Your grandfather fought in the Red Army in the years immediately following the October Revolution. Your father was a Marxist academic renowned for his critique of the Labour Party as a party obsessed with parliamentary politics which always prostrated itself before the capitalist status quo when in power. So what do you do to maintain the family tradition?
Well, if your name is David Miliband, you stand for election to the position of Labour Party leader as the standard-bearer of the Blairite right-wing, you say nothing about how to combat Tory/Lib-Dem attacks on the working class, and you focus purely and simply on what you (wrongly) think will allow Labour to win the next election.
Having raised more money than any of the other Labour Party leadership candidates (because you are the natural choice of the well-heeled and the well-bred, and you already have assorted Lords and millionaires backing you), you also send out mailshots to unsuspecting Labour Party members in which you try to con them into voting for you.
“We lost the last election,” explains Miliband in his mailshot. I want us to win the next one. But to do so we have to do things differently.” So the Parliamentary Labour Party will be kicking out the all the time-serving careerists in its ranks? It will mount a campaign of parliamentary disruption? It will support demonstrations, strikes and occupations against cuts in public spending?
Not quite. Miliband’s suggestions about how Labour should do politics “differently” turn out to equate pretty much to continuing to do them the way New Labour institutionalised them over the past two decades.
Miliband promises that he will “return democracy to the Party.” That sounds promising. So let’s not dwell on the fact that Miliband said nothing against the dismantling of party democracy in recent years, or the fact that he actually supported it.
But then you get to the small print. Restoring party democracy, it turns out, does not mean, say, restoring the right of Constituency Labour Parties to submit motions to national conference, or scrapping the inordinate power wielded by the Parliamentary Labour Party in the structures of the Labour Party.
It means… allowing an elected party chairperson to attend meetings of the Shadow Cabinet! “Doing politics differently”...?
Miliband says he “reject(s) the old political culture which sees members as cheerleaders, or as a problem to be controlled” and that he will “double party membership.”
But hang on a minute! Miliband’s rise to influence in the Labour Party went hand in hand with the manufacturing of a political culture in which the problem of members who could not be controlled was solved by replacing them with cheerleading clones, and by transforming party conferences into leader-worshipping rallies which prostrated themselves before the likes of... David Miliband.
Miliband welcomed the leadership’s “liberation” from Party members who thought that decisions on party policy and election manifestos should be made by the membership rather than by Oxford graduates who fancied a career in the Labour Party.
And the promise to double party membership? The last time we heard that kind of talk was when Blair was elected party leader in 1994 and declared a membership target of a million. What happened? Party membership slumped from 405,000 in 1997 to 280,000 in 2002.
Miliband says he will “maintain the union link and recruit trade unionists to Labour.” What does he mean? He means that he will oppose “the Tory-Liberal government plan to break the union link.”
That, if is true, would certainly be progress. Miliband’s collaboration in attacking Labour-union links includes his support for the decision of the 2007 Labour Party conference to ban trade unions from submitting policy motions to Labour Party conference. Perhaps severing the Labour-union link is not a job for Tories and Liberal Democrats – it’s a job for David Miliband and his acolytes.
Milliband will give selected party members community organising skills. He will “give a voice for Labour councillors in the Shadow Cabinet” by allowing “the leader of Labour’s councillors” to attend Shadow Cabinet meetings. And he will create seats on the National Executive Committee (NEC) for representation from the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties.
So Miliband’s recipe for “doing politics differently” and revolutionising the Labour Party consists of getting a couple of blokes from Wales and Scotland to attend NEC meetings, getting a councillor and the Labour Party chair to attend Shadow Cabinet meetings, and encouraging more people to join the Labour Party.
Miliband’s “vision” of a transformed Labour Party is rather like his first conference speech (in 2007) as Foreign Secretary, when he promised to learn from past mistakes, change from the foreign policy of the last ten years, and launch “a second wave of New Labour foreign policy.”
In the event, and despite all the promises of change, things carried on very much as before, with Miliband’s best known achievement as Foreign Secretary being his unsuccessful attempt to cover up British complicity in torture in the ‘war on terror’.
But “Vote Miliband for Torture” is not a likely vote-winner.