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Ed Miliband reveals his politcal heroes: Butler, Macmillan, Heath….and Lord Salisbury

Ed Miliband reveals his politcal heroes: Butler, Macmillan, Heath….and Lord Salisbury

🕔15.May 2014

The political consensus of the 1950s, when voters had little to choose between Labour and Conservative economic and social policies, is the latest weapon in Ed Miliband’s election armoury.

The Labour Party leader is, apparently, an admirer of moderate Conservative politicians such as Rab Butler, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, whose backing for post-war state control and Government intervention to promote social goals mirrored that of Labour and inspired the satirical term ‘Butskellism’.

Writing on the Conservative Home website ahead of next week’s local council and European elections Mr Miliband yearns for a return of One Nation policies in the style of Benjamin Disraeli, the great Tory prime minister of the 19th century.

While he doesn’t mention David Cameron and his Eton-dominated inner circle, the sub-text of Mr Miliband’s message is clearly to focus attention on what he sees as the Conservative Party’s failure to connect with ‘ordinary’ people.

Mr Miliband suggests the Tory party is no longer interested in “binding our people together across divides of region, class and wealth” and adds that politicians like Butler, Macmillan and Heath, and even, oddly, Lord Salisbury, the last hereditary peer to be prime minister 1895-1902, were Conservatives who sought to build an economy which works for the many not just a few.

His comments were delivered at a time when Labour’s two-year opinion poll lead over the Conservatives is under threat, with the gap narrowing to about three per cent.

The Conservative approach of the 1950s, which lasted until the rise of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, was based on an acceptance that moderate Government intervention was a necessary and good thing. In the late 1950s, policies adopted by Tory Chancellor Rab Butler and his Labour shadow Hugh Gaitskell were so similar that the Economist magazine dubbed the approach ‘Butskellism’.

Mr Miliband used his Conservative Home article to underline claims of a “sustained cost-of-living crisis where the great wealth of our nation has become separated from everyday family finances” and suggested that only “a few” are reaping the rewards of an improving economy.

Inequality, he argued, is “rampant” and “the Promise of Britain, that the next generation should do better than the last, is being broken”.

Mr Miliband continued: “This is the defining issue of our age. It presents a challenge which cuts across whole continents and advanced economies around the world – from America to Australia – as well as different political parties here in Britain.

“The means to overcome that challenge can, I believe, be found in a very British idea which was first expressed by Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative Prime Minister. That idea is One Nation. It is about a belief in binding our people together across divides of region, class and wealth; a politics which speaks for the interests of all not just a few; a country where everyone has a responsibility to play their part – and everyone has the chance to do so.

“You do not need to go back to Disraeli to find a time when Conservatives believed in One Nation. Labour may have had lots of other reasons to disagree with them on a whole range of issues but – from Salisbury to Butler, to Macmillan and Heath – there were Conservatives who understood dynamic markets needed rules to ensure they worked in the public interest, who held dear the importance of nurturing institutions that brought people together, who sought to build an economy which works for the many not just a few.

“When I look at the current leadership of the Conservative Party, however, I see politicians that have become detached from these values and unable to provide the answers to the problems of modern Britain.

“The Conservative Party, the party of Disraeli, has become too comfortable with talking up division between rich and poor, old and young, and north and south, and, yes, between Britain and Europe too.”

Mr Miliband added: “I want to be prime minister of a One Nation Labour government which makes the big changes to ensure that, together, we can make hardworking Britain better off, rebuild our middle class and restore the link between our country’s prosperity and families’ finances.”

“And a One Nation Labour government will always seek to conserve and nurture what is best about Britain.  Nowhere is this truer than in our National Health Service. This is an institution which serves us all and binds us all together as one nation: health care free at the point of use, for single every citizen of this country, where everyone is treated equally.”

“It is a great British achievement but is also one under threat. I am genuinely concerned about what our NHS would look like after another five years of this government. This week I set out new plans to improve services for patients, guaranteeing a same day GP appointment for anyone who needs one and within 48 hours or anyone who wants one. This will save hundreds of millions within the NHS by taking the pressure off hospital services and help ensure it there for the next generation as it was for ours.

“I believe you meet the challenges facing politics and facing Britain with a programme of action, not posture. You do not have to be Labour or Conservative to help us turn our One Nation vision into reality – because it is about the decent values that our country has always held in common.”


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