It’s Red, Ed, but is it Socialism?

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party c...

Ed Milliband MP speaking at Labour Party conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eddie Mair spent precious interview minutes on yesterday’s PM programme trying to get Douglas Alexander to say the word…

Ed Miliband claimed he is bringing it back

The Spectator thinks he is

So do the Daily Mail and the Telegraph

Only a few commentators, such as Faisal Islam, think he isn’t.

So is it true?  Is “Red Ed” really promising Britain a new Socialist future?  Time for a definition of Socialism from the OED:


a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole


(in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism


Pretty radical stuff, even if we leave aside the Marxist definition.  No wonder the right wing press are up in arms.  But what has Mr Miliband actually threatened to do?  Freeze gas and electricity prices for 20 months, split up the big energy firms, replace the energy regulator, and give councils compulsory purchase powers to buy land from developers who “hoard” sites with planning permisssion.  I’m not saying these are sensible policies if we want to encourage investment in new energy generation or house building, but they don’t come close to the OED’s definitions.  The USA, hardly a beacon of socialism, has rent controls and numerous other market regulating devices, and famously broke up Standard Oil and AT&T.  As for compulsory purchase powers, they already exist — no one thinks the communists are coming just because the government buys up a stretch of farmland to build a motorway.

Until Mr Miliband decides to nationalise whole industries (the means of production, distribution, and exchange), or create new government departments with extraordinary powers to tell Tesco, BP and Vodafone how to run their businesses, surely the truth is he’s a million miles from socialism.  And yet, he himself says he’s bringing socialism back and plenty of intelligent commentators agree with him.  A different, looser, definition of socialism seems to have taken root.  It’s as if, in a world where capitalism has so entirely vanquished its ideological rivals, we’ve recalibrated the word to mean anything that departs even mildly from pure free market economics.

Does any of this matter?  Well, it’s interesting to note that the newspapers which agree with Mr Miliband’s definition — his truth — are the ones that least want to see him elected.  Editors and columnists certainly understand the importance of picking the most (or least) favourable truth. Maybe Slightly Pink Ed should follow their example.


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