Ed Miliband is in a bind. He really should be concentrating on the competence argument,
but keeps falling back on the ‘evil Tory ideologue’ argument.
There are several reasons for this. The first is his determination to distance himself from the Blair-Brown era. This makes it difficult to provide a convincing critique of policies which appear
New Labour-ish: everything from Free Schools to health service reform and the Work Programme. The second is that many of the statistics available still date from the Labour years and so evidence of
the effects of Coalition policies are simply not there. The third, and most serious, is that Miliband has yet to convince that he would be a more competent and reassuring presence at the helm. This
was shown most obviously when Yvette Cooper made such a convincing job of skewering Theresa May over the relaxation of passport checks shortly after the Labour leader had failed to do so at PMQs.
There is evidence of serious dysfunction at several government departments. Even before the latest embarrassment in the Home Office, there was open war between Michael Gove and his civil servants
at the Department for Education, health professionals and Liberal Democrats are in open revolt against Andrew Lansley’s health reforms. So far Iain Duncan Smith has enjoyed a relative honeymoon at
the the DWP, but his time will come as rising unemployment figures test the near-messianic claims for Lord Freud’s Work Programme.
The truth is that Miliband’s people are right to identify this government as ideological, market fundamentalists – in some ways more so than the Thatcher-Major governments. But this is not a
convincing election platform.
It is the job of an opposition to provide a forensic analysis of the government’s record. Some of this Labour is already doing, but it is not enough. In a time of crisis, people need to feel the
great public institutions are safe in the hands of politicians and, despite everything, the electorate is not yet ready to transfer its trust back to Labour.