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by John Glen

Screen shot 2010-11-27 at 12.28.07 Having spent a little time working for the Conservative Party during our time in Opposition, I am very interested to learn of Labour's approach to their policy review now that they are on the the other side of the fence. The overwhelming reaction I had listening to Ed Milliband yesterday and Peter Hain today was the lack of clear direction on which their review will be based.

One consequence of the coalition and the inevitable tough decisions that have had to be taken is that the electorate will be even more cynical about attempts to fudge the hard realities of government with an attempt to suck up to the prevailing emotional state that will exist in the tough year ahead. The electorate's sentiments will change, but their need for rigour and principled leadership will be even greater from now on – windy rhetoric won't win votes in 2015.

It is easy for Ed Milliband to seek to identify with  the immediate sentiment of disgruntled students or the frustration of the undefined "squeezed middle" by spouting rhetoric on the disclosure of bankers' pay and graduate tax but in the end the electorate want substance.  They will want to see alignment between the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Chancellor, they will need to be sure that the numbers add up, and want those who seek to lead us do so because they have a coherent alternative vision, rather than merely a desire to return to power.

But, even more than all this, the electorate will expect to see policy prescriptions that offer a coherent narrative of the problems the country faces – not a discredited ideological dogma (i.e. socialism) applied opportunisitcally and inconsistently to a manifesto draft on the basis that the electorate will believe anything they are told about an alternative approach, because the present one is not so easy today.

In my surgery yesterday I had a lively conversation with a constituent who expressed frustration that the rich were not being made to pay for the banking crisis they caused.  I listened carefully to her views, though I am sure she was not a "natural supporter". However, on reflection, the conversation felt far removed from the deeper understanding of the vast majority of the hundreds of hard working constituents I speak to who understand that there is no quick fix to the country's problems.

A sentimental appeal to class war prejudices will not win the next election. Ed Milliband will need to articulate more than a willingness to listen and that he is on the side of 90% of the population (his apparent definition of the squeezed middle): we all came into politics with that bit clear. Given that the public recognise that the cuts are due, in the largest part, to Labour's recent chronic over expenditure, shocking waste and passionate belief in big Government, Miliand will also have a lot of explaining to do to make people believe that another spell of Labour Government will not bring more of what we now have to endure.

The author is the MP for Salisbury

6 comments for: The vacuum at the heart of Labour’s policy review

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