A party leader’s speech is always judged against the past – both the previous speeches they have made, and the leaders who have spoken in years gone by.
Miliband reminded me today of Neil Kinnock in 1992. While the rhetoric was better – indeed, probably a career high for Ed – they both shared the same assumption. Before Kinnock famously bellowed “we’re allllriiiight”, he was introduced as “the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom”. Miliband repeatedly referred to “my government”. In both cases, they made a fundamental error – voters don’t like being taken for granted, particularly by someone they don’t think looks Prime Ministerial.
ComRes found today that 61 per cent of voters think he “does not come across as an election winner”, so when Ed repeatedly predicted things that wouldn’t happen under his Government, perhaps he was correct in a way that he didn’t intend.
Kinnock similarities aside, the policy meat of the speech was rooted in an earlier decade: the 1970s.
Now that Labour have been driven from their preferred battleground of claiming there is no growth, they have moved to attacking the Government over the cost of living. As an argument, it stings – while Cameron and Osborne have plenty of achievements in the economic headlines, it is an undeniable fact that inflation continues to outstrip the rise in wages.
Miliband plumped for a range of policies in response to the issue which are cosmetically attractive but economically ruinous. A blundering, big government approach not seen in this country since before 1979 is apparently his solution.
Take energy policy, for example. Prices are certainly too high, and there is a clear electoral opportunity for someone who comes up with a way to set that right. Miliband has promised a two year freeze in energy prices if Labour are elected. It will certainly turn some heads on the doorstep, but it will also be the death knell for investment in the new energy generation that we urgently need. As Steve Hawkes of the Telegraph says, it could quite literally lead to the lights going out.
This is the man who, when in Government, committed the UK to ruinously expensive green policies, and who did so again today by promising “to take all of the carbon out of our energy by 2030”. He doesn’t support sources of cheap energy, like shale gas, and he supports the costly greenery which drives up prices – he is causing the sickness, while trying to ban the symptoms. This is policy homeopathy.
Then there’s his plan to increase Corporation Tax, a move described by the IoD as a “dangerous…risk [to] our business-friendly environment” and by the CBI as “a setback for Labour’s pro-enterprise credentials”. It would unravel that hard work done by the Chancellor to make us an attractive destination for global investment in one fell swoop. Again, his analysis that small businesses are a good thing is correct, but his solution of piling more tax onto large businesses is a foolhardy mistake.
How about the pledge to seize control of land that developers are not able to use for one reason or another? Yet again, an issue caused by complex factors like economic confidence, planning red tape and the lending climate will supposedly be solved by top-down interference, in this instance by a Labour government overriding contractual and property rights.
For the last three years the leader of the Labour Party has been a chrysalis, rustling and wriggling from time to time but never really displaying his policy plumage. Today we saw a Miliband emerge who apparently thinks the best – indeed the only – way to solve problems is centralised control of the economy.
The cost of living is a serious issue. It will rightly play a large part in the next election. There are many things that could be done to address it – from free trade, through shale gas to tax cuts. Instead, Red Ed proposes to return us to the dark days when politicians and central planners tried to fix everything through intervention. We’ve already tried that, with disastrous consequences for the nation and for the working people he purports to represent.
Ed Miliband’s mantra today was “Britain can do better than this”. After the human catastrophe which was the late 1970s, with its price controls, blackouts and poverty, people thought the same thing – but they chose real medicine, not the quack remedies that caused the problem in the first place.