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Nick Cohen
Wednesday 18th August 2010
The Sins of the Grandchildren

To my mind it is obvious that Labour is in a great deal of trouble, and that the only candidate who can get them out of it is David Miliband. More than half of the electorate voted for the Conservatives and Liberals in the 2010 election. To win some of them back Labour is going to have to start winning arguments in those swathes of southern and central England where supporting Labour is now a minority interest on a par with water divining or train spotting. David Miliband strikes me as an intelligent politician who can appeal to moderates. Moreover, he is the only candidate who you could imagine as prime minister. Choosing him seems so obvious a step to take as to be no choice at all.

  Yet whenever I move in Labour circles - and they are small circles these days, as you probably already guessed - I meet people who are wild about his brother. "Ed has the charm," they tell me. "He connects with ordinary people. He's a human being not a political robot."

 I interviewed him along with my colleagues from the Guardian for our politics podcast, and found out that everything they said was true. (You can hear the interview here.) Affable and knowledgeable, Ed Miliband had the ease of a politician who could talk to anyone. Contrary to all my journalistic training, I rather liked him.

  Unfortunately, the effect was spoilt when later that evening I bumped into one of his campaign workers, Joseph "Seph" Brown. I didn't realise it at the time but he was a guy who had already made a stir in the Labour Party by talking about "shooting Zionists" - or "Jews" as we said in more plain-speaking times. He said later he meant the he wanted to "shoot them down" in debate.

   Anyway, I was unaware of the fuss and was chatting to him about the Middle East, and he would not offer a word of criticism of Hamas. I said that it was fair enough to support the PLO, which for all its faults and corruptions was an authentic national liberation movement. But backing Hamas meant backing the Muslim Brotherhood, which supported the subjugation of women, the murder of gays and "apostates" and the Jewish conspiracy theories of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Nazis. If you couldn't criticise Hamas, you couldn't criticise the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, the Saudi monarchy and everyone else who upheld what we on the Left used to call "far right" ideologies. More to the point, you couldn't support Palestinian women, gays, secularists, liberals etc who would be the Muslim Brotherhood's first victims.

   My accusation that he had a soft spot for Islamo-fascism, provoked the response...

  "But my grandparents fought fascism."

   I have heard this retort so often that I suspect it is on some central list of "lines to take". It sounds vaguely impressive, until you think for a second and realise that the logic behind it is haywire even by the standards of the pseudo-left.

   If your grandparents always obeyed the law, is it permissible for you to break it?

   If your grandparents never claimed a penny of social security, is it permissible for you to fiddle benefits?

   If your grandparents always paid their taxes, is it permissible for you to dodge yours?

      Most people would hold that the behaviour of grandparents does not give their grandchildren a free pass. They would say that you cannot bank your grandparents as if they were a legacy and draw on their good deeds to compensate for your own faults. That was then and this is now, and we must be accountable for our actions. And yet the aide to Ed Miliband thinks it acceptable to avoid condemning ultra-reactionary ideas and movements because his grandparents opposed ultra-reactionary ideas and movements.

   I'm still backing David.

 

 

 
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April 10th, 2013
10:04 AM
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Anonymous
August 22nd, 2010
10:08 AM
The conclusion that David rather than Ed is the best one to back as David is the most convincing aspirant PM is part of his own pitch, as I heard it in Brighton. The problem is, no leader of the Labour Party is about to be PM. Nick Clegg has defaulted to his class position and the coalition is solid for the moment. In the face of the ideological cuts (destruction of the welfare state) by the Tories and the Libdems being made with the recession and each other as multiple levels of cover, what the LP needs is a genuine leader of the opposition. Too much political pragmatism at this time will leave huge numbers of people without any campaign to help them in their hour of need. David talked about building up the labour movement from the grass roots again, but what was he offering? A protest with 'Whaddawewan'? 'Slightly fewer cuts!' 'When do we want em?' 'A bit later!' isn't going to get very far. On top of which, neither Miliband is the slightest bit angry about anything. I don't think someone who 'Wants to put something back into society because I had such a wonderful childhood' is going to have what it takes when the going gets tough after this phoney war phase we're in. As for the grandfather remark you are spot on Nick, and I would not vote for someone who tried to distance himself from the Iraq war on the basis that he wasn't at home at the time.

Kimpatsu
August 20th, 2010
2:08 AM
The statement "but my grandparents fought fascism" is meant to imply that anti-fascism is encoded into his genes, so he cannot possibly be a supporter of fascism, no matter what he says and does, or what organisations he supports. In short, he's reasoning that Hamas cannot be a fascist organisation, because he supports it, and his head would explode were he to support a fascist organisation because of his all-powerful anti-fascist DNA. HTH.

ratbiterbiter
August 19th, 2010
1:08 PM
I believe Seph has a different version of the events Nick Cohen writes about http://hurryupharry.org/2010/08/19/don%E2%80%99t-go-for-a-drink-with-nic...

GW
August 19th, 2010
1:08 PM
Oi ! Nick and whats wrong with us train spotters !

Mark Colburn
August 18th, 2010
9:08 PM
The response to the statement "but my grandparents fought fascism" would be "that's nice but why aren't you?" Anyway, the opinions of a campaign worker are hardly reason to not support a candidate. I prefer to not support Ed Mililband because of his repositioning on Iraq and because he wrote the manifesto that lost the election. But I do understand what you mean about Ed's ability to garner support of many on the soft left as well as many, though by no means all, of the old left. David Miliband's reluctance to strike Gordon Brown when he had the chance has left him with the label 'bottler.' At the start of the leadership contest this was a concern for me as someone who despaired of the Labour Party doing anything about Brown's disastrous premiership. I was well disposed to Ed Miliband's prospectus for renewal of the party. However, when he started to open his mouth I liked less and less what came out of it. Also listening to David Miliband reminded me of his clarity of thought and vision of where he wanted to take the country and the party. A clarity I haven't heard from anyone else in this race. I'm glad we've had the long campaign because it has made the difference between the candidates more obvious to me. That's why I'll be voting for David Miliband.

Carl
August 18th, 2010
3:08 PM
If you're Dad was a radical Marxist, does that mean you should be either David or Ed Miliband? Did you see his "dismissal" at HP? http://hurryupharry.org/2009/09/17/my-dismissal/

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About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

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