As the Tories push through the biggest attacks on the welfare state in history, the silence from Labour leader Ed Miliband has been deafening.
His much-hyped speech this week was meant to signal the start of his party’s fightback. Instead it simply continued Labour’s rightward drift.
The speech came after a week of leaks and gossip about the lost love between Ed and his brother, David.
This squabbling is often presented as frictions between “great men”, following the previous spectacle of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
But behind the personalities, there is a political battle over the direction of the party.
The leak of secret documents from shadow chancellor Ed Balls this week spells out the 2005 plot to oust Blair and to install Brown—and Ed Miliband’s own role in it.
These tensions continue to exist, and can be seen in the Blairites’ apparent attempts to further weaken Ed in the hope that David can replace him.
David’s “vision” for the party was shown in the leadership victory speech he never got to make, which was also leaked last week.
Rather than lay into the Tories for their savage spending cuts, David Miliband focused on the need to reduce the deficit.
His supporters have attacked Ed for being too “left wing”—a fact illustrated by his supposed friendliness to the unions and hostility to big business.
Ed’s strategy, though, is not to oppose all cuts, just to argue that the government is cutting “too deeply and too quickly”. He has embraced “Blue Labour”, a clique trying to take the party further to the right while using some left rhetoric.
Their ideas allow Ed to try to balance two pressures. The unions want him to go on the offensive against the Tories, while most Labour MPs demand that he set out a “realistic” economic policy that accepts the need for savage cuts.
So he pledges to get more working people into council housing—but instead of building more homes, he wants to do it by prioritising those who have no history of “anti-social behaviour”.
Worst of all, Ed used his speech to attack the so-called undeserving poor—sick and unemployed people—for “ripping off society”.
But he also realises that Labour needs to reconnect with its working class base.
So he tried to balance his attacks on the poor with talk of punishing the very rich—wheeling out some rhetoric about the scandal of runaway bankers’ bonuses.
He talked of publishing the scandalous salaries of fat cats, letting people see what these rich parasites get. Though he didn’t talk about taking their cash.
But working people already know the massive injustice of economic inequality. It is laid bare every time a cabinet minister opens their mouth.
And it’s nothing short of a scandal to see a Labour leader equate those trying to survive on incapacity benefits with the pampered billionaires in the banks and the boardrooms.
It is not the poorest who have caused the economic crisis—it is the greed of the filthy rich and the economic system they serve.
Ed Miliband cannot see past the neoliberal blinkers he has inherited from his predecessors.
His New Labour ideals are still the basis of his policy decisions, even as he now tries to dress them up in left wing clothes.
He paints working class people as bigots who want a crackdown on benefit recipients, immigrants and criminals.
Neither of the Milibands offers a real alternative to the Tory onslaught—and both accept that society should be run in the interests of big business not human need.
The real fightback must come though resistance from below.