I do wish Ed Miliband understood knew how much I wanted him to succeed as Labour leader. He was my first choice, an alternative to the shininess of his brother and the arrogance of Balls. I thought he had a vision back in 2010 when he was elected. You know what? I think he did. But four years of being insulated in that Westminster hole has knocked it out of him. I think he’s listened to too many advisers (and leadership competitors), and let the party as a whole slip from his grasp. There’s no coherent plan involving every shadow minister. Everybody just seems to be doing their own thing. Some of them are doing it well – most are not. But I don’t get the impression there’s a man at the helm who knows where all this is leading. That’s desperately sad at this point.
Yesterday’s speech is being criticised for the things it left out (the deficit, immigration) rather than for the things it said. Poor Miliband doesn’t have too much luck though: the beginning of his speech was overshadowed by the Dave Lee Travis verdict and then Obama stole his thunder a little late with a press conference. When the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (in the conference before an election) only gets eight minutes on Channel 4 News and is shunted down to the fourth item (I think) then there’s trouble ahead.
From looking at the full text of the speech, I can see that he’s continued the ‘we’re not the Tories’ line. That nearly lost them Scotland a week ago, I don’t know why he thinks it’s going to be successful now. Saying what you’re not is only part of the challenge; you need to say what you are. I don’t get the impression the Labour Party in 2014 knows. They aided a lot of the fragmentation they’re now railing against (academics, PFIs that are crippling the NHS, substandard welfare reform) and their spending plans don’t seem to be backed up with coherent figures. Missing out the lines about reducing the deficit may have been a good idea for Miliband because there’s no way he can do it. The savings already identified are tiny and he’s pledging any money raised from things like a Mansion Tax will go elsewhere.
Of course, Labour doesn’t want to be seen as the party of austerity by its supporters who are fed up of austerity. It also doesn’t want to give the Tories the stick of ‘they haven’t changed’ to beat them with. That leaves them in this middle ground where they’re pleasing no one. The 35% strategy to secure the traditional Labour voters and not bother wooing anyone else only works if your supporters believe in what you’re saying. From what I’ve seen, the NHS vows are very popular but the rhetoric on the economy offered by Balls is not. With Miliband not really endorsing his Shadow Chancellor’s plans, the implication is that the Labour Party doesn’t know what it wants to be.
I think that pretty much sums up their problems over the last four years. And it may be too late to do anything about it.