'Let's create a buzz' says Miliband

Labour to tear up its 'blank sheet of paper' policy reviews

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Indy Politics

Ed Miliband's leadership began with a blank page. But 18 months on, the Labour Party is tearing up its official policy reviews, with the Shadow Cabinet instead told to go out and create a "buzz".

Buoyed by strong local election results, Labour strategists believe the public is more responsive to one-off eye-catching proposals, rather than the process of how they fit into a formal policy-making process.

Labour frontbenchers have been told to target ITV's Daybreak and BBC Breakfast to reach voters outside the Westminster bubble. Appearances on the Today programme on Radio 4 are less effective at communicating key messages, according to a briefing given to the Shadow Cabinet.

Shortly after becoming leader, Mr Miliband attempted to draw a line under the New Labour era, declaring: "In terms of policy, but not in terms of values, we start with a blank page." But the phrase has come back to haunt him, with David Cameron taunting him for having no ideas.

To date there have been policy reviews launched into transport, defence, education, international development, creative industries, enterprise and skills, housing, anti-social behaviour, children becoming adults, talent and aspiration. In some cases well-known figures were called in to help – Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, for example, was advising on family policy. Now, however, the party is to adopt a more campaigning approach, focusing on pensioners, commuters, rising energy bills and the cost of childcare.

"They have effectively abolished the policy review," said a Shadow Cabinet source. "People need to create a buzz, not worry about a process leading to a document. We need to just get ideas out there. The blank-page stuff has all basically been binned. It is going to quietly die a death. It was a very uneven process. What we will see instead is encouraging people to get ideas out there, to get some thinking going."

Liam Byrne, Labour's spokesman on pensions who was also head of policy, announced earlier this year that he was going to quit the Shadow Cabinet to run for mayor of Birmingham. But after the city rejected the idea of a mayor in last week's referendum, there is a question mark over his future.

Whatever happens, Mr Miliband is expected to hand the policy brief to another frontbencher, possibly Douglas Alexander, to refresh the party strategy, when he carries out a Labour reshuffle. He is expected to implement this reshuffle at the same time as Mr Cameron shakes up the Cabinet, possibly within days.

Some Labour MPs are looking across the Channel for signs of a centre-left resurgence in Europe, with socialist François Hollande expected to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential run-off today.

But despite the predicted outcome in Paris and the strong local election results in the UK, Mr Miliband will this week warn his Shadow Cabinet against being triumphalist. Labour gained a total of 823 new council seats, taking control of 32 extra councils, including in key swing areas such as Plymouth, Birmingham, Norwich, Reading and Harlow. The party saw off a major challenge from the Scottish National Party in Glasgow, and came from third place to win Cardiff.

Labour's inroads in the Home Counties suggest it is overcoming the "southern discomfort" problem identified during the middle of the last decade, which saw Tony Blair's progress in 1997 and 2001 recede by the 2005 election and all but disappear by 2010.

But some senior Labour figures are wary that Mr Miliband may learn the "wrong lessons" from the victories last Thursday. A senior figure said: "We cannot just count on apathy against the Tories and Lib Dems. We need to show we have a strong offer for 2015, with a credible leader, and that's not there yet.

"In the 1980s, Labour made the mistake of thinking, every time Margaret Thatcher had a crisis, the party could win the next election. But we did not have the right leader and we did not have the right policies."

In the wake of the results, Mr Miliband himself was cautious. He said: "I know we have more work to do to show we can change our country so that it works for you, for your sons and daughters who are looking for a job, for families feeling a squeeze in living standards, for everybody, rather than just a few at the top."

In the coming weeks he will step up his efforts to prove that the Labour Party is changing. A senior party source said: "The idea that this is a breakthrough is not right. We are pleased with the result, but it is a step forward on a fairly long road."

Bercow: 'Voters feel let down'

Commons Speaker John Bercow today warns that voters feel let down by mainstream political parties because they have not got what they voted for.

In an interview with Sky News's Murnaghan show, broadcast today, he says people feel disillusioned because parties are "quite similar" and there "isn't a huge choice". He adds: "To some extent, [people] are suspicious, even despairing of formal politics... They feel... 'I haven't got what I wanted'."

Mr Bercow went on to say he is not "bosom pals" with David Cameron, but has "a good, constructive relationship with him". This comes after cameras caught the PM scowling at the Speaker during his speech at the Queen's Jubilee address in Westminster Hall.

Charles Engwell