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Miliband’s two big risks

25 March 2011

4:27 PM

25 March 2011

4:27 PM

Who would have thought it? Miliband’s short speech in Nottingham today went largely unheralded, and doesn’t seem to be
getting a whole lot of attention now — and yet it tells us more about his approach to Opposition than almost anything he has said previously. Fact is, the Labour leader is taking two risks
that may be either bold or foolhardy, depending on your point of view. These risks could come to define his Labour party.

The first is splashed right across the entire speech. Miliband dwells on three "challenges" that the country will face over the coming decade: the "cost of living crisis";
declining prospects for the next generation; and the erosion of the "Merrie Englande" that David Aaronovitch wrote about this week. Here is what Miliband says about all three, on three separate occasions, within the
speech:   

"[This trend] didn’t start with the government. But I fear that they are making it worse."


So this, effectively, is the pitch: things are happening outside of the government’s control, but the government’s response to them is wrong. He has made this claim before, specifically on the cost of living — but here it is distilled, reinforced and
rammed down your throat.

It is a pitch that carries some obvious benefits. For starters, it has a dash of reasonableness and studiousness about it. It’s not just attacking the cuts for the attack’s sake, and it even hints
that Labour may not have done enough to meet these challenges in the past. Besides, his analysis on the cost of living, in particular, has the benefit of being right — even if his solutions
aren’t.

But here’s the risk: that it makes Miliband sound rather nebulous, particularly in contrast to coalition’s swagger on the public finances. The coalition has identified a problem caused by Labour
— the deficit — that it wants to abolish. By contrast, Miliband is identifying trends caused by someone — no-one? — that he would rather tame. It is not the stuff of
derring-do, particularly given that his policy responses are still largely TBC.

The second risk is much more clear-cut, and far more likely to work against Miliband. Referring to the "mums … midwives … small business owners … policemen and women"
that will make up tomorrow’s anti-cuts march in London, the Labour leader says: "They are, we are, the mainstream majority." In other words, he’s aligning himself with the marchers. Which
won’t look great if they turn out not to be as "mainstream" as all that.


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