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Ed Miliband’s economic lacuna

13 January 2013

Refusing to publish your 2015 manifesto at the start of 2013 is, obviously, a sensible one. However uncomfortable Labour frontbenchers have felt over the past two and a half years about not being able to respond to the jeers of ‘well, what would you do then?’ from ministers at departmental questions, writing another one of the longest suicide notes in history would have left them in still greater discomfort at the polls. But how do voters know whether to trust you or not when they’ve only recently booted you out of government?

Ed Miliband was trying to explain this tension to James Landale on Marr this morning.

Miliband: But, James, I’ve tried to explain to you why it isn’t reasonable for an opposition at this stage of a parliament to set out precisely what will be in the manifesto. I’m happy to come back on the programme and talk about our manifesto when we publish our manifesto.

Landale: You could be Prime Minister in two years’ time.

Miliband: Exactly, exactly.

Landale: If that’s what the British electorate vote.

Miliband: Exactly.

Landale: And yet there’s this gap, there’s this gaping lacuna with the electorate not knowing what you’re really going to promise to do.

When Landale pressed him further, Miliband said:

‘I’ve explained the different choices we’d be making. But, look, if I was coming along two and a half years before an election and was saying to you, without knowing the state of the public finances, without knowing the state of the economy here’s every dot and comma of our manifesto, you’d be saying that’s not responsible. And by the way, look Labour did do this in the past, in the 1992 parliament. It was a mistake and we’re not going to make that mistake.’

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What he didn’t mention was that the party’s decision to undertake a zero-based spending review will enable it to avoid articulating many of the difficult decisions until after the election. This is convenient, but as the Conservative reaction to Miliband’s interview shows, it’s a big gamble. Grant Shapps, never a man to miss an opportunity to poke the opposition, has released a statement which reads:

‘Just what is the point of Ed Miliband? He’s got absolutely nothing to say about how Labour would tackle the big issues facing the country. He opposes every difficult decision this Government is taking to deal with the deficit, to reform welfare and to reduce immigration. All Ed Miliband offers is more spending, more borrowing and more debt – exactly how Labour got us into this mess in the first place.’

Therein lies the problem with an ongoing refusal to talk about spending cuts: Ed Miliband is trying to turn his party around from an election defeat in 2010 to be a proper fighting force in 2015. This is a huge task, and will hinge largely on the message he can give the electorate about how trustworthy his party is on economic issues. Thus far, he hasn’t done badly at uniting his party, but he owes part of his success to a refusal to provoke members on key issues.

So far, the Labour narrative on the economy has focused largely about what Labour wouldn’t do, but because the party needs to convince voters that it should be trusted again on the economy, it also needs to talk about what it would do, too. Because if it doesn’t, as voters approach the general election, their general discomfort with the government’s handling of the economy (60 per cent of voters surveyed by YouGov for the Sunday Times say they think the government is managing the economy badly) may not crystallise into them being able to imagine Labour doing any better when they make their decision in 2015. As with the question of whether voters can imagine Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, they could also struggle to imagine the party as the fiscally responsible force Miliband wants it to appear if it doesn’t want to talk spending at all.

The Coalition won’t waste this: both parties have already made clear that they will ask voters whether they are really ready to trust Ed Balls with their money in 2015. Today’s interview will bolster their confidence that this could be a fruitful strategy.

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Show comments
  • dalai guevara

    The thing is, we are fully aware of the fact that a disastrous Brown was not ousted by a victorious Cameron who managed to convince the masses. In 2015, we will see a repeat procedure – this time the other way round. This lack of compelling sweven has now had this country in its grip for over a decade – for far too long

    • Fergus Pickering

      Compelling what?

      • dalai guevara

        thought adding something of proto-Germanic origin would clarify where that inspiration could come from

  • anyfool

    There is something inherently wrong with this man, it is hard to pin down, is he just a bit dim or is he really living in an alternative world where reality is second place to the programme he has mapped out.
    He wants to imply fiscal robustness by refusing to say if he would reverse any policies that they have fought tooth and nail against, he then tries to give the impression he would have never implemented them in the first place as growing the economy would have removed the need for them.
    It begs the question of why Labour had a programme of cuts slightly less than the cuts of the Coalition before the last election, it also makes the too far too fast mantra a meaningless, a bit like everything that spews forth from the whole Labour Party.
    It works for them judging by the polls.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Well look at the idiots who troll for the Labour party here.

    • Chris lancashire

      Have you noticed how the”too far too fast” crap has disappeared off the Ballsband commentary? Perhaps they realise they’ve made yet another mistake.

      • Dimoto

        Mili E. hasn’t even guaranteed Balls the Treasury, (but that won’t stop the expectation being a dead weight at the election), and will bring his brother back.

        Either Balls will become Chancellor and set about undermining the Milis, Brown style, or Mili D./A.N.Other will become Chancellor and the warfare will be vicious.

        I would guess that Balls will be ejected at some point (probably soon after Mandelson offers his support to the Milis).

  • alexsandr

    We need to remind everyone that Millipede was part of the labour government from day 1 and is, therefore. responsible for the mess we are in now.
    So having b0110cksed it up once do we want this man in change again?

    • 2trueblue

      For that to happen we need a media who can actually articulate the facts and report what actually happened.

  • David B

    The support he offered to Balls sound similar to the “full support” of the chairman offered to the football managers. Balls should start thinking what he wants to do when on the back benches!!

    • Fergus Pickering

      Suport his lady wife.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Sorry. Support.

  • NRiches

    Guy Fawkes where are you when we really need you?

  • Nick Reid

    No one is expecting a detailed budget to be implemented in 2015 to be announced today. However there is no reason why the basic principles of a Labour 2015 budget can’t be announced today.

    I suspect what most Labour supporters want Milliband to say is that “the cuts” will largely be reversed, taxes raised for the richest half of the population (and substantially raised for the wealthiest 20%) and borrowing will be allowed to increase over the short term to “fund” reversal of cuts and invest in infrastructure.

    The only reason I can think of why he doesn’t make such an announcement is he doesn’t belief he would win the resulting economic argument that increasing borrowing substantially wouldn’t result in higher interest rates and a weaker pound and thus a rapid rise in imported inflation.

    • telemachus

      Just what is so wrong with trumpeting the Balls build for growth plan?

      “Repeating the bank bonus tax – and using “the money to build 25,000 affordable homes and guarantee a job for 100,000 young people”
      Bringing forward long-term investment projects, such as schools, roads and transport, to create jobs
      Reversing January’s “damaging” VAT rise now for a temporary period
      Immediate one-year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance
      One-year national insurance tax break “for every small firm which takes on extra workers, using the money left over from the government’s failed national insurance rebate for new businesses”

      • Harold Angryperson

        Did somebody just fart?

      • Nick Reid

        1) Bank bonus tax ? If we taxed bank bonuses beyond existing income taxes then bonuses would either be reduced which would result in less tax revenue to spend on houses & jobs, or banks would have to reduce their asset base which would lead to low levels of loans for small companies and mortgages. So debatable whether the overall economic impact is postive or not.

        2) Bringing forward investment ? Yup, all very good. You just have to guarantee that the markets won’t see this as the UK going soft on its fiscal obligations and push up interest rates and weaken the currency. Which would mean more corporate bankruptcies, houses repossessed and inflation (all that imported oil, gas, petrol and food) rising sharply.

        3) Reversing VAT. Extremely costly measure. £15bn or so cost so see point number 2 and UK seen as backsliding on paying its debts. Plus rebalancing of UK economy demands more investment and less consumption, especially on imported goods. Making an iPad cheaper isn’t really of much help to the UK economy.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Why do you only comment on the top comment and never post a comment of your own? Is it so that your Labour party propaganda soundbite gets maximum attention? Have the Labour party assigned you to this blog to seed it with their propaganda as a counter to the overwhelmingly conservative commentary? Interested parties wish to know.

        • telemachus

          See Hardman1341 Pensions thread

  • UlyssesReturns

    I do not have a problem with Milliand not having any policies at this time as I recall the Conservatives were saying more or less the same 2 years before the last election. The reality is, unless Cameron gets a grip on the economy, schools, health, the deficit and debt, immigration and Europe, Milli and his band of cretins will get in whatever their policies in 2015. Depressing doesn’t begin to describe our fate.

    • Archimedes

      Cameron isn’t going to be able to take the Conservatives into another coalition in 2015, so barring some major catastrophe Labour will be in at the next election. The object of the game is to ensure that the Conservatives are the largest party in the Commons – if you look at the number of seats Labour has it’s eyes set on, then that is a fairly plausible outcome.

      • SirMortimerPosh

        It is a desperate pity that the Conservatives couldn’t have pandered to the Libs enough to have got the boundary changes through. THAT will probably prove to be Cameron’s greatest error, and he’s made a few. It will be a bad day for Britain when the control freak,spendthrifts of Labour get back in. Just imagine goggle eyed, spluttering Mr Balls back in the Treasury….. All they need do is throw more welfare at their clients in the cities and they will buy more votes so they can stay in power afterwards. the country is doomed.

        • Archimedes

          I don’t think so. The collapse of the LibDem vote will probably have made many of the boundary problems irrelevant.

          In any case, the Conservatives under Cameron have no real purpose, and so, also, no real future. The Cameroon ideology is modernisation, and the abandonment of all principles, in order to rule: a wishy-washy ideology at best, and without a purposeful ideology, pragmatism, or the ability to rule, renders nothing – not very useful at a time when the electorate demand something. You could say that the Cameroons ideological meanderings had taken hold of their pragmatism, and suffocated it with all the excruciating wisdom of a clown.

          It is desirable that they are not in government after the next election, in order to give Cameron the opportunity to resign without having the Conservative party decapitate itself, but with a large enough parliamentary party to destabilise a LibLab coalition once an alternative leader is found.

          • Fergus Pickering

            What a very SILLY post.

            • dalai guevara

              lacking vision does not make you a great man

            • telemachus

              And your point?
              Substance please

              • Noa

                Why expect from others what is manifestly lacking in yours?

    • HooksLaw

      How does a government get a grip on the economy? It inherited a massive deficit and is reducing its own spending. Does it spend and borrow more to invent growth? There is a recession in the Eurozone. Does it prop that up too?

      The govt is reforming eduction and health, the NHS is going through a 20 billion cost reduction programme. The UK will not be a party to the next fiscal union EU treaty. Your list is fatuous.

      • Archimedes

        You’re ever so loyal, inspiring even – no, not inspiring, uninspiring, that was the word I was looking for.

        Cameron pushed the EU patent agenda and, when that comes into play, Britain’s fate will be embroiled in the quagmire that is the future of Europe – if there is a fiscal union in Europe, then Britain will eventually be a part of it by virtue of it’s lack of good options.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Fellow, you must distinguish between its and it’s. Not to is a crime against the Holy Ghost..

    • SirMortimerPosh

      We’re doomed, I tell yae – doooomed………

  • foxoles

    Not to mention his *democratic* lacuna. It is ‘not in the national interest’, apparently, to have a democratic vote.

    Who knew?

    • telemachus

      Jacques Delors said to the European Economic and Social Forum recently

      “Democracy has three basic foundations: politics, the economic and social field and civil society. I am sure that by building on this idea of civil society, rather than getting bogged down in communication issues, we will be able to make many more people feel that they belong to Europe……”

      This is where we as a nation need to be
      In 2015 we will get back on track

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