Ed Miliband has abandoned a strategically vital part of the battlefield to David Cameron. Today, the Leader of the Opposition once again declined to contest any aspect of the Government’s economic policy. Here was a Labour leader with nothing to say about jobs or investment or growth or living standards.
The Tories were able to stroll about as they pleased on this territory. Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) hailed the “stonking” rise in business investment. Jessica Lee (Erewash) acclaimed the “stonking” increase in jobs. Cameron himself said things were going so very well because the Government is sticking to Oltep (this column’s abbreviation for Our Long-Term Economic Plan).
Miliband really needs to get stuck in to Oltep. The duty of an Opposition is to oppose everything, and propose nothing. It would be unreasonable to expect Miliband to present, so far before the general election, a fully worked out plan of his own. But he ought at least to be able to tell us where, in his view, the Government is going wrong.
The longer Miliband puts off this task, the weaker he looks, and the more entrenched he allows the Government’s narrative of economic recovery to become. It is an odd way to set about countering the Tory charge that he is simply not a prime ministerial figure.
To avoid talking about the economy, Miliband instead talked about the floods. He accused the Prime Minister of giving figures for spending on flood defence which “are phoney and I’m afraid he knows it”. That was quite rude, and enabled Cameron to accuse Miliband of fomenting a “slightly pointless” row about numbers and of having “completely misjudged the mood of the country”, which “should be coming together to deal with flood defences”.
One would like to hear more of that kind of thing from Cameron. He could entrench his own prime ministerial credentials by rising a bit more often above the exchange of petty partisan jibes with Miliband. The statesmanlike tone comes quite naturally to Cameron: he adopted it today to deal with questions about terrorism.
But he can very seldom resist the temptation to strike low blows against Miliband: blows which tend to have the effect of lowering him to Miliband’s level. When the Labour leader was reduced to saying “Excellent, excellent, excellent” about one of the Prime Minister’s replies (namely his agreement that man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world), there was no need for Cameron to start crowing about this endorsement. He would have sounded more like the leader of the whole country, and not just of the Conservative Party, if he could have brought himself to be a bit more generous to his poor struggling opponent.