The trouble with Kinnock, they will say, was that he was a Welsh windbag and that no one could see him as prime minister; and the trouble with Ed Miliband is that he is vaguely geeky and nerdy, and no one can see him as prime minister, and I suppose that may be true as far as it goes.
But this is about much more than image. The problem with Ed — and his similarity with Kinnock — is far more fundamental than that. Neil Kinnock didn’t lose because he was a Welsh windbag, but because he didn’t match the Tories in coming up with a language of opportunity and aspiration. He failed to equal Margaret Thatcher and, in the end, John Major, in providing a sense of how he, Kinnock, would unleash the talents of the British people and get the economy moving.
He was brilliant at sticking up for those who needed help — the elderly, the sick, the poor. But he never showed any real acknowledgment or understanding that we live in a broadly capitalist and free-market economy. At no stage did he seem to accept that it is always this money — the tax revenues – created by this capitalist system that allows us to finance all the social benefits and protections that government is able to disburse.
Neil Kinnock failed because he made his pitch to the Labour base — the unions, the public sector and all their clients; he had absolutely nothing to say about enterprise and ambition. The man who changed all that, and who understood how Labour could win was, of course, Tony Blair; and it was Blair who made a break so decisive with the legacy of Kinnock that they actually re-baptised the party, and called it “New Labour”; and the whole point of New Labour was that it straddled the divide.
You could, of course, vote for New Labour if you had a social conscience. But you could also vote for New Labour if you had a social conscience and you wanted to get rich. People felt under Blair that Labour was emotionally and psychologically reconciled to the realities of free-market economics. They looked at old Tony, with his zillionaire friends and his love of tennis and his ever-expanding property portfolio — and they thought: this man is not hostile to business.
They could see that he was in favour of wealth creation — and the problem with Ed Miliband is that he sends out absolutely no such signal because it is just not part of his political make-up. He can’t help it. He is the product of a world of north London intellectuals and grew up in a household where the words “free market” or “capitalism” were positively terms of abuse. His problem is not any supposed geekishness or nerdiness; his problem is entirely to do with substance, not style.
Under Ed Miliband, Labour has offered no explanation whatever of how it would like to inject more dynamism and growth into British capitalism. It has nothing to say about the everyday problems of business, about high tax and regulation; and as the election approaches it will pay an ever bigger price for its failure to offer any improvement in our relations with the EU in the form of a renegotiation, let alone a referendum.
Labour has nothing to say about Britain’s ability to compete in what David Cameron rightly says is the global race. Of course, we want a society where we care actively for the vulnerable; but the reason young people are not much turned on by Labour is that it is saying nothing exciting or hopeful, let alone about starting your own business or getting on in the world, and that is because in his heart Ed Miliband does not really view those prospects with excitement or hope.
They are not why he came into politics. He is there to curb the free market, not to celebrate what it can achieve. He has reduced Labour to its old role as a party of protest, complaint, and public-sector special interest groups.
That is not how Tony Blair won three elections. It is how Neil Kinnock lost twice.