The “gay girl blogger” in Damascus was really a male student in Edinburgh. Labour movement activists must be wondering whether the “leader of the Labour Party” is really some dimwitted Blairite apparatchik.
As the Tories launch their Workfare scheme and their slightly-modified NHS marketisation plans, Ed Miliband made a speech on 12 June... pillorying people on incapacity benefit for not getting jobs, and recommending local authorities allocate council housing not by need but by whether tenants have jobs or do voluntary work.
He also said, rightly, that:
• New Labour “saw responsibility as only applying to those on benefits... That meant the responsibilities of others were ignored — the business executives, the bankers, the Chief Executives”.
• Even after the financial crisis, “the Confederation of British Industry, the Financial Services Authority and even the Governor of the Bank of England sounded more willing to speak out on top pay than [New Labour] did”.
• “We cannot lecture people on benefits about responsibility if we do not also address the problem at the top”.
• The Government is not “ensuring there is the work available for people who are responsible”.
But all he proposed to tackle “the problem at the top” was that companies should publish the ratio of the pay of their top earner to that of their average earner. Since we already know, and Ed Miliband mentioned it, that “just in the last 10 years, the pay of someone at the top of a company has gone from 69 times the average wage to 145 times”, there is no reason to suppose that just publishing will reduce inequality.
Miliband anxiously assured “entrepreneurs and business people who generate wealth” that he “applauded” them getting rich.
He ruled out higher taxes on the rich by saying that “back in the 1970s, very high rates of taxation put people off creating greater wealth”. (In fact, the high tax rates then on top pay dated back to 1945, and had gone together with three decades of unprecedented economic growth and relatively restrained inequality in Britain).
Miliband proposed harsh and decisive measures only for the “problem at the bottom”. In fact, the New Labour government already started a drive to throw people off incapacity benefit, which the coalition government is continuing with extra zeal.
Oddly, Miliband cited as his example of an “irresponsible” person at the “bottom” of society, the counterpart of Fred Goodwin at the “top”, the other side of the vice of irresponsibility supposedly squeezing the “middle”, an un-named man he had met in local-election campaigning who had been on incapacity benefit for a decade.
The man’s injuries, suffered at work, were real. He was “a good man who cared for his children”. Only Ed Miliband, from meeting the man casually, just knew that “there were other jobs he could do”, and presumably had failed to take from sheer idleness.
2.46 million jobless, even on underestimated official figures; the Government slashing jobs daily; the Government continuing New Labour’s cuts in jobs at Remploy, the firm set up specially to organise jobs for disabled people; and Ed Miliband somehow knows, straight off, that this “good man” is really malingering?
The twist to the Ed Miliband story is the Labour’s hardline-Blairites, while pushing him to make this sort of brainless speech, are also pushing to oust him and replace him by one of their own, who will make such speeches with more zest and fewer tiresome grumblings about the rich.
The left and the unions should start organising pressure on Ed Miliband to stand up for the non-New-Labour approach he promised when contesting for the party leadership. That is also the best way to counter the pressure for a hardline-Blairite coup against him.