What kind of a prat calls his own brother "a huge talent"?
Probably the same kind of guy whose every single social grace is undermined by that most poisonous of things: ambition. David Miliband and his brother Edward are now apparently locked in a struggle for the soul of the "Labour movement". Identikit blandness that bares a strange likeness to those other Labour political siblings: Douglas and Wendy Alexander. It is not a struggle based on vision, or principles, or ideology: it is simple, naked political ambition. Yet onto this tabula rasa we are invited to project our deepest wishes for the future of the Labour Party, and by implication the future of the Left in Britain.
I am not sure that the left has actually got a future.
Yes I know, many of the most obdurate Socialists will laugh, they believe, as did David Cameron, that the mistakes of their political enemies will ultimately deliver them power upon the next swing of the political pendulum. Yet, as Mr. Cameron must now ruefully concede, politics is changing in unexpected ways: the rise of the Conservatives was supposed to wipe out the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but in fact in the heat and light of the result, it is easy to forget that the Lib Dems actually polled over 800,000 more votes than in 2005- their supposed high water mark.
Some, including some inside the Liberal Democrats suggest that the failure of the Lib Dems to secure a "progressive coalition" with Labour was in some way a betrayal of the Radical tradition in British politics. I beg to differ: The betrayal was made early on in the Labour years when all the promises of electoral and political reform were shelved by the Labour government itself. For Labour "progressive politics" meant simply a bigger state. Yet the Liberal Democrats opposed these attempts by Labour to build a bigger state from the very beginning: ID cards, cuts to local power (and budgets), not to mention the disgrace of an unnecessary war and so on. Blair and Brown did not even pretend to be liberal, yet that word does indeed drop softly- if possibly insincerely- from David Cameron's lips. The proof of his sincerity comes in the very offer of coalition- and that offer has transformed British politics, perhaps for ever.
As each of the Labour contenders seeks to map out a course back to political power for the Labour Party, they must now concede that British politics may now have left the zig-zag of left-right governments and entered a new era of far less tribal thinking. The fact is that the left in power did not display the clarity of moral purpose that their rather preachy attitudes towards their opponents should imply. In fact the Blair-Brown years were political in the very worst sense: Mandelsonian spin and Campbellian dirty tricks. The Milbands, or Ed Balls may deny they are New Labour- but the very phrase "next Labour" must surely have come form the play book of the Dark Lord Mandelson himself. This is not new- it is the same old spin.
Meanwhile we are invited to admire the principles of the father of these two prodigies, the unrelentingly Marxist Ralph Miliband. My contempt and loathing of Soviet Socialists is about equal to my loathing and contempt for National Socialists. That the left can still not recognise that the Marxists amongst them were either deluded fellow travellers or accomplices to a murderous and evil regime is one of its least attractive features. I find the faintly affectionate tolerance for Stalinism amongst the Labour Party (Jack Straw: "I was never a Trotskyite. I was a "Tankie" i.e. he supported sending the tanks in to crush the Prague Spring) utterly repellent.
In many ways the idea of the Labour Party, that strong interventionist government is not only necessary but beneficent, is indeed a Marxist one. It suggests a faith in the state that over rides any other empowerment of communities or individuals: it is deeply hierarchical -even dare I say it "class" oriented, that the many should remove all privileges given to the few- no matter how acquired.
It is also increasingly obsolete. In a world of peer review and collaboration- of which the coalition itself is a good example- the Labour Party clings to Socialist hierarchy and centralisation. Ironically the only thing that comes between Labour and disaster is the unprincipled ambition of its leadership contenders. Yet unless the new leader of the Labour Party utterly rejects the idea of the big state and is able to replace it with some other more relevant ideology, the fact is that Labour could indeed come third at the next election, as it threatened to in 2010.
That truly would be a triumph for the "New Politics".