Five observations from Brighton: how Ed Miliband is changing the debate


3:07 pm - September 26th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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Ignore the hysterical press reaction to Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices in 2015 for now.

The Labour leader’s speech at the annual party conference also offered intriguing clues about his future direction. Here are some of my observations.

1) On Tuesday afternoon you could hear a huge sigh of relief across Brighton. The leader of the party had delivered a powerful speech that reassured party faithful nerves and gave them tangible policies to sell on the doorstep. Someone on Twitter said aptly that Labour had gone ‘from Pamphlet Labour to Leaflet Labour’.

These aren’t election winning promises yet, and Miliband will unveil a lot more in the next 20 months, but he decisively batted away questions about his leadership, the party’s future direction and supposed lack of meaty policies. He is secure in his position.

2) Remember how everyone slammed ‘predistribution’ as a clunky and academic word? Well, Miliband’s focus on the ‘cost of living crisis’ is his translation of that word. The focus of ‘predistribution‘ is that governments need to create more equal outcomes even before collecting taxes and redistributing them as benefits.

Miliband’s view is that the only way this cost of living crisis will be averted is through a more fundamental remodelling of how our economy works. That clunky word is no more. It will now be referred to as the Cost of Living crisis.

3) Using the slogan ‘Britain can do better‘ is also important because Miliband wants to position Labour as the party of optimism – not simply one of slightly better spending cuts – and challenge the fatalism of TINA (‘there is no alternative’).

I wrote earlier this year that pessimism about the UK economy could be Labour’s biggest problem in 2015, because voters may simply think Labour cannot do any better. Miliband will directly and forcefully challenge that. It’s a slogan I hope every Labour MP repeats endlessly, with conviction and examples.

4) One of the strongest lines in Miliband’s speech was: “Cameron may be strong when it comes to the weak, but he is always weak when standing up against the strong.”

It wasn’t just a good soundbite but part of a broader strategy. Miliband wants to redefine what is seen as being strong and weak, as our prevailing macho political culture always defines ‘strength’ as taking ‘tough decisions’ (usually against the most vulnerable people). But by taking on Murdoch, halting the rush into Syria and taking on energy companies, Miliband wants to show that strength means standing up vested interests, not cutting social security benefits.

5) By far the strongest re-shuffle rumour was that Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham would swap their briefs. Burnham is widely seen as having done extraordinarily well as shadow health secretary and there will be cries of horror if he is moved. Plus, wouldn’t Cooper’s move be seen as a demotion?

Not exactly, a Labour shadow minister told me. Both Cooper and Burnham want a range of portfolios to their name, in case a there’s a leadership bid in the distant future. Burnham needs something a bit more gritty like the shadow Home Secretary brief, while Cooper needs a populist and softer brief like Health. So it may suit and be welcomed by both.

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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


Burnham is widely seen as having done extraordinarily well as shadow health secretar

Blimey, is he? My impression was that he was pretty much hamstrung by having been Health Secretary at the time of the Stafford scandal.

good points.

I disagree about Burnham though – He’s made similar mistakles to Lansley in concentrating too much on policy and not enough on narrative and framing.
Labour has been caught napping by the Tory spin operation since Hunt took over and needs a more agressive and proactive media strategy with regard to health – we were lucky that the tories had someone as inept at communication as Lansley in charge of their reforms.

Cooper ? I’m not sure – maybe its difficult to make a mark when things are relatively quiet on the home office front but I think she’s still a politician People want to kick into the next gear but hasn’t so far.

And not to single them both out as I think the shadow cabinet has in general been treading water in terms of its media strategy.

From the LD’s and LAB conferences its clear to me that all parties recognise the recent baby boom as creating an important set of voters. So a combination of Health,ED and Tax policies is going to be an emerging theme.
Dont know if thats going to be signalled by a ‘heavyweight’ moving to Education or a cross ministry aproach.

A lot of Leaders come out of an Education brief !

4. Squirrel Nutkin

I really do not want to visualise Yvette Cooper and Andy “calf-eyes” Burnham swapping their briefs.

5. The Thought Gang

So we should decide who gets to hold key opposition briefs by reference to the personal political ambitions of individuals.. instead of.. y’know.. finding the best people and trying to develop a consistent and coherent plan for government which can be implemented by people with a long-term commitment to those briefs?

“Ignore the hysterical press reaction to Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices”

Why? It’s a worthwhile discussion.

basically my question is what is to stop energy companies looking at the polls a month before the election, and then raising prices in anticipation of a freeze following a labour win?

6.planeshift

Because a move that obvious would give a huge mandate for more radical action -remember the freeze is partly their to create time for new regulation to come in.
And would also increase chances and scope of labour win.

more likely companies need to show that Labours intervention will not be needed and to that end power companies are already starting to offer freezes till 2017.

5.the thought gang

I guess its about what our understanding of a ministers role is but you’d think politicians who stay in a shadow brief longer are better but look at LANSLEY,IDS and LETWIN all politicians who spent years working on policies and reforms that (regardless of whether you view them as right or wrong)have been really badly implemted.

I think Lansley had the Health brief for something like 7 years!

Burnham is widely seen as having done extraordinarily well as shadow health secretary

well he did extremely well in suppressing an unfavourable report into Basildon and Thurrock hospital just before the last election.


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