by Ben Mitchell
You have to admire Ed Miliband. Most would be desperate to rid themselves of the “Red Ed” tag. He seems to take it in his stride. In fact, I think he quite likes it. Being to the left of the public doesn’t seem to faze him. It spurs him on. The public don’t know what’s good for them. He’ll drag them to his way of thinking even if it kills him.
Before his speech, I did my usual “10 things I hope to hear” on Twitter bit. Two were answered. Partly. Number 1: to spell out how he’d help people struggling with the cost of living. And number 9: “two shamefully populist policies.” I got half my wish on this one.
Whatever the energy companies say, however loudly they protest (the “unreliable witnesses” as Ed has called them), this one will be warmly welcomed by all voters. Whether it stands up in the face of scrutiny, time will tell. We should know once the Tory attack dogs are out in force and the PM’s had his go at conference.
The second – lowering the voting age – reeks of pub politics. A few pals get together down their local and thrash out some raw ideas about how they intend to capture the youth vote. This probably makes most people’s top five. Personally, I’m undecided on this issue, but if pushed, would say that 16 just seems too young to be allowed to vote. Yes, you can die for your country, but only with parental consent.
I was at conference last year (my first) and thought Ed delivered a quite brilliant speech. His attacks on the coalition were down to a tee. I watched this year’s online, and in order to ensure any opinions weren’t polluted by minute by minute commentary on Twitter, turned all social media off. Without having time to gauge the politicos instant reactions, my first thoughts were that the Ed I saw last year was an Ed at the peak of his powers. This year’s was an excellent performance: accomplished, smooth, self-deprecating (something Ed is very good at), but one for the activists.
This wasn’t the speech of a future prime minister, but of a Labour leader who bit by bit is remaking the party in his image. Members, supporters, councillors (who seem to be disproportionally on the party’s left wing) lapped it up. This was the Ed they voted for, Blairism and New Labour has been extinguished once and for all.
Ed Miliband is clearly staking everything on winning his core vote, hoping grumbly Liberals fall in line, and that UKIP do their worst to the Cameroons. It’s a huge risk, but a calculated one. Ed is used to taking risks. This is the thing I admire about him. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll pay off. Ignore the daily opinion polls. The only poll this year worth paying any attention to was the local election results in May. Labour won 29% of the vote. As they did at the last general election. In three years, they’ve stood still. Time and again it is worth repeating: Labour’s traditional base are an unreliable lot.
Ed knows this too. That was why the Lib Dems got only one mention. There’s no point being too nasty. Many Labour voters want blood. But, in 2015 they’re going to need their yellow friends. As a best case scenario.
The reaction this morning to the energy freeze proposals was to be expected. But, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of economic populism as David Clark over at Shifting Grounds calls it:
“The remarkable thing about these measures is that while both of them [the second, directed at landowners, asking them to either build on or give up empty land] will be attacked by opponents as a lurch to the left, they will nevertheless prove hugely popular with the public.”
In this respect David Clark is right. The public remain stubborn ‘small c’ conservatives, but retain a mischievous left wing streak. Most would renationalise the railways tomorrow if they could.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of easy populism. I’ve been pleading to see more of it. The odd tough on crime measure would be nice.
What Ed’s speech has shown is that he has pretty much abandoned trying to woo the swing voter. He obviously thinks they won’t be necessary. He may still capture the ex Lib Dems, but after yesterday’s showing he’ll be able to count on the backing of disgruntled Tories on one hand.
I was pleased to see the environment getting a mention and a nod to one million green jobs, however unrealistic this appears. Green issues have been scandalously sidelined by this government. Short termism always wins the day.
The passages on Murdoch and the NHS shamelessly played to the gallery. I’m afraid I thought some of his comments on the NHS were ill judged. This has not been a good year for health professionals. Whether you believe the coalition wish to privatise the hell out of the NHS or not shouldn’t detract from recent or past cases of negligence and appalling standards of care that have made headlines.
The reaction by GPs at being told they should work out of hours and on weekends in return for their ample salary has been unedifying. Miliband was right that Labour resuscitated the NHS, but the needlessly overgenerous salaries to GPs and consultants is evidence of money not well spent when times were good.
I’m getting increasingly irritated by the “We Love the NHS” mantra that all Labour supporters feel we must chant ad nauseum. The NHS is a vital institution that needs to be preserved. It does some things extremely well, and others not so. It is not beyond criticism. A little humility for scandals such as Mid-Staffs, which happened on Labour’s watch, wouldn’t go amiss.
My overall worry is that this speech will keep the status-quo as it is. Those who loved it were going to vote Labour anyway. Those unsure of Ed Miliband may have been impressed by his delivery, his warmth, but still scratching their heads as to why they should vote for him. Decent guy, likeable guy, they would have thought, but my future PM? Unlikely.
Again, this leaves us as we were, but now three and a half years on.
What Ed’s performance did do was convince me further that Labour must do all they can to push for the leaders’ debates on TV. I think Ed will come out of them well. This will be essential floating voter territory. A couple more populist ideas are a must. Think public transport and those weary commuters in the South-East. Their votes are sorely needed. Or maybe not, if yesterday is anything to go by.