The Trouble with Labour

Ed Miliband is not the problem

The events of the past week, the nameless and shameless Labour MPs, and probably some careerist PPCs, seeking to undermine Ed Miliband largely for personal gain, leave a bad taste.

The culprits are probably Blairites with an axe to grind; a reasonable guess.

I have used the word ‘probably’ twice in the opening two paragraphs. Well I have little choice, the culprits won’t reveal themselves. Just as contemptible as the ‘betrayal’ so close to the most important election in my lifetime is the cowardly use of anonymity. We do not know who these people are.

The trouble with Labour is not Ed Miliband. We are conned into believing by the press, that image and personality are the big attributes, all important. That being capable of making a tub thumping speech is the big deal.

I would emphatically disagree with that. We need a leader with principles and values, and not least courage. Miliband has those qualities; in particular no issues on the ‘courage’ front, as his determination in standing up to Murdoch demonstrates. Blair sucked up to Murdoch but Miliband stood up to him. In my book that counts for something.

[The state of the press in this country makes me despair. I sometimes think that if the editor of the Independent and the editor of Hello magazine did a job swap we would not notice the difference.]


The problem is policy

So the problem with Labour, and there is a problem with Labour, is not the leader it is policy.

The Labour victory in 1945 came despite the then leader, Clement Attlee, looking like a bank clerk; it came because the policies were right for a country emerging from a long war. The policies were bold, radical, popular and necessary. The 1945 election was won on policy.

The crushing defeat in 1983 came despite the then leader, Michael Foot, having bags of personality, and being arguably the best public speaker in British politics in my lifetime; the policies were wrong, contradictory and absurdly numerous (the ‘longest suicide note in history’, Roy Hattersley I think). The 1983 election was lost on policy, with a little help from Thatcher’s jingoistic Falkland war.

The reason for the slump in Labour’s poll lead is, I believe, down to the fact that the closer we get to an election the closer the electorate tends to look at policy and the less the tendency to use opinion polls as a vehicle of protest.

I see little of Ed Miliband in current policy offerings.

The overall headline message of the need to fight, and remedy, unfairness and inequality is the right one; the message is right but it is poorly supported by current policy offerings.

The Party is being held back by those who still feel that the centre is where it all happens. The centre has never been less relevant. The 2008 financial crisis (in many ways no less a serious backdrop than the 1939-45 war), the ideologically driven austerity measures, together with the rise of UKIP and the Green surge have diminished the rule that the centre and the floating voter is where it all happens. Two party politics is dead in the water and I doubt it will come back.

Labour will never have a better chance to push through radical policy.

Unfortunately Labour policy makers have not been paying attention.

Good intentions like the repeal of the bedroom tax, curbing zero-hour contracts, to name just two, are not really policies though necessary and good; they are just ‘snippets’ or detail. To be radical policy they need to be part of something bigger and more comprehensive.

Repeal of the bedroom tax needs to be part of a far reaching holistic approach to housing, dealing with buy-to-let empires, the shabby practices rampant in the private rental sector, building more homes (yes, I know that is present as a ‘snippet’) and gradually make choosing to buy or choosing to rent a balanced and equally attractive choice.

Dealing with the practice of zero hour contracts needs to come with a plan for a proper and comprehensive apprenticeship system, investment in new technologies, state incubators of high tech start-ups, plus a revamp of university education (courses relevant to the 21C and free). Education in this country ranges from the privileged and elitist (private schools and Oxbridge) for the 7%, to the mundane and ‘unfit for purpose’ for the 93%.

Three policies, or snippets, that worry me, in that they either won’t work or don’t go far enough include…

  • The Mansion Tax. Heavily biased against London and largely penalising those in or approaching retirement. We need to look at taxing equity as people sell and move up the housing ladder, part of rebalancing owning and renting. Difficult to think of a more unpopular policy but it is the right thing to do so argue the case and sell it.
  • The Energy Freeze. I see this not working; there will be legal challenges and very ‘long grass’. We don’t live in a South American dictatorship, and I cannot see how we can tell private firms what to invoice their customers without taking responsibility for dislocations to investment plans, etc. Also what happens in 2017? What really bothers me with this policy is that it is an indictment of Labour cowardice. The case for taking utilities back into public ownership is solid, unfortunately so is the Labour Party’s fear of The City and being labelled the party of nationalisation
  • The proposed 50% tax rate for higher earners. The Labour Party needs to ‘get’ globalisation; it won’t go away any time soon. It simply won’t work; it is targeted at the high end of workers who are very mobile, talented and educated; the world is their oyster. We also need to attract not frighten away talent. It would be cute if the Labour Party blind-sided the Conservatives and offered a top rate income tax of 35%. Dealing with inequality needs to be a top goal but deal with it through inheritance tax and education, and taming rampant exploitation of property ownership.


Some missing policies include…

  • Far reaching constitutional reform
    • Abolition of the House of Lords
    • A written constitution to, inter alia, ring fence hard won equalities
    • The armed forces swear allegiance to the constitution
  • Addressing social mobility and our 2-tier education system. It can’t be right or efficient use of human resource that the 7% privately educated cream off all the top jobs. Note this could mean getting rid of private education or state education.
  • Radical reform of the private rental sector. Policy here should be grounded in the reality that the rental sector, currently with 9 million tenants, is no longer about students or a waiting room to get onto the property ladder. People are trying to make a home, a life, in this sector; they need help.


The Team is also the problem

I was disappointed by the recent tame mini reshuffle. Ed Miliband needs to be more ruthless.

Our chances next May would benefit significantly, I feel, from axing Ed Balls (the man is old Labour has baggage and unable to shake off blame for the crash even though it clearly was not his fault), Tristram Hunt (ineffectual as education shadow and questionable in loyalty) and Harriet Harman (voted for Iraq War and then made a clumsy U-turn on apology for the deed; the woman has poor judgement combined with a large ego, fatal).

We could do better; promote Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Stella Creasy. The talents there – use it.

Labour are capable of getting a working majority next May and joining Attlee’s government as one of the great post war reforming administrations.

If only they knew it.




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