One Nation, or, Ed Miliband’s Utopia

Why are Labour now claiming to speak in the "one nation" tradition of 19th Century Tory PM Benjamin Disraeli? Michael Calderbank reflects

October 2, 2012
3 min read


Michael Calderbank is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He is also a parliamentary researcher for a group of trade unions.

Ed Miliband’s unashamed borrowing of the concept of “One Nation” from the Conservative tradition takes us back to the Clinton/Blair model of triangulation: positioning your party on territory more generally associated with your main rival in order to shrink the latter’s support back down to its core vote.  Strategically, it’s very much an attempt to repeat what New Labour achieved in 1997 – positioning itself as a party in step with the mood of the whole nation and picking up votes way beyond its traditional base.

This gambit assumes that even many people who have traditionally voted Tory are becoming alienated from the ideologically-driven market dogma of Cameron’s party, feel ripped off, and worry that important national institutions from the NHS to the police are being undermined. Labour is to be the moderate voice of the British people, the coalition parties are a combination of extremism, dishonesty and incompetence.

Now this picture is accurate enough to give Labour enough leeway to make some welcome announcements, such as  “ending the free-market experiment” in the NHS (which New Labour itself began), putting up top rate tax, and taking action to curb casino banking.  But not only did Miliband distance himself from the “Red Ed” moniker, but he failed to make a single mention of trade unions; directly admitted that a Labour government would not reverse many of the Tory cuts,;and would mean “tough” choices for the people who work in the public services, and the millions who use them. A “One Nation” approach means continuing to deliver cuts and austerity but with less immediate pain and manifest unfairness.

The speech is already being lauded by party loyalists and the liberal media.   But when the dust settles, how many teachers, nurses, or council workers will thrill to the prospect of a Labour government offering a pay freeze and “tough settlements” for as far as we can see? Will the emollient language of “one nation” make-up for the failure to reverse Tory cuts and represent the interests of ordinary people?

Significantly, there was no mention of “class” in the speech.  “One Nation” Toryism was never about abolishing class society, or putting real power into the hands of working people.  Rather, it was about the government acting to ameliorate social division and reconciling the interests of capitalism with a unifying thematic of “the national interest”.  This conservative British narrative may yet get swept aside by the tide of political events as struggles against austerity across Europe continue to intensify.   The interests of labour (ie. working people and their families) and capitalism can’t be aligned as easily in reality as in the rhetoric of a Conference speech.   Ironically, for all the acceptance of austerity, Ed’s vision of “One Nation” is far more utopian than anything Marxists have ever stood for.


Michael Calderbank is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He is also a parliamentary researcher for a group of trade unions.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


18