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Miliband The Socialist Lays Two Traps For The Tories

Last Updated: Friday, September 27th, 2013

Ed Miliband has changed the political weather. At the Labour conference in Brighton, he stopped being afraid of describing himself as a socialist.

An activist who listened to Miliband ‘s speech said with delight: “He has put clear blue water between us and the Tories.” It would be more accurate to say that he put clear red water between the two parties.

Here, we discovered, is a man who doesn’t just want to help consumers by making markets work better. He wants to help consumers by defying markets: most eye-catchingly, by freezing energy prices.

This is populist socialism with a Venezuelan tinge. Miliband sounds far more convincing when he speaks in this way, because he actually believes what he is saying. He is convinced that a strong state can successfully order the energy companies and house builders to behave in ways that will benefit ordinary people and bring about greater equality.

The Labour leader may appear, by marching to the Left, to have made the blunder of abandoning the centre ground. But he has laid two traps in which the Tories will have to be careful not to get caught.

The Conservatives have long suffered from the perception that they are a party only of the rich. If they now rush to defend business against Miliband, they will reinforce the image of themselves as a group of plutocrats who know and care nothing about ordinary people struggling to survive on modest incomes.

The second trap for the Conservatives is to believe that they can win by attacking Miliband. It is tempting to see in the present Labour leader another Neil Kinnock or Michael Foot: a man people will never elect Prime Minister.

There is some truth in this: Miliband still does not look prime ministerial. His demeanor is that of a gifted young policy wonk. But there is not much profit for the Tories in saying this. In the 2010 general election campaign, they thought there was much to be gained by attacking Gordon Brown, and they were wrong.

People had already made up their minds about Brown, and many Labour voters had decided to remain loyal to their party despite Brown. Attacks on him by the Tories were not going to change that: if anything, they intensified the disposition to remain loyal to him.

The only way for the Tories to win in 2015 is for them to show both by their record in government, and by their programme, that they are the true friends of hard-working, hard-pressed people.

One way to bring this home is by highlighting what Iain Duncan Smith is doing to reform welfare. He is seeking to transform the benefits system from a means of keeping millions of people in despondent idleness, to a way of getting them back into work.

It is a staggeringly ambitious programme, and one which most people regard as entirely fair. If you are able to work, and of working age, and wish to receive support from the public purse, you must in return contribute your labour. Instead of something for nothing you will in future get something for something.

Miliband has responded by promising to repeal the “bedroom tax”, or spare-room subsidy. He has put himself on the side of the status quo. While Duncan Smith seeks to promote work and aspiration, Miliband seeks to defend existing entitlements.

It is too early to be sure how the welfare reforms will work. But the press has failed as yet to discover very many stories of atrocious cruelty inflicted on vulnerable people.

There are instead encouraging signs that individual welfare recipients are more resourceful than either they or their Labour protectors had realised. When it becomes necessary and indeed profitable to work, people surprise themselves by going out and finding work. The reforms become a liberation: an encouragement to stand on one’s own two feet.

The way to defeat Miliband is not to dwell on his defects, but to concentrate instead on the merits of what the Government is doing. This may go down in history as one of the great reforming administrations. The press has little inclination to write about this, but in Manchester this week the Conservatives should certainly talk about it.

By Andrew Gimson


HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Mark Wallace:  “Godfrey Bloom stamped on my face!” – UKIP’s growing-up process sees the end of an era “The reasons for Godfrey Bloom’s departure tell us a lot about the nature of the UKIP beast. Technically, he lost the whip for calling a group of women ‘sluts’. In practice, he lost it because his antics had become an embarrassment to – and a distraction from – Nigel Farage. The UKIP bandwagon should have swept Farage onto the front pages, but instead they were adorned by pictures of Bloom batting Michael Crick over the head with a rolled-up programme…Bloom’s behaviour made him into Farage’s Clause 4 – ditching him is a totemic departure from a past that threatens to hold them back if they wish to grow further” Read more: http://bit.ly/19F3VVL

Andrea Leadsom MP: Our friends in Europe want reform “By a margin of two to one, German voters say the German Chancellor should “back the efforts to decentralise power from the EU” to the national, regional, or local level. On top of that, a majority of German voters support less Brussels involvement across a range of policy areas. Six in ten voters said decisions over criminal justice, regional development subsidies, and employment laws should be made by national politicians rather than at the EU level.  Giving national Parliaments more powers to block unwanted EU laws also had the support of 60 per cent of voters. These findings represent a significant shift in the terms of the debate on EU reform” Read more: http://bit.ly/1980cOD

Matthew Sinclair: Why IDS is right to make welfare claimants work for the dole “We have a more concrete base of evidence that what the Americans and Canadians call workfare, what the Australians call work for the dole, works. By a remarkable quirk of fortune – documented in Jim Manzi’s book Uncontrolled – the American workfare schemes were established with proper, experimental tests of their effectiveness. There is an evidence base for this policy that just does not exist in many other areas where we have to argue about their effectiveness after the fact, without results from a controlled experiment” Read more: http://bit.ly/16Okxbz

Harry Phibbs: Labour’s housing target lacks any credibility “Simply announcing a target is a poor subsidy for a policy. The Labour Party announce a target of 200,000 new homes a year. Why not 250,000? Or 150,000? The figure seems to have been plucked out of the air. Labour’s claims that they will end land banking and deliver the new homes that way not credible. There is already a ‘use or lose it provision’ for property developers. Planning permission expires after three years. Previously Labour claimed 400,000 houses could be provided through some magic formula of ending land banking” Read more: http://bit.ly/1bhbqYy

Paul Goodman: Homes, jobs and savings for all “Creating the conditions for homes, jobs and savings won’t be easy: in one sense, it won’t even be conservative, at least with a small c.  Indeed, it will be anti-establishment, challenging the unjust settlement that is denying younger people the chance that older ones had to save – in other words, to buy a home.  That means building more houses, and not just on brownfield sites.  But if older people are going to find the value of their homes going up less rapidly than before, government will have a duty to encourage alternative means of saving – a practice that the effects of quantitative easing has made almost pointless” Read more: http://bit.ly/18u7uhi

By Andrew Gimson

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