The reviews stink, but are Ed Miliband’s critics being fair?

Labour would set up an independent National Infrastructure Commission

Political Editor

Ed Miliband will tomorrow tell Britain’s bosses that his sweeping economic reforms would be “good for business” as he tries to allay their fears about his interventionist policies.

But the Labour leader will refuse to dilute his plan to reshape the system, arguing that the flaws exposed by the 2008 crash will not be solved simply by a “belated return to growth”.

He will make clear that next year’s general election will not be like 1997, when New Labour supported the status quo, and will press ahead with big changes to the way markets and government work, even if they are opposed by bosses.

Addressing a London conference on “inclusive prosperity” staged by the Policy Network think tank, Mr Miliband will say: “Unless we change the way we do things, we simply won’t create the high paying, high skilled jobs needed to improve the condition of our country and the rewards of growth will be unfairly shared.” He will pledge to reform markets like energy and finance so they “work for business and for Britain.”

In a conciliatory message to a largely business audience, Mr Miliband will say that the only way to achieve this “central mission” is through “the great, dynamic businesses of our country being enabled to build the wealth, create the jobs and make the profits that will help them succeed”.

He will announce that Labour would set up an independent National Infrastructure Commission to tackle the “chronic short-termism which holds Britain and business back.”

Labour’s business friendly blitz this week may be paying some dividends. Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers’ body EEF, said: “There are signs that Labour is now starting to develop its plans for the forthcoming election and engage more positively with industry.”

While Labour remains ahead in most opinion polls, there are growing jitters among the party’s MPs about its election prospects. “The question now is not whether we have an Ed problem,” one MP said yesterday. “A lot of people think Ed is the problem.”

What are the criticisms of Mr Miliband, and how valid are they?

Criticism: Miliband’s personal ratings are dire. He looks weird and fails the “eye test”: many people cannot imagine him being prime minister. The problem was summed up in May by the photo of him making a mess of eating a bacon sandwich.

How fair? A bit overdone. Miliband is never going to be a spin doctor’s dream. He believes this criticism is being whipped up by Tory-supporting newspapers because they fear he will win the election. Many occupants of Downing Street do not look “prime ministerial” until they do the job (including Margaret Thatcher).

How dangerous for Miliband? Potentially, very. Appearance matters in a presidential, televisual age. The public’s initial impression of a politician is hard to shift.

What should he do? Go on a sandwich course.  Hire a spin doctor who knows about TV. Keep saying that substance matters more than style, and  principles are more important than photo-opportunities.

HE LACKS A STORY

Criticism: Labour does not lack policy. Measures such as a 20-month energy price freeze are popular but people doubt Labour would deliver them. Crucially, they do not knit together into a vision or “doorstep offer” and have been dubbed “unpopular populism”. 

How fair? Valid. The Conservatives have a story: their endlessly repeated “long-term economic plan” is working and they must finish the job. Labour needs one to match.

How dangerous? Very. But there is still time, just, to turn it round.

What should he do? Spell out a coherent, forward-looking, positive vision at Labour’s  conference in September that voters can grasp and “buy into” .

HE IS INDECISIVE

Criticism: Miliband may be a radical reformer but takes advice from too many people and too long to make his mind up. Epitomised by last month’s photo of him holding up a front page of The Sun, only to apologise for it the next day.

How fair? Partly true. But on other occasions, Miliband has been brave and decisive, such as when he stood to Rupert Murdoch over the phone hacking scandal.

How dangerous? Potential problem in election.

What should he do? Trust his own instincts and be brave. 

HE’S A ONE MAN BAND

Criticism: That Miliband tries to micro-manage everything Labour does from his Commons office but still makes unforced errors. 

How fair? He can’t win on this one. He needs to lead from the front to combat the Tory claim that he is weak.

How dangerous? Not terribly. Discipline is needed. But many Shadow Cabinet members are unknown to most voters and should get more of the limelight.

What should he do? Trust his Shadow Cabinet more. They want to win too. The May elections showed Miliband was not a brilliant campaigner. The Labour brand is stronger.

THE ECONOMY, STUPID

Criticism: Labour will not win the election while Miliband and Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, trail David Cameron and George Osborne on economic competence. 

How fair? Fair enough. But Labour has a powerful message about the “living standards crisis”, and an “unfair recovery” in which the rewards go to the few at the top.

How dangerous? Very, as the economy recovers. No party has won a recent election when behind on both the leader’s ratings and the economy. 

What should he do? Stop Labour banging on about the Coalition’s “three wasted years”. Illustrate his “big reforms, not big spending” mantra by spelling out some big, symbolic cuts. Explain how growth will secure prosperity for all.

HE’S ANTI-BUSINESS

Criticism: Miliband wants to turn the clock back to the 1970s by intervening in the economy and imposing regulation on business that would threaten growth.

How fair? Overdone, partly by business critics who do not like Labour’s pledge to restore a 50p top rate of tax.

How dangerous? It’s not about persuading bosses to vote Labour. But their views matter: voters will notice if Labour has no business cheerleaders.

What should he do? Don’t regard big business as the enemy, and work with those bosses who want “responsible capitalism”.

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