Coffee House

Ed Miliband’s next big test as Labour leader

3 October 2012

The good thing for Labour about Ed Miliband’s speech yesterday was that he didn’t talk about the deficit, or welfare or other thorny issues which make certain sections of the party very grumpy indeed. The Labour leader made only fleeting references to cuts to public services, too. So there was little to disagree on. It is when he comes to tackle issues such as these that Miliband will see his party mood sour considerably from its cheery response yesterday.

The problem is that on these issues, the party is still struggling to work out how far it should go to meet voters’ demands without betraying what it sees as its core values. Liam Byrne is a member of the shadow cabinet who is well-attuned to what polling shows about attitudes towards welfare, but his pronouncements have a tendency to dismay his own activists. He performed an awkward dance on the benefits cap, which meant he was both ridiculed by Cameron for eventually opposing the section of the legislation, and criticised by members of his own party for failing to oppose it sooner.


I’ve just spoken to Labour MP Austin Mitchell who is furious that Byrne continues to be ‘too cautious’ on welfare cuts. ‘It’s the job of the opposition to oppose, not make the case for Tory cuts. I think we are being far too cautious,’ he said. He condemned Byrne’s concession that Labour may end universal eligibility for benefits such as the winter fuel payment, saying that this would be ‘difficult’ for Labour.

‘People will come back to us because the economy has failed, not because we are considering ending universal benefits or talking about public sector reform.’

A far more toxic row is over public services and public sector pay. The battle cry from the unions to drive out the Blairite ‘cuckoos‘ from Labour’s nest came at the start of the party’s conference, but the putsch hasn’t really happened yet. When the Labour leadership reaches the point where it must articulate its position on pay and benefits in detail, the union chiefs will go into overdrive: remember that they still believe Ed Miliband owes them something for his union-backed leadership victory in 2010.

Labour MPs are currently rightly chuffed at how remarkably united their party is given it only recently left government. One remarked to me recently that the Conservatives were doing them an enormous favour by tearing each other apart on Europe, Lords reform and David Cameron’s leadership in general as the rows kept Labour plodding along outside the media spotlight. But it’s easy to be united when your party is swerving around awkward policy details, and it’s easy to be united when your leader has delivered a very impressive big picture speech. The far more telling test of Miliband’s leadership will be whether he can steer his party towards policies voters are looking for and make difficult spending decisions while maintaining unity.

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  • McRobbie

    Millie clearly learned something at his school and at the dinner table, he’s a talker. Now watch this space for something that he actually does: you’ll be waiting a long tiime.

  • David Lindsay

    The glorified gossip columnists of “political journalism”, with their total lack of interest in policy or philosophy, have no idea what to make of One Nation Labour, and have been demonstrating all over the place that they are historically illiterate by droning on that
    Miliband’s invocation of Disraeli is somehow “cross-dressing”.

    Next to none comes from One Nation backgrounds in the middle and working classes, and they will certainly have learned nothing about it from any academic course of Politics. At best, any mention of it there would be termed “revisionist” rather than simply factual and the only key to understanding the Labour Movement.

    Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s own paid staff is made up very heavily indeed of people who have come across One Nation Labour, at least since coming into that employ even if never before then, and who define their entire mission in life as being the suppression of that tradition.

    Using the standard definition of “right-wing” in terms of Gladstonian global utopianism both capitalist economically and, in that cause, interventionist militarily, these people’s hero, David Miliband, would have been by far the most right-wing Leader of any major party since well before the War, and at least arguably since well before the twentieth century.

    Whereas Ed Miliband promises in his Leader’s Speech to repeal the corrupt and corrupting NHS Bill, his brother wrote that Bill word-for-word when he was running Tony Blair’s Policy Unit, as he did almost the entire Coalition programme, itself an imposition of the utterly Gladstonian contents of The Orange Book under the name “The Coalition Agreement”, for which no more than a quarter of delegates had ever been persuaded to vote at any Liberal Democrat Conference. Such in the nature to which this country was subjected in May 2010.

    But that coup had been planned in detail a decade or more earlier by Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell (said to be looking for a seat), the five figures who would have been in Cabinet instead of the Lib Dems if Cameron had won an overall majority (Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers, Peter Mandelson, James Purnell and Andrew Adonis), and the Leader of the “Opposition” who would have been attending the Cameron Cabinet if everything had gone according to plan, David Miliband.

    But they were frustrated by Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Otherwise, the whole privatisation and cuts programme, with its attendant wars abroad and assaults on civil liberties at home, would have happened, as only too much of it did, 10 years ago and more. It would all have been very firmly entrenched indeed by now.

    Yet it is to that, and to its principal architect and apologist, that the Labour Party’s paid staff very often continues to feel fealty. The London Regional Office campaigned openly for Boris Johnson, and therefore, not that it has to, has still yet to notify Dan Hodges of his ipso facto expulsion for having done the same thing.

    Are matters different up here? Perhaps. But I should take an awful lot of convincing. And I am not the only one. I only have to think of the party staffer best known to me in these parts. He has probably not read Confessions of an Old Labour High Tory, written by someone who had been in the year below him at school and who had been instrumental in first co-opting him onto a Parish Council. He would certainly never admit to having done so, still less to agreeing with any of it.

    Yet, in his heart of hearts, he probably would agree with about as much of it as that with which he would disagree. But he has spent 15 years defining himself against every word lately collected therein. A party in which the tendency recently organised as Blue Labour rules in benign coalition with what used to be called the Soft Left would probably suit the real views of man halfway between the two.

    But he has invested too much in an allegiance to everything to which they are both opposed, to everything that defines itself against them both. And, as the world turns, precisely that is why he will never now be an MP, but, being the same age as I am, can probably look forward to another 35 years of putting the kettle on. He is not the only one. There is also, if perhaps to a lesser extent, the central Labour Party staffer whom I know best, already a PhD by the time that he ever joined the party, and who took an awful lot of convincing to vote Labour at all when he and I were both postgrads, though no longer housemates, in 2001. Among many others, no doubt.

  • Gaverne

    Not a word from our friend telemachus this week-he must be performing a vital role at the Labour conference, like collecting empty glasses in the bar.

  • Golben Amduke

    Can it be true that a party leader can go from Wallace & Grommit to future PM on the basis of one speech without notes? Funny, yes, it was H2B and look where that got the Tories. So that’s one attack avenue that’s a dead end.
    Miliband is a triumph of style over substance, political style that is. Never had a job, never run anything, but H2B can’t very well oppose him on that ground can he…? Another attack blunted.
    Attack New New Labour (or is it now New Very Old Labour if it’s One Nation they want) on competence? Er, no. Rail Franchise, last year’s budget U-turns etc etc.
    That leaves freedom as an attack line. The warm enfolding arm of the Hobsbawmian state? Aactually the sickly embrace of the incompetent state is where I would start. Anyone who wants to entrust their future to the state that brought you the Iraq War, the NHS computer system, the tax credit shambles, banking regulation and other hilarious disasters must be out of their mind.
    Attack the Old New Slightly Old Older Newer that Older Newish Labour party on big-state incompetence is the way to go.

  • HooksLaw

    Miliband will keep his party with him because they will not make any tough decisions before the election and if they were so fortunate enough to win it they would not make any tough decisions after the election either – unless forced to.
    They spent 13 years avoiding tough decisions, they spent 13 years bribing the electorate with their own money and fobbing off incompetent journalists like you.

  • Chris lancashire

    Milliband talked to the Labour Conference Hall not the electorate at large. As a consequence he dodged – and is seen to have dodged – all the tough issues that need addressing. Mind you, no change there – Brown and Balls consistently talked of “taking hard decisions” and consistently failed to do so.
    As for Austin Mitchell – yes that’s it Austin oppose anything from the Coalition even if it’s right. Spoken like a true, professional politician.

    • James102

      That is a problem for our entire political class, not just Miliband and Labour. They are a sub-culture and detached from the values of the majority of the electorate.
      The ‘500 years under an oak tree’ was misjudged as it draws attention to how foreign he is rather than playing it down. Naturally it does not matter and is an asset in Hampstead ,but not outside the main cities, where a lot of the electorate can trace their family back for generations in England and would be proud to think they could have had ancestors that viewed the old oak..

      Nothing on Eric Hobsbawn?
      It would give us a chance to speculate both on his links to the Cambridge spies and the influence of the émigrés ,such as the Milibands ,who came here as a result of WW2 .

      • Tarka the Rotter

        ‘500 years under an oak tree’ also shows remarkable contempt for the indigenous people of these islands… Not everything that hails from mitteleuropa is wonderful… and as for his family embracing ‘British values’, didn’t his father once wish the English lost the war so they ‘got a taste’ of what it was like living under the Nazis? The man is beneath contempt.

        • James102

          Yes it is part of the disconnect.
          What he does not understand is that by being proud of not being British he is insulting those of us who are.
          Old Hobs is dead, I’m glad to say, but the damage those Marxist émigrés have done to this country lives on. As they say, never let a good turn go unpunished.

  • Jules

    Voters don’t want cuts, that is why Labour are 10-15% ahead in the polls.

    • PDVZ

      It doen’t matter whether the voters want them or not, cuts have to be made whoever is in power.

      • 2trueblue

        Too true, debts have to be paid. No other way out.

    • Hugh

      The most recent YouGov poll: Cons 34%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 8%. All of those parties support the cuts = 51%.

      Labour: 42%.

      Difference is the anti-cuts vote is currently more united. Even then, though, Labour’s figure I would guess contains a big chunk of Blairites who accept the case for cuts but are currently giving Miliband and his eternal policy review the benefit of the doubt.

      • James102

        Yes, let’s see what the post speech polls show.
        I don’t think they will move much, voters have disengaged from politicians.

    • James102

      The voters don’t want mass immigration or subservience to the EU but they got them. The voters want a referendum on EU membership but won’t get it.
      You seem to be suggesting this is a democratic society ,not one that sentences someone to six months for using ‘Darkie’ in a blog post.
      It would make virtually no difference if we had a Labour government, once in power they would ignore the unions and public opinion. They would probably introduce state funding of political parties early on so would be less reliant on the unions anyway.

  • toco10

    Red Ed’s millionaire status coupled with his utter domination by the trades unions make him unelectable as voters understand his cynical approach to politics.Let us not forget he was taught by the irrational mobile phone thrower a certain Gordon Brown.

  • Frank P

    Only one question Issy; you write like a member of the Labour Party – are you? I think we should be told.

    • Coffeehousewall

      [Isabel was] one of the reporters on the Inside Housing newsdesk (a social housing website), having joined Inside Housing
      as a graduate in 2009. Key patches that I cover include sustainability,
      housing benefit, tenure reform and the north of England.

      Before that she worked freelance for the Observer, the Times and the BBC.

      • Swiss Bob

        So that’s a yes then.

        • Coffeehousewall

          Well a large proportion of the Conservative Party in Parliament have been members of the Labour Party. My own Conservative MP was a Labour member but was unable to gain a candidacy. She is now a member of the Conservative Party, I don’t know if she is still a member of the Labour Party. It hardly matters now. All three main parties have set themselves against the nation.

          • Nicholas

            It is beginning to look very much as though the Conservative Party was one of the last destinations on the long march . . .


            • TomTom

              Clearly. One World View in different wrappers

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