Media Ambivalence About ‘Red Ed’ is a Sign of the Times

October 4, 2010 12:41 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

A certain nervous apprehensiveness has gripped the nation’s mainstream media in the wake of Ed Miliband’s success in last week’s Labour leadership election. Our esteemed opinion formers know full well that ‘Red Ed’ is hardly an old-fashioned ‘red’, and yet there is more to the banding about of this nickname than a simple matter of a tongue-in-cheek initiation. It is indicative of the total abandonment, within the mainstream discourse, of any pretence that we have a pluralist politics in this country. The message is simple: there is a consensus in place, because we are in a time of crisis; if you should find happen to find yourself a few inches to the left of this consensus, then you will be called a ‘red’. Gently, perhaps – but not exactly ironically.

It is a way of thought that extends to the Labour party itself, as exemplified by a finger-wagging Alistair Darling, who has spent much of this past week warning Labour supporters about the electoral dangers of abandoning what he called ‘realistic’ politics in the current economic climate. Darling is a man who knows that his time is up, and from the solemnity and condescension of his delivery one might think he now fancied himself as a sort of Cassandra figure, destined to be tragically disregarded. An electoral defeat following a leftward ‘lurch’ would probably flatter his considerable vanity – a final ideological vindication. The use of this rather prevalent word ‘lurch’, incidentally, is instructive; parties ‘move’ to the right or the centre; if they turn to the left they are said to ‘lurch’, like so many monsters, zombies and automatons – often malevolent, always unthinking.

The Tory-Liberal coalition is determined to see through its attack on the welfare state, and in this task it has the support of the overwhelming majority of mainstream journalists. The thing must be kept going at all costs, and a Labour revival – particularly if founded on a successful appeal to the party’s traditional support – might put the cuts agenda in jeopardy. For now the critics are restricting themselves to offering what looks like advice; see, for example, former Blair spin doctor Matthew Taylor urging Miliband to ‘win the hard-headed middle’ (Financial Times, 27/09/2010). Such warnings are almost invariably – and utterly disingenuously – couched in terms of a disinterested concern for the party’s electoral prospects. In most cases, however, it is not failure that they fear but success.

Interestingly, the debate across the Atlantic is proceeding along very similar lines, except that in the US it is the incumbent who is being gently warned off progressive remedies by the nation’s wisest commentators. The tone is exemplified by the FT’s Clive Crook (‘Lead from the Centre, Mr President’. 27/09/2010), who prescribes that, ‘Whoever is advising Mr Obama that the progressive base matters more for his prospects than the aspiring middle class deserves a reset, preferably without anaesthetic.’ The dominant theme throughout all of this is this notion that there is no alternative solution to the present economic crisis, that savage cuts in welfare are the only solution. It is a myth. With the right leader, the right team and the right policies, it is perfectly possible to win a general election – and ultimately get the country back on its feet – on a progressive platform.


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This post was written by Nathaniel Mehr

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