With just over a year to go to
the next UK General Election, Ed Miliband, remains set on
a most peculiar course.
Ever since he became leader of his party he
has sought to push himself forward as
the champion of the so-called "squeezed middle". Some of us have thought it
would be more appropriate for him to be concentrating on the "broken bottom," for want of a more felicitous phrase.
He was at it again over the weekend,
once more talking up the difficulties facing Britain's middle class, which he claimed (dubiously) was "hollowed out with growing insecurity", and promising he would sort
its problems if he became Prime Minister.
I doubt if the middle class, which is
of course difficult to define, has been struggling as much as he suggests. Indeed many, perhaps most, of the middle class have come through the recession in comparative comfort.
Their living standards have not been seriously damaged. And George Osborne's recent Budget was an unashamed attempt to make life easier for the middle class, especially its older members.
So surely at this time of all times Mr Miliband should be true to his party's long term traditions.
Surely his prime concern should be to help those without jobs, those on welfare, and possibly most important of all, the impoverished employed - those who are
in work, but earn less than £20,000 a year. Surely his main political focus should be on giving these millions of citizens some hope their lives might improve.
His current positioning reminds me, ominously, of Tony Blair's contortions in the mid-1990s. This was when he managed to hijack the Labour Party to make it
appeal directly to the middle class,
while supposedly not jettisoning its soul.
Never one to undersell himself, Mr Blair described his efforts as "transformative
They were certainly electorally successful, for he went on to win three General Elections in a row. But his legacy was a gaping gap on the Left, and nobody since has managed to fill it: certainly not Gordon Brown.
Reacting to this eager "dash to the middle", Britain's pre-eminent trade union baron, Len McCluskey, is threatening to start a completely new union-backed Left wing political party if Labour does not win the 2015 General Election.
Ironically, this almost endorses
Mr Miliband's strategy, although I am sure that was not Mr McCluskey's intention. If Mr Miliband does win the election, he will have won it with many middle class votes, and he will have to pander to the middle, to "unsqueeze" it, in his own jargon. So perhaps Mr McCluskey should instead be threatening to start a new party if Mr Miliband wins rather than loses.
All this suggests that those on the Left
in most of the UK are more or less disenfranchised, rather as the Right in Scotland is. Of course that point begs the question of whether the SNP is as Left wing as it some times claims to be.
But I think it is indubitable that is a Left of centre party.
Meanwhile, in the context of the UK,
it is deeply worrying the Left is being consigned to near perpetual oblivion.
The tributes to the late Tony Benn were apposite; here was a man who suddenly seemed, posthumously, to be everyone's favourite politician.
But Tony Benn was treated with retrospective fondness and appreciation because most of those who claimed
to admire and like him knew that
his actual political beliefs would never become reality.
I would position myself as marginally
to the right of centre. Even so, I am very uneasy about the current eclipse of the
Left; it represents a potential crisis for everybody, not just those whom the Left should be directly championing.
George Osborne is going to be able to
go into the General Election next year saying he has got it fixed; employment
is rising, living standards are rising.
But who will be speaking for the very considerable minority who are missing out? Not Ed Miliband, for one.