The Emperor’s New Labour Woes

In September 2004, U2 singer Bono took to the stage of The Brighton Centre. He glided from the wings to centre stage with that famous sense of hubris, all too often indicative of the dual role: Rock Star/Humanitarian. This occasion, however, was unusual in many ways. He was not addressing the usual mass of devoted fans but a collection of Labour Party acolytes at their annual conference.

Here, he was not backed up by his band mates The Edge or Larry Mullin Jr; instead he felt the burning eyes of Leader Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown on his back. His analysis of the two was this, ‘They are kind of the John and Paul of the global development stage, in my opinion. But the point is; Lennon and McCartney changed my interior world. Blair and Brown can change the Real World’.

Six years later, Bono’s pop culture analogy feels oddly prophetic. Tony Blair is now beginning to resemble a washed-up rock star that has long since had a hit. Then again, isn’t this what he had always dreamt of?

…more interested in plucking a guitar than taking centre stage…

During his Oxford University days, Blair was more interested in plucking a guitar than taking centre stage as the charismatic front man of the Labour Party; and now without his position as the most powerful man in British politics, he appears rootless and disconnected from everyday life, whereas once his strength was engaging with the British people.

Although Brown’s hunger for power matched that of Blair, his end proved to be fittingly, far more poignant. After the desperate attempts to form a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats failed, Gordon walked away from Downing Street in the arms of his family and into the sunset of a quieter life.

Edward the Younger

On the 25th September 2010, a somewhat unexpected name was announced as the new leader of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband has finally stepped out of Brother David’s political shadow by securing the top job with a combination of sheer hard work and well-timed ruthlessness.

In Westminster, he is well known for possessing a healthy amount of what they call ‘emotional intelligence’ – that’s a rational human being to you and me – which was clearly lacking under the leadership of Gordon Brown. In fact, in his first leader’s speech, Miliband made reference to the dysfunctional New Labour family and the internal problems it caused.

…cunning political strategy…

But what else do we know of him? Ed is positioned to the left of the party, even if he is now desperate to present himself as an occupant of the ‘Centre Ground’. Ultimately, his Union backing proved to be the decisive factor in the contest. A painfully small 1% of extra votes sealed the victory for Ed and relegated David to the back bench lower leagues. Well, for now at least.

Ed’s rakish display of cunning political strategy has not subsided since the initial leadership victory. One could even argue that he has assembled his Shadow Cabinet team with a knowing wink attached. Ed Balls was long seen by those shuffling along the corridors of power at Labour HQ as a Future Shadow Chancellor. The protégé of Gordon Brown has many admirers within the Square Mile who see him as a very skilled economist.

…keeping the door open for his brother…

It seems even this was not enough to convince Ed, who installed Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor at the expense of Balls, who was given the post of Shadow Home Secretary. Perhaps Ed wanted to avoid a Blair/Brown style power struggle with his openly ambitious namesake. By appointing Johnson, is he merely keeping the door open for his brother to return when the elder statesman of Labour bows out?

On a rather more surreal note, the North Londoner has also accumulated an encyclopedic knowledge of the ‘Boston Red Sox’ Baseball team. Certain sections of the media have been very attracted to this facet of his personality, using it as evidence to explain what a ‘geeky’ and awkward individual he is; but could this be, albeit unintentional, another canny way of Miliband identifying with voters? The rise of the geek seems an unstoppable phenomenon. Recent figures suggest that 6 million people in Britain log into Facebook every day. Hollywood has even spun the tale of Mark Zuckerberg’s meteoric rise into a modern day Shakesperean tragedy.

…strike a balance between following his left-wing political heart and recognising the mood of the public…

Unfortunately for Miliband, the only ‘Strikes’ he will be concerned with at present involve the ubiquitous standoff between Mayor Boris Johnson and the RMT General Secretary Bob Crow. As the Union’s favoured son, Miliband will have to strike a balance between following his left-wing political heart and recognising the mood of the public, which could turn to total apathy if they are continually inconvenienced by Union Strikes.

He didn't notice the boat was sinking..

He didn’t notice the boat was sinking…

To tax or not to tax, that is the question

In Tony Blair’s recently published memoirs, he admits he nearly resigned in 2005 over the party’s refusal to accept his take on a fundamental issue. It wasn’t regarding his leadership of the party. It didn’t even concern the Iraq War and his failure to unearth Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was the introduction of Tuition Fees.

Blair was accused by his own party members of abandoning the core principles of Socialism by ignoring the financial vulnerability of Britain’s Student Population. Labour MP’s were incensed by the possibility that this could prevent hard-working and talented school leavers from progressing in their chosen field just because they did not have the required financial clout behind them.

…you will be ‘taxed’ over a long period of time…

In recent years, a more fashionable alternative has emerged with the idea of the Graduate Tax. This idea was welcomed by four out of the five Labour Leadership Candidates; Ed Miliband being one of them. This is a summary of what a Graduate Tax could mean for students:

  • Students would pay their tuition costs once they begin working – this would be in line with earnings so higher earners would pay more.
  • It may be the case that you will be ‘taxed’ over a long period of time. Possibly up to 20 years.
  • Sceptics have argued that you will just end up paying more if you go to University. The Russell Group has calculated that the top 20% of earners could pay up to £16,000 a year.

…will fail to bring down the deficit…

Interestingly, at the time of writing this piece, Business Secretary Vince Cable has made a policy u-turn so swift Lewis Hamilton would be proud of it. Once a champion of the Graduate Tax philosophy, Cable has now stated that it would be unfair, unworkable and will fail to bring down the deficit over the next five years. He had personally commissioned Lord Browne to produce a report on Student Fees which calls for the cap on fees to be lifted. The consequences of this would be Universities charging students from their own personal tariff.

It seems as if Vince Cable is heading directly into a collision course with not only his Liberal Democrat Supporters but the National Union of Students. If Ed Miliband can avoid the strikes, he may just get a home run after all.

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