David Milliband? Ed Milliband? The Steve Miller Band? We’ve been inundated with emails from comrades in the labour movement – the party and the unions – asking for advice on who to vote for in the Leadership election. With only a very few weeks to go, we thought we should publish a Thee Faction guide to the runners and riders. Then we realised that we haven’t actually had a meeting about this, so this is going to have to be me, Baby Face, writing in a personal capacity. So here it is: baby Face’s form guide to the Labour Leadership Contest.
The front-runner is, of course, David Milliband. The only thing he has going for him is his dad. For those who don’t remember, Ralph Milliband was a prominent figure in the New Left throughout the post-war era. If you haven’t read his “State in Capitalist Society” go out and do so now. It’s a barnstorming Marxist analysis of the relationship between base and superstructure. But Ralph is dead, and number one son shows no signs of having taken any notice either of his father or the host of legends of socialism that gathered round his dining table: EP Thompson, Raymond Williams, Raphael Samuel, Stuart Hall, Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn and so on. Instead he’s already sold himself to some big old donors, who will be wanting something back. Whatever rich fellas like that want back, it won’t be in the interests of thee or me. Plus David Milliband consistently served in the Cabinet in the second half of that last Labour administration – not a government that covered itself in glory.
Verdict: centre-right, heritage-ignoring, capitalist-courting careerist. No good socialist will be voting for him. An ideology-free policy wonk.
Next up is his brother Ed. Now, Ed shows a lot more signs of having listened to his old man, and clearly paid attention at the socialist dinner table. He’s untainted by an awful lot of the last Cabinet’s mistakes, having been called up pretty late in the game. Indeed, central to his campaign is the belief that “we need to put the mistakes of New Labour firmly behind us”. I was out drinking with our old comrade, Loose Cannon, last night. He is recommending that good comrades vote for Ed Milliband. I questioned this whole ‘putting our values first’ slogan. Comrade Cannon was clear: it’s code. When you hear ‘our values’ you are s’posed to translate that into ‘socialist ideology’. Interestingly, when you do so the results are splendid. Thus Ed M’s foreign policy (with appropriate translation) is: Ensuring that war is always the last resort and that our foreign policy is based on socialist ideology, not just our alliances. Or: We need to rebuild trust in our party and we have to show that we are a party of socialist ideology. Now, Comrade Cannon’s job places him at the heart of the Westminster machine, so he is well placed to understand how we are to translate this code. If he is right, and the man is never wrong, Ed M is clearly the candidate of choice.
Verdict: his father’s son. Gets his backing from individual comrades and unions throughout the movement, not big business or wealthy individuals. The big three unions: Unite, Unison and the GMB – two of which Baby Face has been an elected official of in his time, so they have impeccable socialist credentials – all back Ed M. As do the NUM. ‘Nuff said. Just remember the code, brothers and sisters. When he says ‘our values’ you hear ‘socialist ideology’. And he’s a good looking boy who will appeal to the floaters.
Diane Abbott. Thee Faction have a lot of time for Comrade Abbott. Consistently opposed to bad stuff, and consistently supportive of good stuff, she has almost never put a foot wrong. OK, some brothers and sisters were upset by her decision to send her son to City of London school. But the problem isn’t in individuals making use of private schools. It’s in their existence in the first place. And the other candidates sat in a Cabinet, or succession of Cabinets, which allowed these cathedrals of privilege to retain all their charitable tax advantages. That’s a far bigger crime against you, the people, than Diane’s decision to use the facility. So why are we not uncritically supporting her in this leadership race? Because all of her messages, rhetoric and polemic are based solely on the need for a strong opposition. She sees herself as leader of the Labour Party in opposition, but not in government. And we need a party that is preparing itself to run the show, and offer us leadership not just in opposition, but beyond and into a socialist society. Besides, she’ll walk into the Shadow Cabinet in the elections, and will be an excellent conscience of the party – far better than the renegade former comrade Short was in the 90s.
Verdict: We love Diane. We love the shambling amateurism of her campaign, and we love her ability, despite that, to look more ‘statesman-like’ than the others at the hustings. We want her at the heart of the Shadow Cabinet. But she doesn’t talk like the leader of the next Labour Government, so Baby Face can’t back her.
Andy Milburn. Has a great big chip on his shoulder. Which is great when attacking the right, but less great when dealing with his own comrades. None of us is even sure how he ended up in the Cabinet. I certainly don’t want him as leader. I’m confused as to how he’s even still in the race. I just hope he sends out a clear message for where his few supporters should place their second preferences, and that that isn’t based on a tactical plot to get himself a top three job in a David Milliband Shadow Cabinet. If it is, shame on him.
Verdict: surely not even his closest friends think he’s a realistic option. So he’s in it to secure a senior job from whoever he redirects his second preferences to. Poor show. Vote for a proper candidate.
Ed Balls. Ed Balls has three things going for him. And they are very very important things. One, he fucking hates Tories. It’s a visceral thing for Balls. He loathes them. Thee Faction love that in him. Absolutely love that. That is a big plus point for Balls. The second thing, and equally important, is that he’s a proper democratic socialist. No fucking about. Stick him round a table with Nye Bevan, Kier Hardie, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, they will spend hours discussing what they have in common before accidentally stumbling upon a couple of minor obstacles to total agreement. Balls is a solid comrade. Rock solid. Thee Faction love Balls. Balls’s vision for democratic socialism, which he quietly pursued in the Cabinet, is one where everyone participates in the welfare state. It’s not a safety net. It’s an all-inclusive facilitator of cross-class communication. Sure Start being a superb example. As soon as everyone takes part in what the welfare state has to offer, there is no stigma attached to it. Spot on, comrade. The third key thing about Balls is he understands the basic rule of socialism: economics is at the root of everything. He’s a Marxist. And that matters. He is one of us. So why isn’t Baby Face unreservedly backing Balls? It’s embarrassing, but true: Blinky Balls won’t be winning us any votes on the GMTV sofa. Stick him in the Shadow Chancellor’s job, with Ed M at the helm, and you’ve got a much more ideological version of Brown and Blair. That is to say, you’ve got a winning combination of proper socialists who can lead us through opposition and into government. And beyond.
Verdict: we love Balls. He hates Tories, he’s a Marxist, and he has a winning vision for what democratic socialism is all about. But he’s a socialist’s socialist. He’s got to be leading the Party, but he can’t be the public face of the Party. I reluctantly recommend that you make Ed Milliband your first choice.
That’s Baby Face’s analysis. Other Guild-members may offer their own. Of course, the election itself is a minefield of bourgeois electoral gimmickry – a veritable lib-dem-fest of transferable votes and whathaveyou. But so long as socialists are at the top of your list, and renegades and bourgeois lackeys at the bottom, we can’t go wrong.
And if you haven’t got a vote in this contest: why not? Join the party, or an affiliated trade union. Or the Co-operative Party. Or one of the socialist societies. There’s got to be an institution affiliated to the Labour Party where you’d feel at home. Britain is unusual in that it has a dominant party of the left that has come straight out of the labour movement proper. Let’s not forget that, or squander it, or let petty ideological squabbling get in the way of it. It’s our party, to shape as we please.