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

He must hope the policy proposals do not wither under pressure

Share

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice