Barmy as many of his new policies may be, Ed Miliband’s speech has put pressure on David Cameron to produce a rip-roaring performance in Manchester. No doubt sections of the Prime Minister’s script were left open to be written this week as a response to the Labour leader, and judging from an anecdote reported by Dan Hodges they will seize on Ed’s new anti-business position:
“Tory campaign chiefs arrived for a strategy meeting yesterday morning to be greeted by Craig Oliver, the PM’s press chief, holding up a copy of the City AM newspaper, with the headline “Labour declares war on business”.”
City AM’s Editor, Allister Heath, wrote an insightful piece for the Mail on Sunday, reflecting on the tendency of Clegg and Miliband to say “No”:
“We are stuck in a rut of self-interest, negativity, pessimism and small-mindedness, where politicians define themselves according to what they can prevent, rather than what they and the country can achieve. It’s the Politics of No, and it has infected much of our polity.”
Negative campaigning has its place, and is an essential tool in any political effort. Bad ideas, dodgy behaviour and hypocrisy deserve to be called out, while untrue claims should be swiftly rebutted – these are all valid roles for politicians and campaigners in a healthy democracy.
However, Allister is right that “No” should not be the mainstay of our politics. The great leaders of the democratic age all primarily stood for something, and their opposition to other ideas was a symptom of their beliefs. Freedom versus fascism and communism, making Britain great versus the pessimism of managing decline, democracy against dictatorship, the people versus self-interested elites.
That is why while David Cameron’s speech certainly ought to highlight Labour’s failings, it should do so from the starting point of what we favour as our vision for Britain. The speech should be about the Politics of Yes.
I started to explore this theme on energy policy yesterday, arguing that flagging the disastrous consequences of Miliband’s top-down freeze is insufficient by itself, and that we must propose an alternative plan. The argument applies to plenty of other things, too.
Here are a ten suggestions of what we should be saying “Yes” to:
- Yes to growth, restoring that which we lost in the crash
- Yes to entrepreneurs, launching new businesses to create jobs and serve consumers
- Yes to affordable, reliable energy
- Yes to the rebirth of British manufacturing
- Yes to trading with the whole world
- Yes to democratic control of our own laws
- Yes to reducing the deficit
- Yes to making work pay better than benefits
- Yes to saving people from the welfare trap
- Yes to freedom from crime
There are plenty more I’m sure readers could suggest, based on things the Coalition is already doing or policies the Conservative Party should adopt on its own.
Which approach will Ed Miliband fear the most – a Conservative leader saying “No” to his plans, fighting a negative battle on the ground of Labour’s choosing, or a Conservative leader saying “Yes” to a positive vision of what Britain should be, rebutting Labour implicitly by showing they are out of touch with the ambition, imagination and energy of 21st century Britain?