Ed Miliband, the candidate from the planet Zog

The Eds adopt the sluggish politics of the late Gordon Brown era, not his early dexterity

Share

Triangulation is the art of positioning yourself between two known positions, in the way that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair placed themselves between the old left and the new right. Ed Miliband is now trying to quadrangulate. He wants to distance himself from the present government, the last government, and the government before that. We knew that he was against the Tories and we knew that he was against the evil Blair and all his works, but last week he repudiated his own side too. "We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government," he said in Bedford, announcing that he wanted to restore the 10p starting rate of income tax which Brown abolished.

It was the most unconvincing bit of rebranding since Brown paid tribute in The Sun to Blair ("resolute, defiant and unyielding") just before he put on the blood-soaked crown in 2007. In trying to draw a line between himself and Brown, Miliband proved only that he is utterly and unalterably a Brownite.

Miliband was quite explicit in his speech about what he was up to: "Moving Labour on from the past and putting Labour where it should always have been, on the side of working people."

The 10p tax rate is a symbol, therefore, designed to do two things: to give Labour the appearance of being more firmly on the side of "working people"; and to distance Labour from the reputation of Gordon Brown. That reputation is not good. The voters do not think Brown "saved the world" in the banking crisis: he comes eighth out of eight prime ministers since 1964 in our ComRes poll.

A symbol is all that it is. There is no practical difference between the 10p rate and the coalition policy of raising the personal allowance, except that it is slightly less good at helping the low-paid, and needlessly complicated, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out.

The difference between Labour and the coalition is that Labour wants to tax the rich slightly more, by bringing in a new mansion tax on houses worth more than £2m. That is a policy borrowed from the Liberal Democrats, and Miliband and Ed Balls will draw their tactical dividing line by forcing the Lib Dems to abstain in a vote in the Commons in the next few weeks. But it, too, is a largely symbolic policy, raising a mere £2bn a year with none of the details worked out of how the valuation would be done.

Other policies that Miliband mentioned – keeping the 50p top tax rate, reversing the cuts in benefits and tax credits and cutting VAT – will expire before the election. The changes will have happened, and Labour won't promise to reverse them, while the VAT cut is a policy now, but by the time of the election Balls will accept that every tax cut must be paid for by tax rises or spending cuts elsewhere.

All this amounts to the politics of very small differences, but the way Miliband's announcement was handled last week was a classic Brownite operation. A "leaked" email said that the speech "won't have any new policies in it", which was picked up on some blogs and then used by David Cameron to make fun of Miliband at PMQs. So when the speech had new policies in it after all, journalists were surprised and wrote it up favourably. The Conservative Party, wrong-footed, thought that Miliband had been panicked by Cameron's mockery into putting in the 10p tax at the last moment, and could not decide how to respond to it. Eventually, the Tory line was that it was "a stunning admission of economic incompetence", which helped emphasise Miliband's repudiation of Brown's mistake.

In fact, the two Eds had been working on this surprise for a while, in typical Brownite fashion, calculating the odds and the angles. But this is the politics of the late Brown era, sluggish and unimaginative, not like the dexterity of the early Brown when he and Blair were working together and always a few steps ahead of the Conservatives. The early Brown would never have been trapped, for example, on the wrong side of George Osborne's cap on benefits at the level of average earnings.

The two Eds are late-period Brownites, right down to their play-acted front-bench chat in the Commons. Like Blair and Brown, they even disagree about Europe. Miliband is instinctively pro-European, making that slip in the Commons the other day about not wanting an in-out referendum; Balls is not, which is why he said last week that it would be "stupid" for Labour to be the "anti-referendum party" at the next election.

Miliband feels vindicated by the rapid fading of Cameron's barely-registered opinion-poll bounce after the his Europe speech. Balls sees the promise of a referendum as a slow-burning advantage for the Conservatives. Even if Miliband showed any sign of wanting to escape his Brownite inheritance, he cannot. Labour has been captured by late-Brown thinking and the Brownite apparatus.

Miliband's quadrangulation will not work: he can be anti-Tory and anti-New Labour, but not anti-Brown. Trying to be the candidate from outer space when he was a minister in Brown's cabinet is never going to convince anyone.

twitter.com/@JohnRentoul

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there