Well, that was a drab affair. There was not much energy or excitement around the Labour conference and this year Miliband was not able to find the same spark as he had in previous speeches; those that led to a resurgence of spirit in the Labour ranks and surprised the public, the punditry and the party. They were rife with big ideas, big slogans and door step friendly sound bite policies that led to a post-conference poll bounce. I doubt that there will be any significant movement in the polls as a result of this conference. Ed Miliband has consistently surprised me with his ability to give great speeches, and right when he is under pressure too. Not that his policies or ideology attract me but I had to admit to being impressed when he managed to enrapture an audience without notes and capture the attention of the public. This time he fell short, it was not a good speech and it revealed just how narrow an election campaign Labour plans to run. Gone was the whole notion of “one nation” or any attempt to meet issues such as the economy and immigration head on. This was all about throwing enough scraps of red meat to their loyalists, activists and core tribal voters; they are now the party of the 35%.
Ed Balls speech the previous day was even worse. It was uninspiring and did not address any concerns over Labour’s management of the economy. Ed Balls swung from left-wing populism, designed to get the seals to clap, to token disclaimers about the reality of Britain’s financial situation. It seems that the Labour Party is willing to nod its head towards the vast deficit and national debt but is not brave enough to explain what it plans to do about it. Ed Balls announced the already leaked plans to raise the minimum wage, axe the “bedroom tax” and put the top rate of tax back to 50p. Clear answers to the issue of “difficult decisions” were absent, he said labour would maintain the child benefit restrictions, saving a meagre amount of money in the grand scale of things. Given that the state of Britain’s finances is nothing less than a national crisis, making hollow concessions about the need to make ‘difficult decisions’ while planning to put in place new punitive taxes that will bring in meagre amounts of money is a pathetic response. The Raising of the top rate is a counter-productive populist policy for the electoral base, it might excite the 35% but could lose the treasury revenue.
Ed Miliband’s speech was chock full of the kind of fool’s gold idealism and flatulent progressive language that so excites the left. He used the word “together” an absurd amount of times, to convey the image of Labour as the party of social solidarity. They are the party for the many, and their movement is a collective endeavour… the usual socialist hot air. All eye rolling bilge of course, especially from a party with an electoral strategy to limp over the no. 10 threshold with only the votes of their core supporters and a few lapsed Lib Dems. The speeches highlights involved bashing the rich and the Tories, linking them all together with predatory big business and oligarchs. He played to the electorate’s perception of the Tory Party as being representative of the privileged few, contrasting the Conservative ‘leadership that stands for the privileged few’ with Labour’s leadership that fights for you’. Such lines hit the target but were drowned out amidst the tiresome anecdotes in an overlong speech of vague aspirations that failed to make Ed Miliband seem any more prime ministerial.
The Labour Party are on the retreat because Ed Miliband no longer seeks to unite one nation, instead he plans to cobble together a majority by pandering to the party faithful. Left wing populism for the 35% target that ignores thorny issues like the welfare state, spending cuts, immigration and constitutional reform. We now know that the key policies of the campaign will be the plan to raise the minimum wage and invest in the NHS through the “Time to Care Fund”, true Labour populism. Although raising the minimum wage will inevitably lead to job losses and increased difficulty in the job market for the young and unskilled, no matter, it’s a great sound bite and the activists will have a spring in their step when they knock on doors. Investing in the NHS and pledging to hire more nurses, doctors and midwives by clamping down on the tax avoidance schemes used by evil corporations, taxing properties worth more than £2 million and raiding the tobacco companies is a great red meat policy for the party base. Still, it is essentially a foolish avoidance of NHS reform; this behemoth of a health service, creaking and overstretched, that teeters along the edge of insolvency will eventually need more than cash injections from the tax payer.
Labour are ducking the most serious issues and this failure is thankfully likely to keep them out of power. Ed Miliband “forgot” the part of his speech when he was meant to talk about the deficit; basically he bottled it and instead clung to his comfort blanket. For this folly he will be ravaged in the in the media and rightfully so. The economy is the number one issue and the public are wary of Labour’s record yet Miliband was silent and Balls unimpressive on the topic. The potential future Prime Minister forgot to talk about the economy! This is not someone to lend your vote to; there is no sign that the £75 billion in spending cuts that are needed are being contemplated with any seriousness. Maybe I’m wrong, perhaps they will get away with it, perhaps by rallying their loyalist troops and benefiting from their fixed electoral advantages Labour will manage to form a weak majority government. Then we all get to see the British François Hollande swing into action, with his dismal cabinet behind him, ready to implement his ten year plan to realign Britain to Milibandism. Ugh.