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Tea with Mussolini

Some media commentators have suggested that Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference marked a clear break from the politics of the last 30 years and as such deserves support.

Seumas Milne in The Guardian was particularly enthusiastic, calling it “the most radical speech by a Labour leader for a generation”, claiming: “Miliband signalled an unmistakable break with the corporate consensus of the past three decades and the model of unfettered market capitalism this has enforced.”

It’s hard to imagine a more wrong-headed assessment of Miliband’s speech than Milne’s, however.

The “break” that Miliband allegedly made in his speech was with a certain kind of capitalism – but only in order to embrace another, potentially even more sinister, version.

Miliband wants the state to decide between “good capitalists” and “bad capitalists”, and between honest, toiling workers and those who should be shunned by society.

The “good capitalists” will get tax breaks and the others won’t. Decent workers will get social housing and the feckless ones will end up living on the streets, denied a roof over their head by the local council.

The state will oppose strikes (Miliband actually praised the anti-union laws passed by Thatcher governments) and deny benefits to those who decline to work for a pittance (which New Labour introduced and the ConDems are implementing with gusto).

What is all this but a recipe for an authoritarian, corporate state? Miliband’s endless talk of “values” – the term peppered his speech – indicated what such a set-up would look like.

On the one side there would be a vast state bureaucracy – with a regulator called OffCapital – which would pronounce on the virtues of this or that capitalist enterprise. On the other side would be the Ministry for Moral Rearmament, implementing “values-based” policies on the majority.

“Radical” this may be. Progressive it isn’t. Red Ed? Give us a break! Radical populism is always right-wing stuff.

More Mussolini than Marx. The Italian dictator’s corporate state springs to mind as the logical outcome of Miliband’s ideas.

The good news is that Miliband – who told News Night, “I am in favour of capitalism, just for the record” – will never get the opportunity to practice his fiendishly unclever plan.

Globalised capitalism is not for reforming or regulating, or being managed like it was after World War II. That epoch came to a deafening end in 1971, when the post-war Bretton Woods system of controls on investment and currency movements crashed to earth.

Capital has subsequently freed itself, as much as possible, from the constraints of national state controls and operates on a global scale. This is true of both production corporations and even more so of the financial system.

Both departments of capitalism demanded and got deregulation so that they could move assets and money without hindrance. Assorted crises were overcome until the meltdown of 2008 plunged the world into recession and in 2011 has taken us to the precipice of outright depression.

The present crisis, however, is not a result of deregulation which is more a consequence than a cause. Inherent flaws within the capitalist system of production and consumption led to the vast overhang of debt that is now overwhelming economies, currencies and countries like Greece in a merciless fashion.

Fiddling about deciding which capitalists are good and which are bad could not be more irrelevant in this situation. Labour is a party that sold its soul to corporate-driven, free market capitalism. Under Miliband, it is a party that is lost in space, floundering around for something to say, appeasing right-wing voters while staying firmly in the capitalist fold.

We are not fooled.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
29 September 2011

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