolling into the Iraq war, I’m not sure what exactly he’s supposed to have done. He never even seemed to be particularly liked or admired by the public. (I know Cameron and Osborne are fans, which must tell us something.) I’m not claiming to have known in 1997 quite how deluded or quite how much of an idiot he was, but I certainly saw him as a vacuum then. My mistake was to believe that that made him essentially harmless.

    (For the record I voted Labour in 2005 because I really wasn’t thinking what I assume Michael Howard was really thinking. I voted Labour in 2010 because… well, look around you.)

    MPs believe they could be earning more elsewhere, oblivious to the fact that without the party system barely any of them could have got themselves elected – and that without that, almost every one of us could be earning more as an MP. You wouldn’t make the expenses claims unless you thought you were entitled to that bit extra. You wouldn’t just accept that this is how it works unless you thought there was a justification for it working that way. While some people who aren’t MPs do fiddle their expenses, the rest of us who don’t balk at the idea that we would have done the same in their position. But perhaps that’s why we’re not in their position.

    When Cameron got into Number 10, the first thing he did after unpacking the kettle was to publish a list of the civil servants who are paid more than he is. Somewhere at the heart of that there’s a tacit assumption that’s been made – a presumption – about Cameron’s worth. It strikes me that he’s just an MP like any other, except that he’s got the dream job most of them want. Why, along with all the perks and privileges that go with the role, is he paid more than any other MP? Why is it even noteworthy that people with a proven track record, who’ve risen through a series of contested promotions, should be paid more than a mere MP? Why does he think he’s the yardstick? Of course Cameron – the man who was recently frowning at our something for nothing culture – was effectively a millionaire from birth. Maybe that’s where the presumption comes from. Or perhaps he’s just genetically predisposed to be obessed with money.

    The sad fact is that many MPs – despite being such nonentities – really could be earning more money elsewhere. The tragedy is that instead of using their power to do something about that wondrous “elsewhere”, they’ve simply sought to bring a bit of that elsewhere to them.

    Waffling. Sorry.

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