Political Promise

The centre isn’t centre-right…

In Alex Gabriel on September 27, 2010 at 9:09 am

…and Ed will get more votes than his critics think, argues Alex Gabriel.

In the twenty-four hours since Ed Miliband beat his brother, the right wing commentariat exploded with reactionary statements. Sayeeda Warsi said Labour was ‘abandoning the centre ground’ and that he wasn’t the choice of members or MPs whilst The Daily Telegraph provided us with ‘Labour have handed David Cameron the next election‘ , ‘Get ready for “Red” Ed Miliband’, and ‘Christmas has come early for David Cameron’. Blairite voices were uncharacteristically silent all of a sudden, as Ed’s victory with union backing was branded ‘a lurch to the left’.

Through all of this, I couldn’t help but feel a note of Daily Mail hysteria resonate across the country, and a similar one at that to what greeted Vince Cable when he said that capitalism ‘kills competition’ last week. Without hesitation, right-wingers pronounced him variously to be Marxist, anti-business and absurd. Of course Ed Miliband is more left wing than Blair, Brown or his brother – he wants to make the 50p rate permanent and raise the minimum wage – but that doesn’t make him comparable to Michael Foot or Tony Benn, as those who opposed him suggest. It seems that lately, anything vaguely cente-left is cast as Trotskyite.

There are people I’ve met who do want to nationalise all industries; there are some I’ve less frequently met who want to privatise them all. (I’m much more likely to meet the former of course, so let’s assume their numbers are roughly the same.) By definition, the centre is equidistant between the two, and it’s where most British people place themselves politically: as Ian Dunt puts it, we like the BBC and NHS but we don’t want t-shirts provided by the state. Especially under a partisan system, almost nobody stands exactly at the centre, but all our major politicians are well within its area. David Cameron once talked about ‘sensible centre-right leadership’ for the Conservatives, just as Miliband sits on the sensible centre-left, and comparing him to Tony Benn is like comparing Cameron to Glenn Beck.

If anything, the bulk of ordinary swing voters seem to agree more at present with Ed than David. Contrary to the sentiments of Tony Blair’s A Journey, seventy-six percent of people told YouGov they thought New Labour was too soft post-recession on banks; sixty-two percent also thought the 50p rate should apply to £100k earners as well, and around the same number thought the VAT raise was wrong. These, it would seem, are the people who voted Lib Dem or abstained this year and whose votes Ed Miliband pledges to win back, the ‘progressive majority’ Gordon Brown spoke about when he resigned. When Tony Blair or Sayeeda Warsi accuse him of straying from the centre ground, then, they’re assuming the centre ground is somewhere that it isn’t.

In Blair’s case this seems largely bound up with his view of the ‘middle class, middle income Britain’ whose votes he attracted – again, the definition of ‘middle’ went ignored. The UK’s median wage is just shy of £21,000, the mean average just over £25,000; only ten percent earn more than £40,000 and only one percent more than £100k. The real middle income voters are mechanics, teachers, secretaries and support staff, not the ex-yuppy lawyers courted by Blair with prep school children and property abroad. Those votes were the last ones Blair held onto post-Iraq, but which by this year had crossed wholly into David Cameron’s hands while teachers and mechanics feared austerity and started to come back.

Not only can Ed Miliband appeal to the real middle earners, but we know from his leadership win that he already has. Those people in £20-25,000 jobs who’ve come back to Labour and who stand to be hit by cuts are also the ones who tend to be trade union members, from whom Ed’s decisive votes came in the final ballot. Jack Jones and Arthur Scargill didn’t gather in the pub to decide on the Labour leader; while union bosses are generally very left-wing, their votes are no differently weighted from those of their members. More than seven million people belong to trade unions in this country, and if all of them were Bennites or Marxists then the last few elections would have looked a good deal different, so the votes that got Ed Miliband the leadership came from the people his party needs to target.

Right wingers aren’t scared of him just yet, but they should be. While his brother would have challenged Cameron for the supposedly centrist votes of the so-called middle classes, Ed Miliband will reach out to the genuine middle Britain neglected by New Labour and unite their votes in a way that would have won this year’s election. Dump on the record as he might, the Tories underestimate him at their peril.

  1. Great Article, Thinking outside the media box 🙂

    I like that Ed won – It mixes everything up more and David is just that bit creepier (and awkward).

  2. […] of the Labour Party. Nicole Berry first broke the news on the Sunday night, and Vicky Wong and Alex Gabriel were quick to comment soon after. Speaking of the rivalry of the two brothers, Vicky wrote she was […]

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