Village People: Ed has a different view of the 'S word'

"Yes, I am a socialist, I'm not embarrassed about it," Ed Miliband declared yesterday on 5 Live.

His interviewer, Nicky Campbell, thought this was a pretty sensational statement. The Conservative chairman, Baroness Warsi, was also quick to seize on it, and it will be thrown back at Labour at election time in the hope that it will frighten the horses.

Miliband has evidently calculated that the small amount of harm he might do by restoring a word that Tony Blair banned from the Labour hymn book is worth the gain that will come boosting the fighting spirit on his own side. But if he is going to keep using the word it might help if he were to say what he means by it. He was not given much of a chance to elucidate on 5 Live, but he did give the rudiment of a definition of what "socialism" might mean in a post New Labour age. "There are big unfairnesses in our society, and part of the job of government is to bring about social justice and to tackle those unfairnesses. And that's why I'm a politician," he said.

He also mentioned his celebrated father, but if Ralph Miliband were alive now, proud though he would undoubtedly be of both his sons, he would dispute that either is a "socialist". Whoever doubts that need only look at this passage from Ralph Miliband's 1964 essay "Socialism and the Myth of the Golden Past": "Socialism is not about the relief of poverty, marginal collectivism, administrative efficiency, and social reform, all of which have been proved possible within a capitalist framework, but about the abolition of capitalism ... "

Either the Miliband generations have got their wires crossed, or socialism ain't what it used to be.

Fighting fire with fiery rhetoric

It has been a week for Conservatives getting into trouble for telling us what they really think. Much attention has been paid to Lord Young and Howard Flight, but let us not forget Councillor Brian Coleman, the man in charge of sensitive negotiations with the London Fire Brigade.

The councillor's latest contribution to good industrial relations in the capital was to tell his local paper, the Ham & High, that the Fire Brigade Union are "a thoroughly unpleasant and nasty lot." While most firefighters are nice enough, he added, most union officials "are thick, can't string a sentence together and incoherent. We have to break the FBU." Mayor Boris Johnson is to advise him on choosing his words more carefully.

Johnson takes on a weighty issue

Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson had some wise words for women whose husbands are overweight, which he passed on during the Greenwich Labour annual dinner in a Nepalese Restaurant this week. "Speaking as a former Health Secretary, my advice is this," he said. "Get him to run three miles in the morning and in the evening get him to run another three miles - and after a week, the fat git will be 42 miles away."

In the top job, by a whisker

We have not had a prime minister with a beard for more than a century – except briefly one morning this month when about 50 MPs and staff took part in a terrorist attack drill. David Heath, a bearded Liberal Democrat, manned the Dispatch Box. When it was all over an estimated 20 MPs had "died" and Heath announced that he was quitting as PM.

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