The day after Ed’s speech, and the analysts are hard at work. Everybody think it supports them. Adam Lent thinks it shows a move against an ‘oppose-the-cuts’ mentality. Luke Akehurst was pleased that Ed had ‘nailed the lie that we are not serious about deficit reduction’. Eoin Clarke @TheGreenBenches spotted a dozen left-ish ‘policies’.
The truth is, isn’t it, that the speech was a muddle, and that all these analysts are seeing a coherence and order that wasn’t there.
Ed Miliband needs to change his speech-writer.
The Speech and What It Failed To Do
It started off appearing to make a firm case for fiscal responsibility, but about a third of the way down lapsed back into ‘less far less fast’. Quite frankly, this just turns ordinary people against Labour, which thereby appears to be saying that we wouldn’t do the job properly.
It started off appearing to accept economic realities – with all its talk about there not being any money … but then it reneged back into ‘wealth creation’ and ‘economic stimulus’. Again, this is NOT going to win any credibility. Most of us out here suspect that we are looking at terminal economic decline, never mind a double-dip depression, and any Party trying to argue that the answer is economic growth risks looking as though it is living in la-la land.
And then Ed introduced three of the most exciting ideas I have seen coming out of the Labour Party for a long time – three ideas which could win him the next election – three ideas which ought to form the basis of every Labour policy announcement from here on in … but three ideas which he failed to mention at all to John Humphry on Today, and which, if they lay behind any of the waffle which followed them, were inadequately acknowledged.
Ed’s Three Ideas For The Future
What were these three ideas? They were well-aired the day before in the Guardian, which had seen their significance even if Ed himself hadn’t:
‘He will set out three ways to achieve fairness in more austere times: reforming the economy to support long-term wealth creation with rewards fairly shared; tackling vested interests that squeeze the living standards of families across the country; and making choices that favour the "hardworking majority"’.
When I was defending Ed yesterday, I pointed out that, within these words, were three principles which are virtually unanswerable, and which Labour members and middle England alike could sign up to:
1. Sharing the wealth
In a sense, the brilliance of this is that it is tied neither to budget-borrowing not economic growth. In fact, if the economy is going to stagnate, it is unanswerably even more vital that we divide its products more fairly amongst its citizens.
‘What is fair?’ bleated John Humphrys, and Ed took fright and moved off the subject, but of course we don’t mean fair in a ‘To-The-Victor-The-Spoils’ Tory/fascist kind of way! Of course the Labour Party will mean fair in a social justice, ‘bread-for-everyone-before-cake-for-any’ Lord Beveridge kind of way!
And of course we don’t mean an easy life for benefit-criminals … but then neither do we mean an easy life for tax-avoiders either.
The application of social justice criteria to government policy is surely something a Labour Party could place at the heart of all its policies.
And the joy of ‘fair-shares’ is that it is content-free; it doesn’t matter what the economy is doing, or how big the budget, ‘fair-shares’ still and always applies.
I know Ed said ‘wealth-creation’, but let’s paraphrase him as ‘job-creation’.
With a million young people unable to find a job, university graduates lacking experience for any suitable job but over-qualified for others, and older people being told they will have to work longer(!), I cannot but see that this is a vote winner.
The government’s (let’s face it, half-hearted) attempts to stimulate growth have failed, and the nation knows it.
Again, ‘job-creation’ is not income-related. It doesn’t matter how much total money there is in the budget or the economy; it’s how we share out that money in terms of jobs.
3. Tackling vested interests
And tackling vested interests? Well, when you’re pledging to share the wealth and create jobs by rebalancing the economy, I think only an idiot would fail to see that tackling vested interests will be the very first thing you have to do.
Principles Not Policies
‘Ah!’ you say. ‘But these aren’t policies!
OF COURSE they’re not policies! What does an opposition party want with policies? They’re not going to be implemented and will be years out of date before they even get a chance to be implemented!
An opposition party needs PRINCIPLES, not policies.
It needs to sort out what its principles will be for the years ahead.
It needs to apply those principles to every government proposal, which it will then judge according to those principles.
And it needs to make it quite clear to the electorate that these are the principles by which it will run the government when it comes to power … that they are principles which will suit the future.
That’s why (and how) an opposition can steal a march on the government in power. While the Coalition needs to come up with actual, tedious, nuts-and-bolts policies, all Labour needs to do is to enunciate its principles and go onto the attack.
I can remember, when we were campaigning for Tony Blair, we had a little plastic card with five such principles on it.
We left them all over; they were a pledge about how Labour would govern when we came to power.
And it is that which Ed Miliband almost-gave us yesterday; a challenge to this elitist austerity government and a campaigning platform for 2015.
I merely wish that he had seemed to have realised the gold-dust he had in his hand the way I seem to have realised it.
Don’t Miss The Opportunity
I obviously don’t have a clue what is going on behind closed doors, but it looks to me for all the world as though Ed is a leader under siege.
Even if he does have any idea about the principle-platform he might hope to occupy, he seems to be besieged by political heavy-weights whom he has to appease.
Is that why, having enunciated three ideas which might define his leadership and sweep him to power, he then retreated into other-people’s mantras: fiscal responsibility, ‘less far less fast’, and responsibility at the bottom as well as the top?
Or is it that he just didn’t realise the significance of those three ideas?
In fact, did ANYONE in the Labour Party really understand the significance of those three ideas? Much of the twitter amongst the apparatchiki today has ignored the speech and been about whether Ed ought to ‘take on’ the Blairites. Sunny Hundal looked at the speech and simply decided that it would make no difference to anything.
So is it just me who can see the power of a Party platform that applied these principles to all the Tory legislation, and which guaranteed that when in power Labour would, within a framework of fiscal responsibility:
1. Share the wealth of society more fairly between its citizens.
2. Create meaningful jobs, whatever the economic situation.
3. Tackle the vested interests which would seek to hinder us.