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Martin Luther King, Obama’s Quandary and Ed Miliband

August 27, 2013 Leave a comment

The Dream

‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”’

There are very few events, ideas or people that ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ can agree on. The legacy of the French Revolution? Disputed between those who saw the insurrections in late 18th Century France as a democratic mass movement or an upheaval of the Mob. Edward Snowden and the revealing of US State secrets? Either the actions of a traitor threatening the security of the United States or a whistleblower exposing wrongdoing that would otherwise have been covered up. The legacy of the Post-WW2 economic consensus; is it a testament to civilised values or the ideological cause of market turbulence today? But there is one figure, specifically making one speech, that most from both sides of the political spectrum can coalesce on; the ‘I have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King, which happened fifty years ago this month.

Stand on the Lincoln Memorial and you can feel how powerful the ‘Dream’ speech must have been. It speaks to fundamentals – and asks us to dream of a society where harmony, not conflict, can be the natural order in the World. If ‘mixed’ marriage is still exceptional in some areas in the US now, it was highly unusual in the 1960s and for those ‘mixed-race’ couples then, very dangerous south of the Mason-Dixon line. The idea of a Black President in the lifetime of those attending the 1963 Rally would have seemed unlikely; marching for equal rights could end with a billy-club to the head or in the most extreme and appalling instances, a lynching. America has changed radically since these times but there are still enormous unfinished economic and social issues to be resolved. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ may be moved by Dr King’s speech but they have disagreed and will always disagree about how to reach his goal of economic justice for all. For millions of American citizens, that ‘dream’ seems as far away now as it was in 1963.

Obama’s Test on Road to Damascus

Barack Obama is facing several crucial foreign policy tests, and, in his own words used to devastating effect against John McCain in 2008, all at the same time. Syria is a bloody mess, while Obama’s thoughts and advice on Egypt offer little comfort either – does he withdraw military aid, calling it the coup that it is and would this only make things ‘worse’? The cynical/realist view is to let the dust settle and deal with the ‘winners’ in both countries once they’ve killed their ways to victory. This camp decries the ‘interventionists’ as the ‘do something’ brigade, as in a war atrocity has been committed, something must be done, regardless of the long term consequences. But there is the machinery to take on human rights abuses and bring war criminals to justice – the United Nations must be used as honest broker in conflicts, encouraging negotiation and sanctions where possible and supporting military action where all else fails. Already a disappointment to many on the domestic US Left, Obama runs the risk of being trapped by foreign policy events beyond his control and becoming that self-fulfilling epithet, the ‘lame duck’, less than a year after his 2012 election victory. The way he deals with the chemical weapons issue in Syria is the key as to how he is viewed over the coming months; does he ‘go it alone’ with the usual British support or can he somehow get the Russians and Chinese to come on board to oppose a regime that appears to use chemical weapons on its own people?

Summer’s Labour Pangs

Yet again, a whispering campaign has turned into an attempted media putsch to force Ed Miliband out of the Labour leadership. Newspaper articles by Blairite malcontents, John Prescott putting his foot in it and general ‘Silly Season’ mischief-making has meant that Miliband’s role is again under question (but probably not under immediate threat). Yes, Labour should be streaks ahead in the polls, and they’re not but they are ahead. Yes, Ed Miliband should be scoring points off Cameron and he seems strangely becalmed; but the Tory Leader is vulnerable at the Dispatch Box and the new Parliamentary Term offers Miliband ample opportunities. Now is not the time for Labour to change course with a new leader. Miliband has flaws and has made tactical and strategic errors since taking the reins almost three years ago (in the case of his handling of the Unite dispute, some grievous ones). However the Party is a million miles from ‘Brown’ territory, and is far removed from the malaise and despair of the 2008-10 period. There is no Julia Gilard for Kevin Rudd (or vice-versa) option of a quick ditch-and-replace. A Labour majority won’t be easy ‘ask’, it rarely is. There have been unlikely Prime Ministers before; perhaps David Blunkett’s Attlee comparison shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Miliband is still the favourite to boot Cameron out of Downing Street in less than two years from now.

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