YP Ed Miliband Must Junk The Past And Get In Front Of The Future
published in the Yorkshire Post 4 January 2013
Ed Miliband has had a good year. His party enjoys regular double-digit leads in opinion polls. He has handled some newsworthy issues better than David Cameron, especially the hacking scandals and the Leveson report. He has raised his game at Prime Minister’s Questions and frequently makes Cameron looked rattled and rubicund. He has silenced internal party critics and stifled any possible leadership challenge. His dramatic party conference speech revealed some of his missing personal and emotional “hinterland”. Best of all, the government has been serially incompetent and incoherent.
However, he continues to trail his party’s poll ratings by a long way. He continues to trail David Cameron’s personal ratings. After a year of uninterrupted failure for the government’s economic policies, voters still prefer David Cameron and George Osborne to run the economy over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.
Ed Miliband has been leader for over two years and he has not told voters enough about why he deserves to be Prime Minister, or even why he wants to be. (Try this test: remember some actual words which Ed Miliband has used in that time. Words of his own, not Disraeli’s). Crucially, voters do not yet know why a Labour government under his leadership will be different from the last. Even if they stop blaming that government for the current state of the economy, they do not want to repeat it. The dead hand of Gordon Brown threatens Ed Miliband as that of George W Bush hung over Mitt Romney.
Labour sources regularly suggest that he has a new economic blueprint but does not want to reveal it prematurely. This is conventional political wisdom, and like most conventional political wisdom it is profoundly wrong. If there is such a blueprint, voters should hear it now. It will confront his greatest enemy – the collapse of trust in government. According to the regular Eurobarometer survey, this has fallen from 34 per cent in 2005 to 21 per cent this year, while trust in Parliament has dropped equally, from 36 per cent to 23 per cent. Young voters have the least trust in either.
This was bad news for all the major party leaders, confirmed by the recent election gains for UKIP and the even more spectacular advance of the Apathy party. However, Ed Miliband has most to fear from public disenchantment with government, because it could set up a “better-the-devil-you-know” general election. Voters would still see the risk of replacing their government without seeing any potential gains.
Ed Miliband should not only reveal an immediate economic blueprint but some clear ideas for tackling the long-range issues, national and global, which will shape young voters’ future. When I last heard, his party had 37 separate policy reviews in progress. Too many, too long… He should ask all his Shadow Cabinet to list, on one side of paper, the three biggest long-term problems in their field and three proposals to deal each one. Those who give inadequate answers should be fired (they’d none of them be missed): the best answers he should appropriate for himself and work them up into a series of personal proposals.
Through 2013 he should launch Ed Miliband’s Plans for: the future of the EU and its currencies (deliberate plural); reform of the tax and benefit system; paying for future pensions and health care needs; for regaining control over the financial system; meeting global energy needs and combating climate change; coping with global migration pressures – to name only a few.
Above all, he should announce Ed Miliband’s Plan for the future of work in our country. Which industries and sectors are going to provide decently-paid and satisfying jobs for all our people – and generate the tax revenues to support those who cannot work? Who will employ British workers, and why, in a world where Chinese workers can produce the same output at a tenth of the cost?
Ed Miliband may not get all the right answers on these issues, but he will get marks for trying. He will get further marks for honesty if he spells out the implications of his policies for voters’ lifestyle and assumptions. He will give people the idea that government can get on top of giant problems and that it might be worth enduring a bumpy ride with a new government to reach its destination. That might give him a big edge over Cameron, who has not only failed to achieve his destination – reducing the deficit – but offered the British people no reason for going there at all. To most people the deficit is a gigantic, unreal number: Cameron and Osborne have given them no reason to rejoice if it should fall. They have offered austerity without ambition, pain without purpose, misery without a mission, hurt without hope (a zinger to which Ed Miliband is welcome).
It is now for Ed Miliband to define himself to the British people. If he lets himself be defined by the past he is a loser. If he lets himself be defined by the present his prospects with a disillusioned electorate are very uncertain. In 2013 (and he is welcome to this zinger too) he should become the man who’s in front of the future.