When I blogged on David Miliband’s ham-fisted, awkwardly compiled and transparently opportunist article about England for the New Statesman, I, like many others had absolutely no idea what was to ensue.
Well, sort of. I knew that some equally ham-fisted and opportunist articles would emerge.
What I could not have predicted was that his brother would beat him to the Labour leadership. Nor could I have predicted that Ed Miliband would become the embodiment of a supposed shift in the perceptions of and grudging change of attitudes about, ‘Middle England’.
Seeing as his sole previous notable mention of England as an independent entity was regarding – predictably enough – this year’s football World Cup, and the fact that throughout England, his more illustrious brother was by far the more popular in England, it is something of a surprise. What is not a surprise, however, is the leftist media’s seizing upon a window of opportunity to denounce ‘Middle England’ for its closed-minded attitudes to Mr Miliband’s politically unconventional family life and personal views.
The results were unsurprisingly predictable. The Guardian, with its trademark contempt for ordinary English people, here states that
“It has always been imperative that party leaders, if they are to be electable, are at the very least seen to inhabit the mainstream. This used to mean Married with Children, as if it were indicative of great character, particularly if you were going to keep Middle England on side.”
The throwaway laziness of this remark, and its arrogant assumptions about a large portion of a nation of 50 million people, need no further elaboration. It is as if the middle class of England is a nagging, moralistic pedant, seeking constant reassurance and demanding that its ideological dogmas are catered to at all times. Perhaps this is the reason that England overwhelmingly voted against Labour in the General Election. I digress.
The paper’s own research, however, threw up an awkward reality. It proved that in whichever particular popularly ‘Middle England’ location they happened upon, people were quite accepting of Mr Miliband’s lifestyle choices, as here:
“We don’t vote on stuff like that any more, do we?” said Dan Perkins, 31, a geography teacher supervising a group of schoolchildren.
“It might be different for older generations – my grandad would be tearing up his working men’s club card. But we’re past all that now, aren’t we? We care about policies, not religion or lifestyle choices. We might even appreciate his honesty.”
Other folks mentioned in the article speak with similar humility and kindness. Not much scope for a leftist writer, unfortunately. Certainly not much sign of the foaming mouth of bile and bigotry. Are these findings tantamount to a sudden revolution in the attitudes, ideals and character of ‘Middle England’, then? Nope.
Mr Perkins and his ilk are perhaps the kind of Englishmen that Labour had forgotten about: those who take pride in their work, those who treat others with respect and decency, value their community and who work extremely hard. They have always been tolerant, accommodating, open-minded and rational. This has not changed.
Interestingly, Mr Miliband appears to recognise this. Speaking in this video, superbly compiled by John Harris, he dispels the myth of ‘six-figure salaries’ as a commonplace facet of ‘Middle England’, and at least pays lip service to the fact that life is indeed very difficult for a good deal of people in this wide-ranging and phenomenally complex group. Further on in the video, people lament the loss and insubstantial replacement of the community infrastructure not recognised by Labour’s institutionalised London elite: obliterated ‘organic’ shops, faceless corporate boxes and the tyranny of the privatised streets of bland malls. Echoes of Kingsnorth resonate with increasing strength and increasing relevance. This is the real ‘Middle England’: its strength undermined and eternally tested, its character usurped by the interests of the self-interested, its ordinariness distorted and caricatured beyond all responsible measure.
Has Ed Miliband’s appointment, and the ensuing press circus, revealed a true change in our understanding of ‘Middle England’? No. Not really. Has it revealed the fact that for too long, ordinary English people have been excluded from a debate and discussion about the face of their country? Has it revealed the fact that bare-faced contempt has been thrown in its direction for too long? Emphatically, yes.
Mr Miliband has a fantastic opportunity. As leader of the Labour movement, he can attempt to do what his brother could never understand: give a nation its soul back. Whilst he is, until he or his aides realise what a political goldmine it is, opposed to an English Parliament, he must speak for the English (not just the ‘British’) in their quest to wrench their communities and their sense of themselves back from those who treat them with contempt, or as cash cows, or as potential votes and nothing more.
That would be a revolution.