By Matthew Barrett
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Ed Miliband's much-talked-about relaunch speech today (his sixth relaunch, which is Iain Duncan Smith territory and worse than John Major) is, on the face of it, an attempt to square the social democratic principle of redistribution (or "fairness") with the harsh reality of there probably not being much to redistribute after the next general election.
The speech was lacking in specific policies, because Mr Miliband decided to pull his punches:
"In short, where the Government is stripping demand out of the economy, we would go less far and less fast. We call for these things not because we aren’t interested in dealing with the deficit. We call for them because we are. The sooner growth and jobs return the easier it is to reduce the deficit we face. That action to get growth moving must be combined with balanced cuts. And to get Britain’s budget back into balance and the national debt back on a downward path, we will set out tough new fiscal rules. But as I said earlier, the deficit will persist well into the next parliament, well beyond 2015. So today I want to focus on that horizon."
Here we see he has the opportunity to "set out tough new fiscal rules", but then refuses to do so, instead telling us about "the principles which will guide the Labour Party under my leadership" – far safer ground, because it contains no specifics and is subjective.
I can count seven rough policies in Mr Miliband's 3500-word speech:
- "We would tax bank bonuses and use the money to get young people back to work."
- "That’s why we are looking at plans for a British Investment Bank so small businesses can invest and grow."
- "That’s why we say that major government contracts should only go to those who offer apprenticeships."
- "That’s why I’ve said that those on the waiting list for council accommodation should move up that list if they are contributing to their communities, being good neighbours, and seeking work."
- "The limit for fare increases should apply to every regulated train fare, not just the routes fewer people use."
- "So I’ll give the energy companies a simple rule. By all means put different products out there and for different kinds of consumers. But we will ensure you give pensioners over seventy-five the lowest tariff on offer"
- "Bringing the cap on university fees down to £6,000 would make a real dent in the awful levels of student debt this Government is going to impose on families."
Only policy 6 seems to be new, but there is a theme: taking on the vested interests of energy companies, rail companies, and the banks. Mr Miliband and his team know his aim has to be regaining economic credibility, but the anti-vested interest sentiments don't really deal with the credibility gap Mr Miliband suffers from.
In short, Mr Miliband's speech is devoid of details, and very unlikely to do anything for the public perception of his economic policies. His sixth relaunch has turned out to be a damp squib.
The full speech can be read here.
For a good picture of where Mr Miliband is, in terms of popularity, Peter Kellner wrote for YouGov yesterday:
"It’s clear from those figures that Miliband’s figures are far worse than those of Thatcher or Cameron at the same stage in their careers. He hovers roughly half way between Hague and Duncan Smith – not happy precedents."