You might remember that there was a break-in at Labour HQ. The joke was that the thieves had gone in looking for a policy but hadn’t come back with anything of note.
There’s been talk of “predators and producers”, of “the squeezed middle”, but the only clear instances where Miliband has produced anything like a coherent vision were with his use of Disraeli’s one nationism and his proposal for a freeze on energy bills. Then with the intervention of former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, Miliband thought he had finally struck gold.
“Many people face a choice this winter between heating and eating” he quoted at a despairing David Cameron. “These are the ordinary people of this country who this Prime Minister will never meet and whose lives they will never understand.” It was, to quote a boxing term, a straight KO and the Prime Minister returned to Downing Street to lick his wounds. So, should we Conservatives be worried by such a performance? Does it herald the change of fortunes Labour activists have been so desperate to see? Hardly.
The Labour leader’s use of Disraeli and Major, whilst good politics, illustrates his Party’s fundamental weakness – simply put, it has no idea who it is or what it’s for. From free schools to referenda, from reducing the taxation on the poorest to green investment, everything that is fresh and exciting is coming from the ongoing tussle between the Coalition parties. The fact Miliband is forced to rely on the words of former Conservative Prime Ministers in his battle with Mr. Cameron shows just how bad the situation has become. Nineteen months from a general election and Labour’s ideas factory is a wizened burnt-out old husk.
Despite endless internal reviews and conversations, it has produced nothing of substance and Miliband’s tenure has seen him hop from bandwagon to bandwagon in a vain attempt to capture the public mood. Chris Bryant’s attempt to get tough on immigration blew up in his face. Tristram Hunt is now floundering over free schools, first backing them then seemingly veering away, and on HS2 I doubt anybody within the Labour Party knows what their policy actually is.
In laying claim to Disraeli’s one-nationism and Major’s compassionate conservatism, Miliband invites us to judge him by their principles. Does his opposition to deficit reduction chime with Disraeli’s observation that “Debt is a prolific mother of folly and of crime”? If he becomes Prime Minister, will he seriously be able to claim that Labour “inherited a sick economy and passed on a sound one” as Major did? Perhaps we can best sum up Labour’s dilemma by paraphrasing Thatcher. You see Ed; the problem with ‘Milibandism’ is that eventually you run out of other people’s ideas. It might be time to get some of your own.
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