What’s Ed Miliband about? In a word: socialism. You can think this a good or a bad thing, but there ought to be no doubt about where he stands. At a Q&A in the Labour conference last night, he was challenged by an activist: When will you bring back socialism?’ ‘That’s what we are doing, sir’ Miliband replied, quick as a flash. ‘That’s what we are doing. It says on our party card: democratic socialism’. It was being filmed, and your baristas at Coffee House have tracked down the clip as an exclusive. This little exchange will perhaps tell you more about Ed Miliband and his agenda than much of the over-wrought character-spinning stunts you can expect to see this week.
It was no slip of the tongue. Miliband’s fidelity to socialism is explained by his definition of it – as he says on the clip. He seems to regard ‘socialism’ as synonymous with justice, and ‘capitalism’ with injustice. When interviewed in the Daily Telegraph by Charles Moore this time last year, he put it thusly:
‘Isn’t the great lesson from his parents’ that socialism was a god that failed? ‘No!’, exclaims Ed Miliband vehemently, because socialism is not a rigid economic doctrine, but ‘a set of values’ It is ‘a tale that never ends’. Indeed, the strange fact is that ‘While there’s capitalism, there’ll be socialism, because there is always a response to injustice.’
Miliband’s father, Ralph, was made famous by his book Parliamentary Socialism. His 1993 book, Socialism for a Sceptical Age, was about the continued relevance of socialism in a post-communist world. Ed Miliband has said that the final few sentences of this book are his favourites of all his father’s work:
‘In all the countries there are people in numbers large and small who are moved by the vision of a new social order in which democracy, egalitarianism and co-operation – the essential values of socialism – would be the prevailing values of social organization. It is in the growth of their numbers and in the success of their struggles that lies the best hope for mankind.’
Miliband considered his father too ‘dogmatic and sectarian’ on many things, but appeared to agree with them on this. And personally, I’m all in favour. There is a long history of British socialism, which Ralph Miliband did much to document.
Many in the Labour Party recoil from the s-word (Rachel Reeves did this morning), but “The Leader” (as he asks his aides to call him) makes no bones out it in conversation. Many of his enemies say he has no principles at all: this is flatly untrue. For all his faults, Miliband does not lack ideological direction. It’s pretty clear that Ed Miliband regards himself as the man who’ll bring socialism back to Downing St.