Monday, 3 October 2011

Bagehot: Ed’s Dangerous Dream

THE ECONOMIST: The more you look at Labour’s new capitalism, the worse it seems

ED MILIBAND, the Labour leader, gave the speech of his life at his party’s annual conference on September 27th. Then he died and went to heaven. At least, it looked like that from the hall.
Grave of tone and dressed for a funeral (charcoal suit, slate-grey tie), Mr Miliband spent almost an hour telling British voters that what they want is a new, more moral economy—one that rewards “producers“ and workers, but punishes “predators” and cheats of all kinds, from bosses wrongly rewarded for failure to scroungers fiddling their welfare claims. Then, his elfin wife at his side, Mr Miliband slowly climbed a staircase to a doorway flooded with blinding light, as if passing to another realm.

After just a year as leader of the opposition, it is a little early for apotheosis. The daily press was scathing about what was—dodgy stage-management aside—a dreary, earthbound slab of oratory. A lurch to the left bereft of clear policies, said many newspapers. Nobody was listening, argued others: in an age of snap judgments, this baby-faced, panda-eyed policy wonk is too “weird” to earn a public hearing.

All true, perhaps. But it was still the speech of Mr Miliband’s life, summing up what he wants for Britain. If it was confusing at times, that may be because Mr Miliband frightens himself with his beliefs, which run some distance beyond where public opinion is thought to lie. Thus he expressed his views in code.

Those views matter. For all his flaws, he is at least the second most likely candidate to be prime minister after the next election. Mr Miliband is, at heart, a continental-style social democrat, with a Germanic admiration for consensual capitalism and a weakness for French-style industrial policy. His shadow cabinet allies can talk for hours about the iniquities of Anglo-Saxon globalised capitalism and the stagnation of rewards for the “squeezed middle” of workers. They bemoan the way that Labour ministers turned “too late” to activist industrial policies in the years before the 2010 election. » | Bagehot | Saturday, October 01, 2011