Coffee House

Ed Miliband’s big policy problem

27 September 2012

3:30 PM

27 September 2012

3:30 PM

Ed Miliband’s speech in Manchester next week is going to be one of the toughest gigs of the party conference season. As James writes in his column this week, the Labour leader needs to give the country a glimpse of what he would be like as Prime Minister. Alan Johnson agrees: in a piece for the Guardian today, the former shadow chancellor says Miliband has ‘to do more to demonstrate that he is a leader’. Johnson writes:

‘But he knows better than anyone that an opinion poll lead is not enough. In any case, the same polls still show David Cameron being preferred as prime minister. While I don’t believe that a prime minister who is more popular than his party can deliver an election victory, it does suggest that Ed Miliband has to do more to demonstrate that he is a leader.

‘In part this is the age-old problem of opposition parties who struggle to make the news and a leader who has never been tested in the difficult job he aspires to. It’s also the case that Labour has, rightly in my view, held back on making significant policy pronouncements that themselves can define a leader. I would be surprised if the Manchester conference is used to set out major elements of the party’s manifesto for the next general election. We are not at the point in the electoral cycle where we need to fire too much of our ammunition, but we do need to have some of it ready.’

Johnson’s point about policy is interesting. When the party launched its policy review in autumn 2010, the original plan was for it to report back to this year’s conference. Frontbench spokespeople told me at the time that they were worried they would be left with nothing to throw back at ministers during departmental questions, and that they would have little power to combat some of the government’s radical reforms because the party could offer no coherent alternative.

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Those worries have been proven true: Labour tied itself into complete knots over the £26,000 benefit cap in the Welfare Reform Bill, for example. Initially junior welfare spokeswoman Karen Buck, who has specialised in welfare for years, said they would oppose the cap when it came to report stage in the Commons. Then, suddenly, the party went quiet, failing to table a single amendment on the matter, and rejecting one calling for the cap to be scrapped from John McDonnell. This was Liam Byrne’s idea: he realised that every piece of polling suggested that voters loved the idea of capping benefits for workless families, and that opposing it would make Labour look awfully out of touch. But then his work and pensions team changed tack as the Bill was starting to grind its way towards becoming law in the House of Lords. Suddenly they decided they would oppose the legislation, and they also started vaguely talking about a regional cap to mitigate the effects. The whole thing was a mess.

Similarly, Stephen Twigg has struggled to combat Michael Gove, partly because early comments he made about some of the government’s education reforms were knocked back by the Labour leadership. He was forced to retract his support for free schools, for example. Now he is struggling to get his voice heard at all on GCSE reforms because he has no policy foundations to launch an attack from. Would Labour try to scrap the English Baccalaureate if they came to power in 2015? In practice it would be nigh-on impossible, but Twigg hasn’t been able to concede even that.

The policy review is no longer being launched this autumn: sacking Liam Byrne as its chief and replacing him with Jon Cruddas has changed that. And it does seem premature to be setting out details: the last thing Miliband wants to do is write the next ‘longest suicide note in history’ by setting out his position too early. But his shadow ministers are struggling to articulate broad brush positions on government policy that is being scrutinised at the moment: some more definition on key areas would be helpful.


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Show comments
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Iain-Hill/100000917822376 Iain Hill

    Johnson is simply and totally wrong. No one can build support for a party over time without explaining and selling its major policies. Is Labour for war or peace, for bankers or young people in need, for authoritarianism or civil liberties ? No info, no votes!

  • George_Arseborne

    Isabel, what is this post all about? Just rush for headline with rubbish underneath. Why the panic by right wing press. When Ed won Labour leadership back in 2010, it was all champagne popping at the Tories HQ. Now it is panic because the guy is now a Prime ministerial material. Loooking frwrd to 2015. The good news is Cameron will be president of his constituency not Britian.

    • james102

      Miliband is Labour’s weakness, so if you consider the
      Spectator a Conservative supporting magazine it is to be expected that they
      will try to raise his profile. There is a belief that the more the electorate
      see of Milliband the less Cameron has to fear.

  • UK warrior

    this is shame. He cannot be a labour leader anyway.

    • glurk

      Oh? May we hear why?

  • james102

    “…and a leader who has never been tested in the difficult
    job he aspires to.”

    Like Cameron he has never been tested in any senior
    management role before becoming leader of his party. It is the weakness of
    having a political class. They go from university to a job as a researcher or
    another junior related area such as law or PR/media then a safe seat is found
    for them.

    They now seem to be changing from a class to a hereditary
    caste with Blair’s son joining Harman’s and Straw’s looking to enter parliament
    in the next election.

    • glurk

      so whats new? Heredity has always inspired politics. How far back would you like me to go?

      • james102

        In this age of the Equalities Act?

        Are children and grandchildren of politicians to be
        considered a Protected Group? I’m surprised Ms.Harman does not discourage her
        son in order to support a black disabled lesbian from a sink estate.

        • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

          What a silly remark. You can do better.

    • telemachus

      This post and your reply are pure pap
      It mattereth not what Ed says now
      Governments are defeated rather that oppositions being victorious
      The Coalition hang themselves day by day and the UKIp one horse one issue show will not have an earthly in the General election

      • Gaverne

        ‘Mattereth’-is that Miliband trying to pronounce ‘mattress’?

        • james102

          I wonder if the first language in the Milliband household
          was Russian.

          • telemachus

            He might have spoken Flemish
            Remember his Father Adolph/Ralph caught the last boat from Ostend when the fascists invaded
            He was almost certainly steeped in the language of the New Reasoner started by his dad and Thompson/Saville
            More he will have imbbded and breathed Jacobin Radicalism a source of the credibility of Ed but not David who never bought this

            • telemachus

              Remember the most important Jacobin, Robespierre. His combination of ruthlessness, fanatical idealism and incorruptibility and push for universal sufferage gave France the delivery from anarchy in the Revolution. Another Jacobin, Indian monarch Tipu Sultan almost threw the British out of India.
              The Jacobins also pushed for the separation of Church and State, not really a bad idea
              So you see Miliband is born to greatness

              • james102

                And the guillotine and the Terror.Tipi Sultan probably meets with your
                approval because of the forced conversions to Islam he imposed on Hindus.

                Maybe you could mention him tomorrow when you do your Friday
                prayers.

                • telemachus

                  No James
                  I attend my local parish church and am particularly fond of choral evensong(we still have an excellent choir)
                  Sometimes force and punishment in a public way is necessary to promote change
                  The world is grateful for the visionary legacy of the doctrine of Jacobin Radicalism

                • james102

                  But not forced conversions surely? These desert cults have
                  rather painful rituals for men entering them. I’m sure your parish priest would
                  not approve.

                • telemachus

                  My Parish Team Vicar is a Liberal and would certainly support the Miliband stand on marriage and certainly does not wish an ideological straight jacket to replace Rowan

                • james102

                  But not forced conversions surely? These desert cults have
                  rather painful rituals for men entering them. I’m sure your parish priest would
                  not approve.

                • trevor21

                  Not really. From a purely English perspective our native radical tradition is more deeply drawn from a Christian millennial belief system. Some of these beliefs came to particular fruition in the Christian Socialist Movement of the Nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.As a Christian and a Socialist I would much prefer the message of Christ as opposed to the blood-soaked message of the Jacobin whose modern counterpart is the Muslim radicals who have imbibed deeply from that poisoned source.

              • anyfool

                Pol Pot was a Jacobin so you will need more than Miliband to live up to your extremist heroes.

                • Daniel Maris

                  I take that as a slur upon the good name of the Jacobins who amongst other things abolished slavery. The Jacobins it has to be remembered were having to defend themselves against the murderous onslaught of tyrannical kings.

              • trevor21

                Revolutions eat their own young, Robespierre certainly proved that old chestnut.

              • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

                Tele your logic leaves me adrift. Goodbye. Go buy a brain somewhere.

            • Gaverne

              Strange-I thought the next full moon was on Sunday.

            • Gaverne

              Strange-I thought the next full moon was on Sunday.

            • james102

              But it was just a stopover for the family. His grandfather
              was a Russian and deeply involved in the revolution. He still has relatives in
              Russia and visited one when he visited the country.

              • telemachus

                Yes James he was commanded by Leon Trotsky himself
                Trotsky was however a loser and is not to be lauded

                • james102

                  He was certainly no match for Stalin but recalling Richard Overy’s:’The
                  Dictators- Hitler’s Germany Stalin’s Russia’ I don’t think many, if any, were.
                  A much worse psychopath than Hitler.

                • telemachus

                  Ah but as posted many times, Stalin inspired his country to win WW2 and gave Russians back their respect.
                  No psychopath, a true hero.

                • james102

                  His pre-war purges and refusal to believe Hitler would
                  invade made it a much closer run thing than it would have been if he had been
                  less afflicted.

                • telemachus

                  pre war Stalin was struggling to industrialise a peasant country
                  That he succeeded is attested by the glorious victory in the great patriotic war

                • trevor21

                  He ‘succeeded’ by turning the entire Russian nation into one giant concentration camp working to death and deliberately starving million’s so,please, no historical revision a a sick beast and demon of a ‘man’.

                • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

                  Together with hard delivered aid from GB and USA via North Cape and through Middle East. Do know your facts else you lose my support.

                • james102

                  His pre-war purges and refusal to believe Hitler would
                  invade made it a much closer run thing than it would have been if he had been
                  less afflicted.

                • trevor21

                  The Russian people won WW2 despite Stalin not because of him. So yes,he was a psychopath and certainly no ‘hero’.

                • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

                  Hey. Generally I am on your side but that is a load of crap.

          • Daniel Maris

            It’s a prefectly reasonable speculation. His dad wasn’t from these parts. Wasn’t his dad a kind of Trot?
            PS Are we still allowed to say something like that?

            • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

              You mean that he had political opinions that diverged from your own, I think.

          • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

            What a strange remark. Have you been drinking?

        • telemachus

          That mattereth not either.
          We could put up a frog and get elected next time.

        • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

          Low blow. Not worthy. Not true.

    • Dimoto

      I love the long and “meaningful” quote from Alan Johnson. The failed ministerial candidate and well-known buffoon. May as well have quoted Prescott !

    • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

      Thanks James . Can you find similar examples for other political parties, please?

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