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: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Theresa May and David Cameron are messing up counter-terrorism policy  

The Government doesn't understand terrorism — and it's making things worse

Jonathan Leader Maynard
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'