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One Nation Labour can’t just be about reassuring voters

14 December 2012

8:51 AM

14 December 2012

8:51 AM

Ed Miliband is giving another one of his repositioning speeches today: this time about immigration and integration.

We’re going back to the Labour leader’s school and his family again, as well as reminiscing about Olympics: none of which are exactly groundbreaking territory, given Ed explored the first two at length in his conference speech, has explored his family history at length in many speeches since becoming leader, and that all three party leaders used the Olympics for their own purposes in their autumn conference speeches. Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis should start charging politicians royalties for using their names in speeches about culture: they appear, alongside Zara Philips, in Miliband’s speech today.

This is clearly part of Labour’s drive to fight its demons, but to be fair to Miliband, he is making some concrete policy propositions rather than just arguing that integration is good and people are right to be worried about immigration. His proposals on English language teaching, more affordable housing and labour laws are all designed to reassure. Requiring workers to reach a minimum standard in English before they can work in people-facing public sector jobs is probably the most striking proposal, along with banning recruitment agencies advertising only for workers from particular countries. Others, such as ensuring affordable housing is part of new developments and preventing exploitation of new migrants by enforcing minimum wage laws, are hardly radical.

There’s a distinct Blue Labour tinge to this: immigration, British identity and community are all preoccupations of policy review chief Jon Cruddas, and they are among the issues the party leadership believes it has to answer before it can reassure the voters that it lost in 2010. It is obviously a perfect topic for the One Nation theme.

This is all very well, but as I’ve blogged before, One Nation won’t be an election-winning slogan if it just addresses warm, fuzzy feelings of community, or offers voters what they want: our economic situation means that is impossible. Nick Clegg and David Cameron are both making it clear that in 2015 they will ask voters whether they are really ready to trust Ed Balls with their money. A One Nation deficit reduction speech won’t be able to mosey around the childhood neighbourhood of the Miliband family, and Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis aren’t quite so useful when you’re articulating what cuts you’d make to public services.

These speeches are fine for a party in the midst of opposition – the Tories had a number of similar repositioning speeches after all. But now that we’ve passed the halfway mark of this Parliament, Miliband will need to leave his comfortable stomping ground of identity and start positioning One Nation Labour on the really meaty issues.

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