Ed Miliband’s ‘big vision’ for the Labour Party from now until the next general election is ‘One Nation’. It’s a sort of alternative ‘we’re all in this together.’ The idea is that to be a ‘one nation’ Prime Minister, you have to reach equilibrium between often competing interests. So for example, he says that Labour must, in the spirit of the Olympics (which he referred to heavily) be a party for all people, and of all interests:
“We must be the party of the private sector just as much as the party of the public sector. As much the party of the small business struggling against the odds as of the home helper struggling against the cuts. We must be the party of south just as much as the party of the north. We must be the party as much as the squeezed middle as those in poverty. There is no future for this party as the party of one sectional interest of our country.”
It is predictable that many in the media and chattering classes try to look for something different, something uniquely ‘Milibandist’. They seem to talk endlessly about the fact he didn’t use an auto que as if that is some sort of achievement, and there is a lot of talk about us seeing ‘the real Miliband.’ But in reality there is no need for over complicating the One Nation spiel: it is simply Blairism mark two. It reflects a dash for the centre ground and attempts to subdue union anger about Labour supporting the public sector pay freeze and austerity on the one hand and placate big business on the other.
It is as if we live in a vacuum society, without structural inequality and poverty. He imagines that a society of opposites can be overcome without conflict between them, that the circle can be squared.
Many on the left, particularly the ailing Labour left, desperate to cling on to some thread of hope, have taken comfort in his class based taunting of the Tories. He calls them out of touch, elite and says they feel they ‘were born to rule’. There are two things to say about this. Firstly, this is not anything unusual for Labour Party conferences. Anti toryism spliced with a neoliberal policy agenda is an attempt to rally the party branches, but keeps them disciplined in third way ideology. Secondly, he is under growing pressure to articulate and express the anger of the Labour heartlands. They can’t afford to ignore that, but they equally can’t afford to come out in favour of the unions, of strikes and of the anti-austerity movement. Because after all comrade, we all know there ‘must be cuts.’
One Nation is a neat way of encapsulating Blairism re-loaded. But better still it feeds directly into the national question. Why would Scotland not want to be part of one nation? Surely it would be better to stick together, to forge a nation built together, for north and south, for privatisation and the welfare state. For a society in which all interests are served.
Except we already know this is not possible. Its not possible to have austerity and growth, or foundation hospitals and protection for the NHS. Johan Lamont has already told us this. In one nation, we must make choices about free prescription charges versus free education. We must end a society that gets something for nothing, by building one in which we choose one benefit over another instead of having the ambition to have them all, and more besides, available.
One nation reflects the internal problems the Labour party face. These will intensify as the economic crisis grows and resistance to it emerges. In Scotland there is fury amongst many labour Party members, particularly those most involved in anti-cuts work. But to the strategists, these are irrelevancies. One Nation is out to get the swing voter. It does nothing whatsoever to excite the core electoral support of the Labour Party, who will vote in any event to remove the Tories from power.
And vote they will, but build a party of Labour they will not. One Nation is new, new labour. This will become evident in the coming years, because it’s impossible to build a movement that claims to express the interests of workers yet seeks to placate, nay encourage, the neoliberals at every turn.
Deconstructing ‘One Nation’
One Nation reinforces Blairism by re-packaging it. Re-packaging an unpopular product, available to everyone regardless of your interest, free of any added principles. Principle is something Miliband likes to talk about. He started his speech by talking about his faith in the need to build a better, fairer world. He is not unaware of the inherent contradictions in the system, and yet he espouses a political formula that eliminates the problems of the free market and supplants them with a contradicting duality of forces.
And that is why the real lives of people who are trodden on in the system will never be articulated or expressed by Blairite Labour. Miliband says work is ‘so important; in leading a dignified life’. That’s true. But don’t try and tell us that year after year in a dead end job, fending off the workplace little Hitlers is dignified. Don’t tell us to accept minimum wage jobs when fat cats are living a life of luxury. Ed – you cant cover up how far gone this society is.
Miliband is a sponge for dominant narratives recycled by the media establishment and political elite, and instead of actually laying a challenge to them, he and his One Nation cronies simply attempt to reflect all sides at once and in practical terms take the side of the bosses, the privateers and the rich every time bar none.
Remember, this is the same ideology that gave us Iraq, PFI, growing inequality and contempt for the trade union movement. Think back to N30, the biggest day of strikes in living memory. Miliband said of them: ‘these strikes are wrong, both sides should get round the negotiating table because the parents and the public have been let down by both sides’. Come on people, get with the One Nation picture! You can have a pay freeze, and your pensions destroyed, but you can also take pride in the Olympics and our determination to see it through together, all of us as one.
The Lamont link
Lamont’s recent speech has already been discussed on this website, but it is worth expanding briefly on the strategy which seems to be coming together now. Lamont’s speech looks now like a prelude to One Nation rhetoric. But there is something deeper going on.
The concept of One Nation, is part of the framework for Lamont’s rage at the SNP. One nation, will involve an attempt to prevent further devolution, and to try to retrench the power of Westminster. The time line of events that will adorn the laptops of the Labour strategists is an ambitious attempt to take Westminster and Holyrood.
The referendum in 2014 will run in parallel with Labour’s UK wide electoral strategy. This is why, for them, One Nation is so important. The aim is to make it common knowledge, through the lense of One Nation on repeat, that Labour will take power in the 2015 Westminster election. The hope is this will offset the pro-independence vote, if a section of that vote is based on anti-Tory anger. If independence is lost, and Labour win Wesminster, the arguments put by Lamont will fall into place. But the saviour will be One Nation under Labour, and in the presumed post referendum SNP crisis, Lamont can make a charge for Holyrood.
That is why, everyone who has higher ambitions for our society than regurgitated Blairism, everyone who wants a fully functioning welfare state free from privatisation, and everyone who wants to undermine the role of anglo-american imperialism needs not only to vote Yes and build a united movement that opposes austerity, but also to expose One Nation for what it is: sterile, neoliberal, Blairite and unwavering in its ability to challenge nothing and stand for everything. Everything that pulls in swing voters that is.