Thursday, 10 February 2011
Where are the Great Personalities in Politics?
by Robert Edwards
Published in European Socialist Action No 31 November/December 2010
What was it about the Miliband brothers that got us all excited in September? Or not, as the case may be. Sibling rivalry rather took over serious politics for a while and we were treated to something more reminiscent of the Mike and Bernie Winters Show (under forties should ask someone much older).
Has the Labour Party ended up with ‘Bernie and Schnorbitz’, following Ed’s snatching away his brother David’s dream of high office, to further top his previously nationalising David’s train set? Like Mike and Bernie, Ed and David could no longer work together ... and, like Mike and Bernie, only one of them will now fulfil his ambition.
But enough of show business. Real politics concerns leadership and something called charisma, which seems to be seriously of the discount these days. I suspect the Labour Party now thinks it picked the wrong brother after the unions had come to Ed’s rescue, in the way that the Prussian Marshal Blücher came charging out of a forest at the eleventh hour when everything seemed to be to Napoleon Bonaparte’s advantage at Waterloo. David Miliband was to meet his Waterloo with much the same element of surprise.
Although Ed Miliband is not an impressive leader at the moment, he will survive because there is no one with whom he can be compared in terms of the old charismatic oomph. It just does not exist anywhere in British politics today except, perhaps, and now only on the fringe, with George Galloway, that rare political animal, a man of passionate principle with the gift of spell-binding oratory.
Ed Miliband was compared to Ian Duncan Smith as a party leader for the obvious reasons ... totally unremarkable and relatively unknown, with the implication that he will not be around to even contest the next General Election. A stop gap choice, some might think ... or hope, as they may well do.
The new leader of the Labour Party is described as a geek. They say he looks like a geek and he talks like a geek. But hang on, Blairites, geeks can sometimes be unpredictable and, on closer inspection, Ed Miliband is not all that he appears to be on the surface.
The incurable anti-Semite will be anticipating a reference from me to his Jewish background but even that is not so straightforward. Forget Jewish plots for one moment, Ed is not for sucking up to Israel.
In the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Anschel Pfeffer wrote, “It’s difficult to find any kind of comment about Israel in the past statements of the British Labour Party’s new leader, Ed Miliband. If it’s up to him, he’d prefer to keep it that way ... a new Labour leader who aspires to return to power will not waste his time on foreign policy”. Former Foreign Secretary and Zionist, Brother David, please take careful note.
Pfeffer concludes, “Ed Miliband was elected with the help of the unions, most of whose members support a boycott of Israel ... all in all, the Blair-Brown era is definitely over”.
He is an atheist, a non-practicing Jew with a Gentile partner and a mother, Marion Kozak, who is a member of a pro-Palestinian organisation, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JJP). He also opposed the invasion of Iraq. So he is no neo-con Zionist and he is certainly not one of those Labour Friends of Israel apologists. The highly principled Gerald Kaufman also being note-worthy in this respect. To paraphrase, you don’t have to be Gentile.
Immediately after winning the Labour Party leadership contest, Ed Miliband attended the annual reception of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East group (LFPME) which was sponsored by the Friends of Al-Aqsa at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Manchester. This was, perhaps, one of the first occasions during which he has elucidated on any foreign policy ideas, after making references to the Middle East in his maiden speech. As the new leader, you could say it was incumbent upon him to do so.
To a sizeable audience of Labour MPs, MEPs and councillors, he expressed his wish to visit Palestine, which struck a chord with Haneen Zoubi, an Israeli Knesset member and Palestinian Arab, who attended the LFPME reception. She was onboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May of this year.
In the run-up to the Labour Party leadership contest, Ed Miliband had this to say to the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, published on their website, “The Palestinian people have the right to a state with internationally recognised borders. They have a right to a functioning economy. They have the right to be free and to pursue a better life for themselves and for their children.
The sad truth is that today, with the blockade still in place on Gaza and in the aftermath of the appalling events on board the SS Mavi Marmara, we are a long way from securing that outcome. There should be an international investigation into what happened aboard that ship, but that alone will not undo the damage – to Israel’s reputation and the peace process – done by those tragic events.
The lack of a credible peace process is helping no-one. It sets back the date at which a viable state of Palestine comes into existence, it leaves Israel with few friends in the region and it poses an ongoing risk of instability for the international community. It is vital that we find ways to breathe new life into that process.
I believe that Israel must make an important step by lifting the blockade of Gaza as soon as possible. Israel has security concerns, but the blockade is the wrong way to address them. Instead, we need to find a way to lift the blockade that respects legitimate security needs, guarantees humanitarian access to help Gazans who are suffering from the blockade, and helps deliver justice for Palestinians.
The EU can play an important role here by providing a naval monitoring capability to ensure that arms are not being smuggled into the area by sea, and it can use its relationship with Egypt to help ensure the smuggling tunnels are shut down. If elected leader of the Labour Party I would visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority and take a first-hand look at what is happening on the ground in Gaza”.
Given that his predecessor, Gordon Brown, surrounded himself with Zionists, it is tempting to view Ed Miliband in terms of a complete break from the past in relation to the Blair and Brown years but we do not know, as yet, what kind of people he will choose as his foreign policy advisers. This is crucial.
Most of all, does Ed Miliband possess the necessary leadership qualities to carry the bulk of the parliamentary and constituency Labour Party along with him? Those sections that previously favoured his brother, for example.
Foreign policy will again be on the agenda, there is no escaping it in a ‘globalised’ world, while the Coalition Government busies itself with its swingeing austerity cuts at home. David Cameron has already proven himself to be totally inadequate and inept at putting his government’s position across to ‘Johnnie foreigner’, due mainly to that old Etonian manner that displays disdain towards all others without exception. Could you imagine Cameron with a deputy Prime Minister who was not an ex-public schoolboy? Someone not acquainted with fagging? It just would not work.
Labour may have its first Jewish party leader but it may also have its first true friend of the Muslim world if Ed Miliband can inspire others to follow his path towards achieving justice for the Palestinian people.
Mediocrity, as I said, has plagued British political life for too long and is the most single element, apart from personal corruption, that has prevented anything being done in the country since the war, to paraphrase a political figure from another era.
What they are now suggesting is a leftward lurch in British politics is, in fact, a great sea-change in terms of moral and practical issues. Left or right have nothing to do with it. As Dermont Clark pointed out in the last issue, it has more to do with right or wrong.
The Labour Friends of Palestine was set up in 2008 as a counter to the Labour Friends of Israel. We all know how corrupting the latter lobby has been and how the Palestinian cause was so tragically neglected. Years gone by, we had only Christopher Mayhew and his friend Michael Adams founding the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and the Labour Middle East Council in 1962 to oppose the power of the Zionist lobby in the face of the absence of an Arab one.
Ismail Patel, the chairman of the Friends of Al-Aqsa, said, “It was refreshing to have a leader of a political party appreciate the fact that the general public hold a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian people and that Britain should be pursuing a fair and just policy in the region”.
He went on, “It is interesting that there is no similar group [Friends of Palestine] within the Conservative Party where the Conservative Friends of Israel are well documented as wielding a great deal of power. A ‘Conservative Friends of Palestine’ group is well overdue”.
Don’t hold your breath on that one, Mr Patel.
After Nick Clegg’s cold-shouldering of the Friends of Palestine at the Liberal Democratic Conference, while he attended the Friends of Israel event, it would be safe to conclude that the Deputy Prime Minister is now well and truly in the pockets of the ever so Israeli-friendly Conservative Party and is following the Zionist (party) line to the letter. Cameron’s fag must not be permitted to step out of line. That is what coalitions are for, after all.
So what are we to make of Ed Miliband, the choice of the unions and, without doubt, a man of considerably unorthodox political views for a British Member of Parliament, almost singing from the same hymn sheet as Gorgeous George? It is true he kept his head down for a long time in regard to his views on foreign affairs but then his brother was Foreign Secretary for a while and so he chose, correctly, not to step on his brother’s toes while getting on with his own job at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
He has chosen Yvette Cooper as Shadow Foreign Secretary, wife of Ed Balls. Although she has spent a few years in Cabinet, she has absolutely no experience of foreign affairs and so will need to learn some new skills from scratch. For this, she will need to take her cue from her new party leader. She may, at first, appear out of her depth but she will learn fast.
Foreign affairs, they say, is not Ed Miliband’s top priority, as with the Coalition, but it is one of those areas that all must eventually enter simply because the world today is so interconnected both politically and economically. The ‘geek’, Ed Miliband, could turn out to be the catalyst that is so needed ... despite the current mediocrities pervading British politics.
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