1 October 2014

Ralph Miliband died before New Labour

The Marxist academic writer, Ralph Miliband, died in 1994 before the establishment of New Labour under Tony Blair, and before his sons, David and Ed, became involved in the Blair-Brown governments.

Throughout his academic career, Ralph Miliband wrote about the Labour Party from its inception up until his own death in 1994, with his main area of interest being the Party's role during the Post-War consensus. His thesis from the mid sixties onwards was invariable: the Labour Party could never bring about socialism in Britain. And his insistence on this point gave rise to the quip that he even produced two sons to prove it.

Ralph Miliband emphasised that the maintenance of capitalist rule in the West required both repression and reform. The post-war Labour prime ministers: Atlee (1945-51), Wilson (1964-70, 1974-76) and Callaghan (1976-79), for any number of reasons, were loyal to the British power structure and the post-war consensus, and therefore never sought fundamental change in favour of working people. These men, however, envisaged, and did to some extent achieve, a limited number of progressive reforms.

In 1994, Ralph Miliband died and in the same year Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party. Blair and New Labour found themselves on a completely different political landscape in 1997 compared with any of their Labour predecessors. But crucially, they had no social democratic aspirations and intended to reconcile the Party and the electorate to market fundamentalism. Both Miliband’s sons, David and Ed, found leading roles inside New Labour: David rose to be foreign secretary and Ed became Labour opposition leader in 2010. Both have no experience in, nor desire for, class or socialist politics. David retired from active politics in 2013.

The issue that Ralph Miliband confronted was the inadequacy of Labour Party reformism. He could never have envisaged a Labour Party, led by his own son, which had deteriorated even further, and had abandoned reformism and even mild social democracy.

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