Inside Westminster: A good speech, but what about the economy, Ed?

He must hope the policy proposals do not wither under pressure


During Labour’s “summer of drift”, when internal grumbling about Ed Miliband’s lack of policies filled the news vacuum, his allies insisted the wait would be worth it when we got to the Labour conference.

For the first couple of days in Brighton, even loyalists wondered whether they had been sold a pup. The noises off from Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, were a frustrating and damaging distraction. Some new policies did not appear to have been fully road-tested. The mood was edgy. The success or failure of the conference again hinged on Mr Miliband’s big speech on Tuesday.

Wisely, he had saved up a signature policy. The proposed 20-month freeze on gas and electricity prices had been properly pre-tested. He knew the energy companies would attack it, and anticipated the revival of the “Red Ed” label by the Conservatives and right-wing newspapers. The Labour leader chose his ground carefully: if his enemies want to oppose a price freeze amid rising public anger about energy bills, that is fine by him.

Team Miliband is convinced the price freeze will be a winner. It will certainly give Labour a much-needed doorstep message, and will probably top its pledge card in 2015. Yet one policy does not make a manifesto and Labour won’t win a “cost of living” election unless it improves its trust rating on the economy. The pressure to do so is even greater now that the Conservatives can point to a return to growth. Yet Mr Miliband devoted just 84 of his 7,955-word speech to the need to tackle the deficit. He wanted to show that Labour could use the power of government to make a difference in hard times without spending more money. But surely the need for economic credibility needed to be addressed more fully. It can’t be wished away.

However popular the energy price freeze, Blairites worry that such market intervention is another symptom of Mr Miliband’s desire to be “not Blair”. But he didn’t quite escape New Labour, and not only because Mr McBride stalked the conference. Mr Miliband’s “Britain can do better than this” mantra echoed Mr Blair’s 1997 election pitch of “Britain deserves better”.

Team Miliband insists that its One Nation Labour is a rejection of both Old and New Labour as the party’s values are reapplied to new times. It says Mr Miliband’s version does not represent sectional interests like Old Labour. Nor is it relaxed about widening inequality, or timid in the face of vested interests (like the energy companies) as New Labour was.

We certainly know more about Labour’s policies than we did before the conference. But there are still unanswered questions. How many of the 200,000 homes a year Labour promises by 2020 would be publicly funded? It cannot answer because of a crucial unresolved debate. While sticking to the Coalition’s day-to-day budget ceiling for 2015-2016, Mr Miliband wants to pledge to outgun the Conservatives on capital spending, with a massive boost to housebuilding by housing associations and councils. That is almost certainly where Labour will end up. But Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, is not yet convinced; he said this week that a decision would be taken nearer the election.

A year ago, Mr Miliband made a very good conference speech, launching One Nation Labour, but it fizzled out because it was hard to sell such a vague concept. After another very good speech, and this time a hard policy to sell, he cannot afford to make the same mistake and virtually disappear off the radar until his next annual appointment with the voters.

React Now

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

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The truth about kids on holiday

Rosie Millard

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home