How Ed can fight back after Bradford West

by Samuel Dale

If ever there was a wake-up call, this is it. Not since 1987 when Labour lost the Greenwich by-election to the SDP has the party faced such a devastating loss.

Last week there were some positive signs, Miliband’s good performance in response to the budget or harrying of the Tories over donorgate and pastygate shouldn’t just be forgotten. But now more than ever this needs to be harnessed and  turned into something tangible and lasting. A narrative that can run until the next election.

He is capable of doing it but there is one problem. It’s the economy, idiots. Labour still lacks credibility and until it regains it, sporadic good polling and Tory slip ups will remain shallow and electoral success a far off dream.

In all of the soul-searching that is to ensue next week Ed Miliband has a chance to address this core problem.  The biggest issue is the impression that Labour was profligate with the public purse and that caused the crisis. It’s not true but it’s the impression.

And with Ed Balls as shadow chancellor it has been mission impossible to get the public onside that Labour has learnt its lessons.

Miliband must face this problem head on and if he can portray the Tories as out of touch right wingers there is an option.

He should shift Labour’s rhetoric to demonstrate the party’s commitment to fiscal restraint and then as the focus increases on the party’s spending plans, pledge to match Tory expenditure targets one year before the next election, albeit cutting more fairly and more reasonably. Two traits fast-leaving the prime minister.

It doesn’t mean Labour must accept it has been wrong on the economy all along, far from it.

The party should explain how Tory plans have caused the economy to flatline and it would have done things differently. Slower cuts, more investment, more growth.

But in 2014 a case could be made that the worst is over and the deficit can be reduced more quickly so the UK can begin to repay its debts.

Labour can still assert the Tories have mishandled the economy by missing their deficit reduction targets and choking off the recovery.

The Tories have provided Labour with a window here by playing up to the stereotype of out of touch nasty party of the rich. Labour can realistically claim to make the same spending cuts in a fairer way and it should grasp it.

This week bears the hallmarks of a watershed  moment in politics. In amidst the wreckage of last night, an opportunity beckons to park Labour’s tanks in the centre of British politics. The Tories have been forced to the right so let’s keep that as the focus rather than economic competence.

Let the next election be judged on fairness rather than Labour profligacy vs Tory fiscal responsibility. Right now that is exactly how it will be framed and it is a battle with only one winner.

Let’s throw the Tories off guard and be bold as hell. Dreadful as Bradford West was, it maybe it can give Ed Miliband shock needed to do it.

Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist

Tags: , , ,

27 Responses to “How Ed can fight back after Bradford West”

  1. Nick says:

    And the problem with the economy is 99% government debt. When you can’t even admit to having a debt problem, because all the really big debts off the books, it comes across as acting like a junkie.

    I can quit the spending habit when ever I want to, honest.

    I don’t have a spending habit.

    I don’t have a debt problem.

    My debt problem is affordable.

    I cut back on my debt slowly.

  2. Don Gately says:

    “Miliband must face this problem head on and if he can portray the Tories as out of touch right wingers there is an option.”

    can’t help but feel a point is being missed here

    most voters Miliband will need in 2015 already believed the tories were out of touch in 2010 yet they still got into govt. This is a task that needn’t be a priority. What he has to do is show he really understands what these voters actually want.

    messing around with pasty based photo ops may have been a way to have a go at the tories but I don’t think he emerged from that as someone a voter in bradford might see as anything like them.

    we need a “life under us will be better because…” narrative – not “the tories are rich” narrative – the tories managed to get into govt despite that and banging on about it doesn’t make it more true and more powerful.

    It’s not that we lack economic credibility – it’s credibility period that we lack. They’ll believe ed about the tories only when they start to believe he’s on their side – We establish that first then we can talk about the rest and to establish that trust we need to make a relevant offer – which we still lack after 2 years of opposition. All we have is Ed talking about the need to make hard choices without then following through and his talk of a “squeezed middle” may distance him from northern supporters – the middle have it easy compared to us

    This focus on attacking the tories fails to address the leadership vacuum that’s just dragging us down.

  3. swatantra says:

    The paradox is that everyone is calling for growth when logic dictates constraint.
    The West in general is overconsuming and overwasting resources; its a throwaway society; a lot of it not recycled. But any politican that suggests cutting back and austerity and prudence and good old fashioned puritanism and old fashioned values and principles is not going to be very popular. We are on an escalator to destruction, but no politician is going to speak up and say Stop the World; I want to get off.

  4. Alan Williams says:

    “The biggest issue is the impression that Labour was profligate with the public purse and that caused the crisis.”

    I must have missed George Galloway’s scathing analysis of Gordon Brown’s spending patterns…

  5. Richard Kelham says:

    We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the Labour candidate was beaten by someone ostensibly well to the left of the current party position (if there is such a thing). Strident calls for a move back to the “centre ground” – which I take to be code for New Labour/Tory Lite garbage – is not the answer.

  6. madasafish says:

    Whilst you have Balls as Shadow Chancellor you are doomed to the accusation of financial incompetence – Because it is TRUE.

    The starting position is obvious. And the cure is obvious.. Get some realistic financial policies you can defend..

    That means firing Balls and his wife and most of the Shadow Cabinet who are also tainted with failure.

  7. Phil W says:

    “The biggest issue is the impression that Labour was profligate with the public purse and that caused the crisis. It’s not true but it’s the impression.”

    No, the impression is that Labour spent too much in the good times and ran up too much debt. And it is true.

    “Miliband must face this problem head on and if he can portray the Tories as out of touch right wingers there is an option.”

    This is exactly the mindset that will lose Labour the next election. You think that people won’t vote Tory if they realise they are ‘right wingers’. After all, who could vote for right-wingers? WRONG. People are quite happy to vote in the right-wing. It’s being too left-wing that will lose the next election.

    The only reason TB ever won an election is because he ditched al lot of left-wing claptrap that was keeping Labour out of power and recognised that most British people are aspirational and they want a government that supports them in that. Labour is seen as the party for public sector workers and benefit claimants and that is a big problem.

    The same applies to technical arguments about deficit reduction that will never engage the electorate. The Tories have not been ‘forced to the right’, they’re right smack-bang in the centre and a damn site more in touch with the electorate than before the last election. They may be about to score a massive own goal with the NHS so at least Labour has that going for them. You can’t go around the Tories by moving to the left, you have to win the centre.

    If Labour wants to win an election then try being tough on crime, bring back selective education, support the cuts on benefits and insist that people work for a living. Make the country a decent place to live!

  8. madasafish says:

    Phil W

    Don’t bother talking sense. Most readers don’t like the truth: they like the idea that somewhere is a pot of money – taken from someone else and not them of course – and it can be spent and everything will be rosy.

    As for the NHS.. well the fact that the population is ageing rapidly seems to pass most Labour politicians by…they did nothing about it except appointing a proven incompetent in charge of killing patients to run the Care Commission to tell everyone everything was OK… Ideas of reforming the NHS seem to be too much to think of and they never explained it to their supporters – so most of them have no idea what’s likely to hit the NHS in the next 15 years.. It will make current NHS problems look a picnic.

    It’s rather like Ed Balls economic policy: written by a very clever man to confuse his supporters who think money can be printed for ever.

    Most of the Labour Party live in Never Never land as far as economic and NHS reality are concerned..

  9. Anon E Mouse says:

    As long as Ed Miliband is leader of the Labour Party there is no chance of them governing this country.

    The sooner Labour fanboys stop supporting the likes of Miliband, Balls, Harman or Ken Livingston the better.

    Stop the blinkered support for losers and weirdo’s and election success may be possible.

  10. westmonsterblog says:

    It’s sad to see every single one of you has swallowed the party message without even a slight sign of indigestion. It’s not about establishing financial credibility it’s about having credible policies in the first place – better said, having any policies at all other than ‘we will do what the Tories say only less so’. The way to win is to be Tory says Phil W: tough on crime and cut benefits. Oh dear, oh dear. How can Ed fight back? How about, erm, promising to speak up for the less-privileged rather than for the swing voter. Gasp, How shocking.

  11. madasafish says:

    This reminds me of Neil Kinnock all over again: but he at least was a normal kind of person anyone – Tory or Labour – could empathise with .. even if they did not agree with him..

    Can anyone normal empathise with Miliband, Balls Harman or Livingstone?

    I would have said Yes to Livingstone – but his recent comments suggest not so now.

  12. Anon E Mouse says:


    Speaking up for the “less-priviledged” will never win an election. They don’t vote.

    How about Labour getting rid of professional politicians who represent nobody and start standing up for the working classes?

    And they can start by supporting no one being paid £26k for not working and voting the government benefit changes through – 70% of Labour supporters agree with that.

    Then they can demand stopping the “green taxes” to reward rich landowners with poor people’s money to host stupid windmills that don’t work.

    Then they can get rid of all the Primrose Hill toff supporters that annoy people such as Polly Toynbee and childish socialist’s whilst they’re at it.

    Stop supporting Ken Livingston and types like him.

    And finally stop telling us we’re wrong about the deficit being global despite the evidence showing we were overspending since 2007.

    We are not stupid and do not like being lectured to by people who caused the mess this country is in.

    That’d be a start…

  13. Stephen says:

    There is clearly a longer term problem with how parts of our society have become detached from the whole – and this is not just young Moslems by any means. But nevertheless it also looks as though Labour got both its strategy and tactics in respect of Bradford West badly wrong – you don’t let a demagogue and “nationalist and socialist” (his words not mine) run riot as your opponent without any coherent attack on his position. Just look at the Labour leaflets issued which were almost entirely focused on the Tory and did nothing to attack what Galloway was saying about clans (and this was coming from a man who has something of a history in sucking up to clan leaders elsewhere in the World).

    I don’t expect Ed to run byelection campaigns but he does need to exercise some oversight and make sure that he gives the job to people who have some degree of competence (and sack those who clearly don’t).

  14. Desperate Labour guy says:

    “Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist”

    Really? this is tripe.

    “But now more than ever this needs to be harnessed and turned into something tangible and lasting. A narrative that can run until the next election.”

    The party is lurching through a public and humiliating death. The lot in number 10 are hopeless and fundamentally the Labour party are hopeless. Our current breed of politicians on both sides are crap.

  15. Mike Homfray says:

    Galloway’s successful campaign had very little to do with the economy

    Its focus was foreign affairs

  16. Stephen G. says:

    Mimic the Tories in the hope of winning more votes?! In all seriousness, this amounts to a declaration of intellectual and political bankruptcy. You may as well write: return to your constituencies and prepare for oblivion.

  17. Desperate Labour guy says:

    I had to come back to this threat and point out that this is is Labour’s biggest problem, apparatchik fan boys who are out there to promote the party lines. They somehow feel that by saying “Labour was profligate with the public purse and that caused the crisis. It’s not true but it’s the impression.” They never say how. Some come on smart pant how? Every time the fan boys say this a dime a dozen Tory will come and rip this apart with the truth in the form of numbers. The fan boys will not argue against it with hard facts because its crap.

    Fundamenatally the number tribal Labour supporters, is shrinking daily, some vote Labour as its supposed to be the party of the average Joe. Most want policy and Labour offers nothing. Calling for rhetoric is BS people want some reality. The Labour vote staying at home will gift the Tories another term.

    “It doesn’t mean Labour must accept it has been wrong on the economy all along, far from it.” This is so ingrained in the countries psyche, trying to say the opposite is like putting out the towering inferno by weeing on it. The rest of the article is just regurgitated rubbish that has resulted in the worst polling on economic competence.

    History has an uncanny knack of repeating itself. Post Callaghan we were knackered and we are exactly in the same place now. Blair & Co rebuilt that reputation and won. The Eds were a part of the creation of the reputation and the Torys will take great pleasure in pointing that out to the electorate.

    This article is not worthy of anyone who calls themselves a financial and political journalist. Cut the spin and come back with some hard facts that dispute the Tory line.

  18. james says:

    What you seem to be forgetting is that I’m a big WINNER in this budget. I’m on about 16k and own my own small terraced house outright (so locked out of the benefit system) in a very average area in Northern England and for the first time I see a government that is actually thinking about me for once as well as having a lib dem led council that spearheaded free top-up insulation.

    The problem Labour has is that whenever any of their spokespeople talk about spending more money people who are on the `thriftier side of the cultural divide` lock up their wallets. Everyone knows that we’re in `shit creek without a paddle` borrowing 4 pounds for every 3 we take in. Everyone knows that massive spending increases on consumption (not long-term things like infrastructure) will just have to be paid back in spades later and I know that will be my savings receiving lower interest rates or me being clobbered for tax when I’m older.

    And there you have it – Labour did nothing to halt the spending bubble, the housing bubble (which is the main cause of inequality in this country) nor the welfare bubble and nothing Miliband has said has persuaded me he has the WILL to do anything different again.

    People like me don’t have a great love of the tories or the coalition just a grudging respect. We’re not looking to LOVE a government as we know that’s all Labour wants – to be loved by over-spending and hiding the truth. We want to be able to believe that a government is doing the right things DESPITE public opinion and that Labour can WILL it to happen. So, are Labour brave enough to be hated by elements of their own party or the left again? Are they brave enough to put forward a coherent economic plan?

    One interesting fact – Labour has short money of about 9million (from the public purse) to assist the Leader of the opposition. If it can’t work out what it wants with these resources at its disposal how on earth is it supposed to run an economy?

  19. madasafish says:

    James is right.
    The budget meant those on low wages paid less tax.
    Funny then that Labour never mention that…


    Any suggestion that Labour have any economic competence is totally dead whilst Balls – the architect of past Governments’ policy is in the Shadow Cabinet. A strong Leader would ditch him and blame him and Brown for things like the increased taxation of the lower paid to fund the benefits of those who have never worked or who will not work.

    But instead the policy was to ensure enough people were dependent on the state they would always vote Labour… and lets import cheap Labour to take jobs the native Brits will not.

    But then, when you have a millionaire as Leader of Labour, attacks on the Tories as rich toffs ring rather hollow..

  20. Ray_North says:

    This article has brought all the amateur economists out of the woodwork – the reality is that economics is a tool of good governance, it is not (or should not), be an ideology in itself. The current right wing obsession with our debt is a debating fig leaf that covers the ideological desire of this government to pin back the state and cut taxes.
    As a result of this, just as in the 1980’s the country is taking a massive step backwards – and many, many people are angry.
    In Bradford George Galloway was able to articulate this anger far better than Labour have. Eds M and B’s problem is that they are taken in by the Tory economic argument and are scared of articulating with any force an alternative – the result is that they just look a bit rubbish.
    I expand on this if you want to follow the link:

  21. madasafish says:

    the reality is that economics is a tool of good governance, it is not (or should not), be an ideology in itself. The current right wing obsession with our debt is a debating fig leaf that covers the ideological desire of this government to pin back the state and cut taxes.

    Spoken by someone who no doubt wants to borrow more.

  22. james says:

    Your post says it all really – it’s NOT right-wing to obsess about debt. Debt is simply the transference of energy from one person to another – thus `you work hard and lend me money so that I can work hard and give it back to you with a little bit more money`. What’s happened is that the UK has been leveraged to the hilt where we owe £4 for every £3 we bring in and all Labour wants to do is borrow even more.

    FFS it’s not as if we’re paying back the debt just spending LESS than we used to as a deficit.

    It’s pretty obvious – Labour is a bankrupt political party economically (it literally relies on one interest group, the unions, for most of its funds and IS bankrupt) and has no coherent economic policy, is morally bankrupt because it won’t even apologise for its errors and seems to want to govern by the same old same old `let’s hide the facts from the kiddies and keep on giving them more lollipops` and politically bankrupt because it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a Scandinavian style social democratic party or an uber-liberal party.

    The unions pull one way (and will only acquiesce if they’re top of the new heap) while the Blairites pull another.

    As for Ray_North I would love Labour to espouse the things you’re espousing as the whole bankrupt crew would be out of office for decades if not more.

  23. Sally Burr says:

    Most of the commentators here should go away quietly and read what a real economist has to say. Try googling “Paul Krugman”.

  24. swatantra says:

    Labour were right to focus on national issues, after all it was a Westminster bye election, not a Parish Council or Bradford City Council Election.; hence it is expected that voters pay a bit of attention to national issues and not solely whether there should be fortnightly bin collections, which I for one would oppose vehemently. However the City Council was a bit shortsighted in tnot going ahead with City Regeneration. he fact is there never is a right time to be spending money on regeneration but you should always remember it’ll cost you 5 times as much if you delay for a few years. So its in the interests of economy to do it now.

  25. james says:

    If Paul Krugman is the answer no one believes that Labour would implement what he says competently.

  26. Desperate Labour guy says:

    Swatantra said “Labour were right to focus on national issues, after all it was a Westminster bye election”

    It was so right the election was lost.

  27. Phil W says:


    “How about, erm, promising to speak up for the less-privileged rather than for the swing voter. Gasp, How shocking.”

    This is a classic example of another major problem which will ensure Labour will not win an election.

    The issue is that you make no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. Just because someone is ‘less privileged’ it does not automatically follow that they deserve more material wealth courtesy of the tax payer.

    The electorate is happy to help the deserving poor. i.e. the sick, the disabled, the unemployed who are actively looking for work.

    The electorate is VERY UNHAPPY if they feel they are supporting people who are claiming benefits simply because they cannot be bothered to take the work available to them.

    It is no use pretending that no-one is in the latter category because a short walk around town is enough to confirm otherwise to anyone with functioning eyesight. In addition, thousands of immigrants have come to this country and thrived with little apparent difficultly so people reason logically that work cannot be that difficult to find.

    The electorate does not care about some Marxist ideal of ever increasing ‘equality’, they care about genuine fairness which is very different. Why should people who do not work be able claim more than the average working wage in benefits? Why are tax payers forking out thousands of pounds a month so a single mum can live in Westminster or Chelsea? It’s very obvious to all except the profoundly delusional that that is a crazy situation.

    Labour needs to focus on rewarding work, not ‘poverty’.

Leave a Reply