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A look at Ed Miliband

Last Updated: Friday, October 15th, 2010

Tuition fee increases, scrapped quangos, a sizeable Conservative rebellion over Britain’s EU contribution and a smaller one over the Alternative Vote referendum bill – the week hasn’t been short of incident.  So much so that Ed Miliband’s successful debut last Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions is easily overlooked.  But his first exchanges with David Cameron mark a good moment at which to assess how his leadership’s coped with its early challenges – and what it means for the Conservatives.

There are five points worth noting –

1) The Conservatives are trying to frame him as “Red Ed” – the Union’s man.  Miliband got off to a bad start.  He won the leadership on the back of big trade unions’ votes: Labour’s MPs and Party members voted for his brother, David.  He ran a left-of-Labour centre campaign, tearing up his previous policy positions on the Iraq War, tuition fees, and a third Heathrow runway.  Tory high command and its media friends are running a vigorous “Red Ed” campaign, with “The Sun” having run the phrase in foreign languages – as reported abroad.

2) But Miliband’s moving to present himself as “Steady Eddie” – as a sympathetic presence during what he’ll present as savage and senseless cuts.  On child benefit and tuition fees, he and Cameron are seemingly occupying reverse roles: the Prime Minister is championing targeting resources on the poor, Milband is advocating spreading them up the income scale. His attempt to position himself as the defender of the middle classes may not convince – but is a sign of the battle over universalism in the public service provision that looks to be a big theme of this Parliament.

3) His early decisions have shown calculation…  His big speech to Labour’s Conference saw him tack away from the left as sharply as he’d tacked towards it, as he acknowledged the need to bring the deficit down and restrain union strike action.  Some of his front bench appointments are questionable – for example, Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor is less convincing as a would-be national bank manager than as a spokesman against budget cuts.  But he sacked Gordon Brown’s former Chief Whip, Nick Brown, and has given good front-bench posts to most of his brother’s prominent supporters.

4) …But also an element of fear.  Ed Balls, who came third in the leadership contest, is a big presence, a strong campaigner and an economic literate – with strong views on the deficit, having emerged as an opponent of the last Government’s reduction plan as well as this one’s.  He also came third in the Shadow Cabinet elections while his wife, Yvette Cooper, came first.  Together, they’re a formidable duo, and Miliband’s appointment of both to senior non-economic briefs – Home and Foreign Affairs respectively – demonstrated a certain nervousness.  Alan Johnson also opposes his support for a graduate tax.

5) The Conservatives hoped to trash Miliband’s brand quickly.  They haven’t done so – or yet found a knock-out line of attack.  It’s very early days indeed.  But Miliband’s calm first outing last Wednesday demonstrated that the Labour Party’s very much in business.  If Gordon Brown had won ten or so more seats, after all, Britain would probably now be governed by a Rainbow Coalition.  During the next few months, the Tories will probe Miliband for weaknesses, looking for signs of poor leadership, policy about-turns, and internal tensions before settling on a line of attack.

Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Five problems with the Big Society: “So why aren’t activists and MPs cheering the Big Society from the rafters? I think that there are five main reasons: First, the main problem facing Britain is the state of the economy – and the Big Society idea seems distant from it.  Second, to some it’s a bit paternalistic.  Third, to some, it risks irritating voters.  Fourth, it’s a bit vague.  Fifth, it’s not clear what the Government’s plan is for helping to make the Big Society happen.” More: http://is.gd/g38KO

Alan Johnson leads graduate tax revolt at first Shadow Cabinet meeting
: “Johnson’s view seems to be that he doesn’t want to oppose higher fees in principle – thus executing a U-turn and, worse, be seen to do so….All this doesn’t mean that Labour will support the Government plan.  The Party will cobble together some reason to oppose it – probably based on the size of the proposed fee increases rather than the principle.  But it’s no small thing for a leader openly to lose out in his first big Shadow Cabinet discussion.  It sets a precedent.” More: http://is.gd/g3a8p

David Cameron’s seven vulnerabilities. 1: Prisons policy: “Overall, however, the decision to reduce prison numbers is wrong. Prison numbers should only be cut once the rebabilitation revolution is delivering results. Cutting numbers now is wrong because it is a breach of a manifesto promise. It is wrong because it starts to undo one of the Conservative Party’s greatest policy successes of modern times. It is wrong because community sentences don’t protect the public.” More: http://is.gd/g39Sc

The impact of recent immigration on our education system runs into billions of pounds: “The brutal fact is that present levels of immigration will, if sustained, drive the population of the UK to 70 million in 20 years and 80 million in 50 years time.  That is no doubt why the Prime Minister has promised to get net immigration down to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands under Labour.  Indeed, we must get net immigration down from 196,000 to about 40,000 a year if we are to stabilise our population at about 67 million compared to 62 million today.” More: http://is.gd/g3b3s

Five very early reasons to be hopeful about David Cameron’s re-election chances
: “It is worth looking at the underlying reasons why the Tories have a good shot at re-election if, if, if the Coalition holds together.  Five reasons stand out to me: a benign economic cycle, Ed Miliband’s partisan denial of the deficit, Weakness in the Liberal Democrat vote, the coming-together of the Conservative Party, the big One Nation offering. More: http://is.gd/g39q6

Spain’s socialist minority government is making the late Brown administration look fresh, decisive and visionary: “Failing something spectacular  Zapatero’s days are numbered.  His socialist government is reviled by many Spaniards as the worst government they’ve had since Franco died and the country transitioned to democracy (it received no ‘bounce’ after Spain won the World Cup!).  When it finally dies – Zapatero’s government will leave behind a country that is broke, more divided and uncertain about its future.”  More: http://is.gd/g3ark

Will a local following be enough to save top LibDems come the next election?  “The answer is that their prominence has not made them immune from the decline in support for their party…According to my research at the beginning of this month, in an election tomorrow Nick Clegg would hold onto his Sheffield Hallam seat by the skin of his teeth…And in Eastleigh, according to a poll I conducted in August, Chris Huhne would be comfortably trounced by the Conservatives, Taken as a whole, recent polling suggests that in future elections, cultivating a local following will be an even more important part of the Liberal Democrats’ strategy than it has been to date.” More: http://is.gd/g3aPw

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