Ed Miliband’s plan: positives and negatives


by Sunny Hundal    
8:45 am - November 22nd 2010

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The Guardian reports today about Ed Miliband’s plan on coming back (and has an interview too) after two weeks of paternity leave.

• A commission on party organisation will be launched this weekend. It will examine the rules under which he was elected party leader, including the role of the unions.

• A policy review will be conducted including commissioned work by independent thinktanks and studies by each shadow cabinet member on the issues in their field. “In terms of policy, but not in terms of values, we start with a blank page,” he says.

• The review is likely to include low pay, tough crime measures including asbos, and the “contributory principle” in the welfare state.

• His main priority next May will be the devolved and local elections and not the referendum on the alternative vote. He says the Liberal Democrats should change the referendum date if they really want to win.

• He will stand up for the “squeezed middle classes”, a group he claims Cameron does not understand.

The positives, to my mind, are:

1. Policy will be under review. The party needs intellectual renewal and nothing should be sacred, including fresh thinking on tackling inequality, taxation, foreign policy, immigration etc. This also means that some radical and interesting ideas have the potential to be floated and the party will be all the better for it. Also more preferable than a series of stunts to try and ‘detoxify’ the brand.

2. The focus on “squeezed middle classes” is welcome because it means he will stick to defending the welfare state as a universal entitlement, including on issues like Child Benefits, tuition fees, Sure Start etc.

3. Has put his foot down (on Alan Johnson) by saying the 50p tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 should be permanent, as a way of creating greater equality in Britain.

4. Left the door open to a possible Libdem alliance in the future. “There are good people in the Lib Dems”; and “my door is always open”. And for the party, there is a plan to “move beyond New Labour”.

5. He has a less statist streak:

However, I think it’s very clear that as we are reformers of the market – we should also need to be reformers of the state. I don’t consider myself a sort of statist. The top-down idea of the state is as much of a problem as an idealised view of the market and in a way they have their similarities. Both treat people not as people but as kind of objects.

6. Rejects disenfranchising union members.

The negatives:

1. That he won’t campaign for AV (though I’m not clear how much of a difference that makes)

2. Erm… and that’s about it. I know some people will be angry that he’s not fighting harder against Tories every day to oppose the cuts, but frankly I think that’s the job of activists rather than the upper hierarchy. Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Solomon Hughes

One negative jumps out – talk about the “contributory principle” in the welfare state sounds like opening a door to right wing workfare, co-funding policies – I don’t think he means the contributions we make through our NI payments.

2. Sunder Katwala

“That he won’t campaign for AV (though I’m not clear how much of a difference that makes)”

I don’t think the Guardian has reported that. There are no direct quotes that I could see in the main interview or report that related to that paragraph. But “won’t campaign”,goes beyond their report that he (1) will give a higher priority to the Scottish, Welsh and local elections (obvious and sensible for a major party leader), and (2) that he suggests a different date would have been better (which I am sceptical about, but which will cease to be an argument at some point early in the new year when the date is fixed).

This doesn’t (yet) tell us either way whether or not he plans to stay out of what he considers the lower priority issue of the referendum. He might want to consider, among other things, whether this could help Labour’s local election campaign, and broader issues about where he wants to the party to be over time.

So I don’t think “not campaigning” is in his interests. Others may disagree. But simply to observe that – whichever it is – it isn’t clear what he will or won’t do yet, and the issue should not be considered to be settled or closed. The interview and report doesn’t contain anything to tell us whether or not he reiterated his support for a change to AV, which is something he certainly ought to do soon.

3. Sunder Katwala

On welfare based on contribution, I don’t think (1) Solomon Hughes’ fears about that captures what he wants to argue. This is a big issue from him … he explained at more length what he means about it in one of his first major campaign interviews (Guardian, May 21st)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/21/ed-miliband-interview

“”I want to talk about the gap between rich and poor … I want to talk about a welfare state based not just on need but on contribution. I actually think one of the big projects we have to pursue is that we’re fighting an election in the next few years – and essentially we’re talking about the next 10 years – if we want to be in government in the second half of this decade, then we have to be thinking about how we shape the welfare state to be much more around the Beveridge principle and around contribution.

“What we know about the welfare state is that in order to sustain public support for it, if it’s only a means-tested welfare state, then you won’t maintain middle-class support for it. It was [Richard] Titmuss who said services for the poor are poor services. For the middle classes the social security system doesn’t do very much if you fall out of work and you’re someone on a reasonable income. All you’ll be offered is a means-tested 50 or 60 quid a week”.

***

There is a clear link with Miliband’s approach to welfare and inequality from what the Fabian Society and Webb Memorial Trust has argued in our major “The Solidarity Society” book project: the central strategic argument is that successful anti-poverty and welfare strategies depend on a strategy founded on principles of BOTH universalism and reciprocity. I don’t think it is right to say that such a strategy needs to be a punitive one, and indeed a lot of the evidence is that punitive versions of contribution/conditionality are often also less effective. Moreover, it does found a very important defence of a universal welfare state, which he has also argued for.
http://www.fabians.org.uk/publications/books/the-solidarity-society

Sunder

I think his comments on AV are about as unambiguious as he can make them. He’ll support AV but not campaign as the local and devolved elections are much more important (hard to disagree with him on that)

That leaves his MPs free to take whatever view they like of the referendum and of AV. (Many are vehmently opposed)

If the Tories were foolish they would stand by convention and have the referendum on a different day to elections. That would force Labour’s hand. But it would also marginally increase the chance of a yes vote as Labour might feel they had to support it – and the Tories won’t let anything get in the way of shutting down electoral reform.

ps – we should also keep in mind that the massive collapse in support for reform since the election makes it seem a rather wasteful activity – campaigning for something so unlikely to win.

2. The focus on “squeezed middle classes” is welcome because it means he will stick to defending the welfare state as a universal entitlement, including on issues like Child Benefits, tuition fees, Sure Start etc.

Not a single mention of “middle classes”, squeezed or otherwise, in the interview.

3. Has put his foot down (on Alan Johnson) by saying the 50p tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 should be permanent, as a way of creating greater equality in Britain.

Same here. When asked specifically, he doesn’t come out and say it will be permanent.

So, it stays?

“Put it this way, I took the view that I did in the campaign, that remains my view. And when I think about the next election – is our policy going to be to reduce the 50p rate for people on £150,000? I don’t think it is. But obviously, we’ll decide that nearer the time.”

So keeping the 50p rate is not just a policy to reduce the deficit? “No, it’s about values and fairness and about the kind of society you believe in and it’s important to me.”

I note the final comment, but he expressly leaves the door open to the party deciding to fight the election on the removal of the 50p rate. Claiming he made some (?ideological?) commitment to having a 50p rate per se is simply misleading.

6. Rejects disenfranchising union members.

Notably, moving to OMOV would not disenfranchise union members, but it would all but neuter unions as blocks (fwiw, I’m on record as saying that Labour’s electoral college system is anti-democratic at present because it disadvantages union members). What Milliban actually says is:

“My basic point is that we’ve got these union levy payers who link to working people in this country and we’ve got to be linked to them. The unions themselves have to change.” But only so much: “Disenfranchising those union members doesn’t seem to me to be what we should do.”

Overall, the interview looks pretty heavily edited, arguably to fit the narrative. The headlines Sunny sets out above – and indeed those the Guardian pushes in the article accompanying the interview don’t seem to be supported (other than equivocally) by the direct quotes from the interview.

Nothing new here.

Am I the only one who thinks this probably isn’t even nearly enough?

From the interview and the OP, it all seems very timid to me: short of detail, short of “the vision thing”, and short of…well…passion.

It has been months now both since the GE and since the end of the leadership contest; seems to me we might have expected something a tad more well developed!

Same here. When asked specifically, he doesn’t come out and say it will be permanent.

I think it’s difficult to say anything will be permanent. A politician would be silly to commit to the permanence of anything, except death and taxes (without specifying a rate). His point is that it remains a flagship policy from him, and I view that as important.

The “sueezed middle classes” are mentioned in the news report accompanying the interview. Perhaps they edited it out from the interview but left it in the news report.

I am inclined to ask what in this announcement is meant to attract floating voters? It may be the policy review comes up with something radical and attractive, but there is a key question here: who is conducting it? I would not trust many of those involved in the previous government to conduct such a review for example – can you honestly see them coming up with a new approach?

I know that this is the first stage of Mr Milliband’s leadership project, but he has to start reaching out and attracting voters’ attention quickly – otherwise an impression of a man who is there and does nothing much will grow, and other, less official, voices will represent the Labour movement – I note Mr Porter of the NUS has been very much interviewed of late for example (a sentance that reads like a nineteenth-century journal if ever I read one…).

9. showing scalp flat-top

The coalitional have failed us very badly on fairness.

I am not very nice looking – I have a small chin and fat fingers – and yet I hear that the coalition has rejected the idea of taking positive action to address the unfairness arising from this.

How can this be tolerated in modern Britain?

9

You should have a bright, shining future on the Labour front bench (which some might see as punishment enough in itself!)…. being fugly seems to be an advantage there ;)

@Sunny: When you read the interview, and compare it with the article, the article clearly reverses the sequence of his statements about the 50p to fit the article’s narrative, and in doing so significantly alters (?misrepresents?) its significance:

Article:

He appears to disagree with Johnson, who has described the 50p top rate as only “right for now”. Asked if the 50p rate was simply necessary to cut the deficit, Miliband says: “No, it’s about statement about values and fairness and about the kind of society you believe in and it’s important to me.”

During his leadership campaign Miliband said a 50p top rate should be permanent and in his interview today says: “One of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning and that I care about is that Britain is a fundamentally unequal society and that’s the reason I said what I said about the 50p rate.”

Interview:

When New Labour said ‘we want to be on the side of people’s aspirations’ we were right about that but people’s aspirations and hopes go beyond their own circumstances. It’s also about the society you live in. One of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning and that I care about is that Britain is a fundamentally unequal society and that’s the reason I said what I said about the 50p rate.” So, it stays?

“Put it this way, I took the view that I did in the campaign, that remains my view. And when I think about the next election – is our policy going to be to reduce the 50p rate for people on £150,000? I don’t think it is. But obviously, we’ll decide that nearer the time.”

So keeping the 50p rate is not just a policy to reduce the deficit? “No, it’s about values and fairness and about the kind of society you believe in and it’s important to me.”

What is arguably the key quote in the article about the 50p rate (“One of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning and that I care about is that Britain is a fundamentally unequal society and that’s the reason I said what I said about the 50p rate.“) is demonstrably not actually about it. It is the journalist who then asks a follow on about the 50p rate, and who fails to elicit an unequivocal commitment to it.

In reality, I think you know exactly what Milliband’s doing – creating ambiguity that allows Labour/”progressives” in his base to claim he’s committed to it, while leaving enough ambiguity that he can avoid scaring off others. If/when he takes a decision to cut the policy, he can claim he was always pragmatic about it.

As to the “squeezed middle classes”, the Guardian offers that as a direct quote and prominent item in the article – so it would border on the bizarre to edit it out of the interview (note that the article is written by the same journalists as the interview – but with reversed order of priority). It looks far more like interpolation by the Guardian. The piece about Cameron not understanding would seem to come from this:

“When New Labour said ‘we want to be on the side of people’s aspirations’ we were right about that but people’s aspirations and hopes go beyond their own circumstances. It’s also about the society you live in. “

IMV it looks like the points the Guardian set out (and you reproduce above) were briefed, and they then tried to fit the interview comments to the briefed line.

If the sort of society that Mr Milliband wants is one with a fixed higher-rate tax band as a symbol for it, what does this tell us about Mr Milliband’s vision?

I’ll offer the possibility that Mr Milliband has a rather machine view of politics in terms of tax rates and incentives etc, rather than an actual compelling vision. Hope I’m wrong.

@12: “If the sort of society that Mr Milliband wants is one with a fixed higher-rate tax band as a symbol for it, what does this tell us about Mr Milliband’s vision?”

Compare Denmark. The latest disturbing news about Denmark, it that along with New Zealand and Singapore, it came out top on Transparency International’s Perceived Corruption Index (PCI) for 2010 – meaning that the three countries were perceived as being the least corrupt among the 178 countries assessed: http://transparency.org/news_room/latest_news/press_releases/2010/2010_10_26_cpi2010_en

Meanwhile, Britain’s rank has slipped to 20 on this latest assessment by Transparency International.

Readers may recall a previous post of mine worrying about the state of Denmark:
Denmark has been confirmed as the OECD’s highest-tax country, followed by Sweden. By reports, Denmark’s Gini co-efficient shows it to have the least inequality of post-tax income distribution among countries for which income distribution data are available :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality

Strangely, according to Eurostat data, Denmark is not therefore languishing as an impoverished failed-state or even in the lengthening queue applying for EU bailouts, indeed it comes out as one of the most affluent countries in the EU even if it isn’t in the Eurozone. By other assessments, it also appears that Denmark is the ‘happiest place on earth’:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5224306.stm

What can be wrong?

Isn’t today’s new politics about promising anything that will get you elected while in opposition just to do what the he’ll you like when in power regardless of the manifesto pledges?

@2 Sunder Katwala: So I don’t think “not campaigning” is in his interests.

I agree with you. There are lots of former Lib Dems looking for a reason to vote Labour. There is no significant group of Labour supporters who prefer FPTP over AV so much that they’ll vote Tory because of it. So for Miliband to campaign for AV would likely win Labour votes.

I suspect the real policy will be to let Osborne cut the 50p rate and take the flak for it whilst making no commitment to restore it. Quite right too.

17. Chris Baldwin

“• A commission on party organisation will be launched this weekend. It will examine the rules under which he was elected party leader, including the role of the unions.”

I know we’re all supposed to be “moderate” and “modern” and all that crap, but we really cannot give an inch on this. Anything that weakens the role of the unions in the party even a little bit is a threat to the future of Labour as a party that represents workers’ interests.

@Chris Baldwin: How about strengthening the union’s role, by giving their membership a “fair” share of the power?

I suspect a lot of people who go on about preserving the union link simply aren’t prepared to follow their position to its logical conclusion.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ed Miliband’s plan: positives and negatives http://bit.ly/abGdQe

  2. Hugo Collingridge

    rt @libcon
    Ed Miliband’s plan: positives and negatives http://bit.ly/abGdQe

  3. alexsmith1982

    Summary of Ed Miliband's Gdn interview by @Sunny_Hundal if you haven't time to read whole thing (though you should) http://bit.ly/98BcoK

  4. conspiracy theo

    Ed Miliband's plan: positives and negatives | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/cGUnbo

  5. Politics live blog Monday 22 November | Id.Armedium.com

    [...] Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy on why the things Ed Miliband had to say in his Guardian interview this morning were mostly to be [...]

  6. Martin Day

    Ed Miliband’s plan: positives and negatives | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/5Xs5Ssm via @libcon





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