by Jonathan Todd
“The next election”, according to an answer that Ed Miliband gave on Friday, “will be a choice between a big reckoning and steady as she goes.” There wasn’t much that Mliband understated in setting out how Britain would change with him in charge. But this was one thing. There is no steady as she goes option.
George Osborne can only make his sums add up with a much reduced role for government outside of ringfenced areas and/or further cuts for the disabled, children and the working poor. That’s not so much steady as she goes as once more into the breach, as the ship heads towards the rapids. Osborne gave the impression in 2011 that the electorate had sacrificed all that he’d ask of them. Now he asks them to keep sacrificing till 2018/19.
His ‘baseline theory’ of politics encourages this strategy. This forces Labour to choose: Match my baseline and all the tough choices that entails or don’t and accept that the full force of HM Treasury will be thrown at undermining Labour’s credibility.
Miliband’s speech was his response to Osborne’s gaunlet. Which he picked up, tossed aside and dismissed as redundant. Deficit reduction alone can’t fix our economy, he told us. Nor alone can it make hard work pay or be a vision for the country, he continued.
Osborne tried to force Miliband to talk about the size of government but he insisted on telling business what to do. His refusal to play Osborne’s game may have had something of Jarvis Cocker’s snapping of a pencil about it (See two minutes in to this). There is, however, nothing scrawny about Miliband’s attitude to business. He is as muscular in articulating what he will require of them as Osborne is unrelenting in shrinking the state. It’s not a nudge – once a buzzword in David Cameron’s circle – that Miliband wants to give business but an unavoidable prod.