Ed Miliband's big plan is anti-big business, not anti-business. Now he must convince the electorate

Some Labour figures worry that the party leader is overdoing the anti-business rhetoric

Related Topics

Slowly but surely, Ed Miliband is answering the $64,000 question: what is the point of a left-of-centre government when there is no cash to splash on public services in the age of austerity?

Michael Heseltine once promised to “intervene before breakfast, before lunch, before tea and before dinner” to boost British business. It is now clear Mr Miliband is ready to intervene 24/7 to create a “new economy” that delivers social justice by a different route through tighter regulation, without spending extra billions.

Business leaders do not like it, but  cannot say they were not warned. In 2011, Mr Miliband promised us “responsible capitalism”, that he would back the “producers” and target the “predators” as he took on “vested interests”. His talk of transforming the economy was widely derided at the time. But his big new year speech yesterday showed that he has not changed his original strategy at all. Love him or loathe him, he is sticking to his own Plan A and will not be diverted from it – whatever the criticism from his opponents, the media or from inside Labour.

Mr Miliband insisted yesterday that he is not “anti-business”. But he is open to the charge of being “anti-big business.” For him, small is beautiful: after promising to break up the Big Six energy companies, he moved on yesterday to target the Big Five banks. He pledged to create at least two new banks and that his sweeping reforms would ensure the banks served small firms, rather than the other way round. Note: neither his proposed energy price freeze or banks shake-up would cost a penny of public money.

Some Labour figures worry that Mr Miliband is overdoing the anti-business rhetoric. After all, they point out, millions of voters work for big companies. And those employed by small firms know they depend on big companies for contracts. 

Similarly, some Labour MPs worry that bashing the banks and energy firms and posing as the consumers’ champion will only get Labour so far. “We’re a political party, not the BBC’s Watchdog programme,” one snarled. Although the proposed energy prize freeze spooked the Conservatives and boosted Mr Miliband’s personal ratings, Labour’s opinion poll lead has fallen since then. One explanation is that, while people welcome Labour’s emphasis on living standards, they do not yet trust the party to do much to improve them. “Talking about the cost of living is not a strategy for government,” said one Labour MP.

Even some Shadow Cabinet figures fret privately that Mr Miliband is indulging in “displacement activity” that allows Labour to put off the really difficult questions, to which yesterday’s speech offered no answers: how and when would a Labour Government eliminate the deficit; how much more than the Conservatives would Labour spend on building projects like housing; how Labour would secure the recovery and create jobs?

The Miliband critics worry that, when he wrote his Plan A, he set too much store on public anger about the cuts helping Labour to victory, believing the party’s opposition to them would be rewarded. While Labour accuses the Coalition of having “three wasted years” while the cuts strangled growth, that argument will be redundant in most voters’ minds by next year’s general election. Some Blairites wonder whether  it was Labour who wasted three years, by not saying much about the deficit and building credibility. “We are still avoiding the tough questions,” a Labour frontbencher admitted.

The fears of the Labour anxious brigade will not be allayed by a revealing comment from Mr Miliband when he answered questions after yesterday’s speech. He argued that, while the deficit was important,  there is “a yearning in the country” for politicians to understand that the problems in people’s daily lives “matter just as much.” He added: “The cost of living crisis is a massive issue for people and I think what people want is a vision for the way this country succeeds.” The Tories, he claimed, were “impoverished” in their vision.

This goes to the very heart of next year’s election battle. The Conservatives want to focus on the deficit because they know Labour is not trusted to “finish the job.” But they know Mr Miliband is on to something with his “cost of living” campaign. This explains George Osborne’s ruthlessly-timed spoiler on the eve of the Miliband speech, in which he backed an inflation-plus rise in the national minimum wage. It was a chilling reminder to Labour of the tough fight ahead – and that the Government can still “do” while Labour can only “say”.

Conversely, Labour would rather talk about living standards but insists that tackling this problem and the deficit are not mutually exclusive. “We will show credibility and how we will make a difference,” one Miliband aide insisted.

Mr Miliband was right about one thing yesterday: the “two competing visions” for the country are becoming clearer. And yet, in the way the Chancellor joined battle on Labour’s favoured ground on living standards, it is now time for Labour to play hard on the Tories’ turf and tell us how it would reduce the deficit.

React Now

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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Welsh Teacher Year 2 required in Caerphilly

£100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Year 4 Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work in ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Pro-democracy protesters fill the streets in front of the Hong Kong government offices on a third day of the Occupy Central campaign  

Hong Kong protests: Why are we obsessed with the spread of democracy abroad when ours is failing?

Amit Singh

Daily catch-up: ugly buildings, fighting spirit, and a warning on low pay

John Rentoul
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?