Robot Ed Miliband and the Death of Parliamentary Politics

Ever get the feeling someone’s not listening to what you’re saying?

On Tuesday he announced that he disapproved of union plans to strike over government raids on public sector pension schemes. Today, Labour leader Ed Miliband has become an internet sensation, thanks to a robotic ‘interview‘ he gave Damon Green of ITV News. There was something funny about Miliband’s performance, but it also points to the continuing decay of parliamentary politics – in the UK and the rest of the world. Ultimately, this putrefaction can only lead to totalitarianism.

It could almost have been a scene from The Thick Of It – Armando Iannucci’s smart satire about the machinations of the Westminster world, but no, it was real. Miliband’s PR people had arranged that he’d be shown “in front of his bookcase, with his family photos over his left shoulder.” But they’d also clearly told him his line, and he had to stick to it. Too obviously right wing, and it would alienate any on the Labour left still holding out any forlorn hope in ‘Red Ed’ making an appearance. Too respectful of the strike, and The Sun would hammer him the next day. No, there was only thing he could say. And he said it again. And again. And again.

In Damon Green’s words:

“Ed Miliband thinks that the strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are still underway. The government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner, but it is time for both sides to set aside the rhetoric and get around the negotiating table and stop this from happening again.

I know this because he told me six times.”

No matter how Green phrased his questions, Militron came up with almost exactly the same words in reply. Even when asked if the negotiations between government and unions were being carried out “in good faith”, or if he’d expressed his view “on a personal level”, the son of Marxist academic Ralph Miliband still trotted out his soundbite.

Green was understandably furious about being used in this way, and Tweeted a long condemnation of Miliband:

“If news reporters and cameras are only there to be used by politicians as recording devices for their scripted soundbites, at best that is a professional discourtesy. At worst, if we are not allowed to explore and examine a politician’s views, then politicians cease to be accountable in the most obvious way.”

“we can expect the ruling class parties to…combine as a totalitarian force”

Here, Green hit the nail on the head. After three decades of decay in parliamentary politics – which the likes of Iannucci have lampooned so well – there is no real difference between the Conservatives, their Liberal coalition partners, and the Labour ‘Opposition’. There is, therefore, no way to hold them to account within the parliamentary system. All parties agree on the central question of post-2008 politics – that the financial sector should be bailed out, and that the working class should have their living conditions dragged back to the 1930s in order to pay for it. Aside from that, there can only be nuance. Largely because Ed Miliband became Labour leader thanks to a union votes, and the fact that many unions still donate large sums to the Labour Party, he knows he can’t totally condemn them. So he has to string them along, pretending that he thinks the Tories share some of the responsibility for any disruption.

When the working class finally does get politically organised, and unites around opposition to both the cuts and the capitalist system itself, we can expect the ruling class parties to bury the hatchet, agree to agree, and combine as a totalitarian force, to ‘save the country’ or somesuch con-trick. Miliband’s broken record is just the worst example of a process that has been underway for a long time.