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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