I am currently reading Andrew Marr’s “History of Modern Britain” book. During the most recent part there is several pages given over to a figure that most Scots will have forgotten, or have been completely unaware of. Yet had he not died of a massive heart attack on the morning of May 12 1994, it might well have been John Smith striding up Downing Street just under three years later rather than his (at the time) Shadow Home Secretary.
I mention Smith because I seem to recall that he had a horrific baptism of fire as Labour leader, with a series of underwhelming performances in the House of Commons. I think that despite the unpopularity of the Major government, Smith did not really put behind him and the party the disappointment of the 1992 General Election defeat until he won the vote to adopt One Member One Vote at the Labour conference of 1993. So we had a party leader struggling to make an impression despite the government enacting unpopular policies. Sound familiar?
It’s not as if the Coalition government are particularly popular, its just that Milliband the younger (above) and his colleagues seem inept at changing people’s perceptions of what has happened. As a result the perceived wisdom has been that the deficit has been caused by Labour overspending, and that this is the reason for Osborne’s Scorched Earth Policy, where nothing is immune from cuts. This perception has resulted in public support for Osborne’s Scorched Earth policy. Of course, the truth is slightly different in that there is the absence of the estimated £1.2 Trillion in spending on baling out the failing banking sector. New Labour used to have a unit to combat this kind of spin, the rapid rebuttal unit. It looks to have gone to seed if this kind of untruth has become perceived wisdom.
That’s not the only problem with the current positioning of Labour. While I can understand their reasoning, their stance on the public service strikes taking place today is somewhat puzzling and a little worrying. Yes, there is an element of picking the fights that will cause the coalition damage, and yes there is public disquiet about “Gold Plated” pensions (© Nick Clegg 2010). However, there are a lot of people who will suffer because of the way these reforms have been structured. New Labour’s tactic of sitting on their hands will not go down well, and shows an element of fear. Fear of “Swing” voters and fear of what the New Labour/Blairite constituency will think of politicians siding with the troublesome Unions.
There are other examples of the Miliband drift as well, the one that is most deserving of exposure is the attitude of his shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, that “Light Touch Regulation” is an ideal to return to. Balls, it seems has been making speeches intimating a return to the policies that led to the credit crunch/financial shocks of 2007-09, and the subsequent recession. These speeches are mostly to city insiders, but it does seem that lessons have not been learned.
This is not a critique of Ed Miliband himself, more one of the Labour hierarchy and the schoolboy errors they have made since the election. To go back to the comparison with John Smith, Milliband the younger is incredibly fortunate not to have someone as formidable in his team as Gordon Brown, Tony Blair or Robin Cook. I suspect that if he had, then his position would be much more precarious than it currently is. As it is, the next six months are crucial to Labour’s chances for 2015.