OK, Ed Miliband – it’s time you got your act together. Here’s how you can do it

The Labour leader has such a good case to sell that it’s ridiculous he should be trailing in the polls

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The Independent Online

Well, I did say a few weeks ago that he was on a hiding to nothing with the mansion tax. Sorry to sound smug, Ed, but springing a regressive tax on people, many of whom wouldn’t have a hope of paying it, was never going to be very popular. And since detailing it in his speech, so it has proved, with everyone from Labour grandees to stalwarts at the Party Conference pulling faces and calling it unworkable and unfair. As if to add insult to injury, even voices of former fellow travellers from afar (Nick Clegg), have gone distinctly lukewarm about the whole idea.

What with the mass unpopularity of almost his only concrete policy, a post-conference bounce for the Tories, plus the disastrous selective amnesia in his key speech at conference, it looks very much as if Ed needs something of a rescue plan. Here are a few suggestions. 

Ed, you should follow the euro mothership and go after those corporate tax avoiders. This might be an easier, and far more popular way of raising £1.6bn for the NHS than nobbling asset-rich pensioners. Nearly everyone would support you! It would not only be popular, but effective; those high street names (and we all know who they are) sheltering their affairs offshore should finally be made to cough up. Ditto the household names (and we also know who they are) who have sheltered their money in (say) baroque film funding policies and thus have only paid a minuscule amount of what they owe in tax. Are we worried about the household names leaving the British Isles in disgust? Not really. Are we worried about the high street names shutting up shop similarly? Er, no. The economy has turned the corner and there are plenty of places with much better coffee who could move into those empty units.

Ed should also take heed of the message from Scotland, where the notion of independence gave Labour a kicking. Labour needs to deliver on Devo Max, if it can, but in such a way that it doesn’t alienate core Labour support in places such as the north of England. He needs to show regional cities that they are also important and valued. Encouraging those colleagues of his who don’t come from north London might help, too. Miliband’s Labour party looks too much as if it has sprung, fully formed, from a Hampstead dinner party; it seems as if, bar Andy Burnham, the key players are almost all based in the capital, and that makes people feel disenfranchised.

Of course the privilege card is really Cameron’s Achilles heel, not Miliband’s, and he should make much more noise about it. If the recovery is happening, it is lopsided; Cameron’s posh chums (them) are getting richer and richer, while hard-working families (us) are still struggling along. Labour needs to hammer this point home. Perhaps a start might be for Ed to  reaffirm his campaign to boost the minimum wage to £8; we may be seeing a fall in unemployment, but the current minimum wage is now so low that we have the crazy spectre of people in employment who earn so little that they are also obliged to be on benefits.

Why should the big supermarkets turn colossal profits year after year, while taxpayers foot the bill for the women and men who stack their shelves, since their take home pay is so derisory? Supporting low paid workers by insisting that their wealthy employers pay them properly is not only a vote-winner; it is also morally the correct thing to do. And moral certainty is a nice thing to have at the podium. 

He could also go after the youth ticket. The Scottish referendum revealed that young voters certainly are not disaffected or shy of wandering into the polling booths; now that Nick Clegg has alienated anyone and everyone under 25 with his U-turn on tuition fees, Ed could clean up. First-time voters could be wooed by a Labour party which advocates equality and even scraps the £9,000 tuition fee albatross. Ed, you have already suggested they go down to £6,000; why not go the whole hog? You would grab the student vote in a heartbeat, and at the same time reassure parents who might have been envisaging the spectre of a) the mansion tax and b) never-ending fees. 

Quite a lot of these notions have found their way into a Miliband speech at some point, but for some reason they have been lost in the Westminster fog. Or forgotten. Don’t worry about people who say you don’t look like a leader,  Ed.  Nobody looks like a leader until they are one. But leaders know how to get a message across. Keep it simple, stupid.   

 

Not all great books should be as easy to read as a Nick Hornby

That nice man Nick Hornby, who knows how to write a readable book, has said that if you can’t get along with a difficult classic, you should just give up, and go and do something else. No point in struggling along for the “honour” of finishing, he opines. Reading should be like watching TV or a film, and only continued with because it is enjoyable. If you can’t whizz through it, it’s probably not worth it.

In a sense, I absolutely applaud Hornby for his candour. I never managed to finish Our Mutual Friend, I confess. And I did sort of skip through Ulysses, which is not the same as whizzing. Although there are brownie points to be gained in finishing something like A Brief History of Time (yes, I have), if only because of the boasting value therein.

Struggling through a book can have a deleterious effect which can last for years; Silas Marner was not only one of the dullest books I have ever read, it made me very scared of George Eliot in whatever guise, and indeed, I only picked up Middlemarch this summer after a friend urged me to. And passed the Hornby test by whizzing through it.

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