Miliband's conference speech: what the papers say

What the commentators have to say about the Labour leader's speech in Liverpool yesterday.

Guardian

Jonathan Freedland says that the content of Miliband's speech was spot on, but that it doesn't matter because the public think he is "weird".

Ed Miliband did what the professional speechwriters always say you should do. He presented an argument, rather than a laundry list. He did not dole out random policy nuggets, with a bit on foreign policy thrown in, in order to touch every base. Instead he made a case, arguing that the values cherished by British society are not reflected in the ethics that underpin our economy.

. . .

Put simply, my fear is that you can make all the speeches and policy statements you like - carefully devising a strategy on this and crafting a narrative on that - but what matters more are shallow considerations of looks, demeanour, speech patterns and biography. That, in short, it is personality, not policy, that counts.

Times

Daniel Finkelstein (£) agrees that one of Miliband's main problems is the public's initial reaction to him -- drawing a comparison to William Hague -- but adds that he is too left-wing.

Instant reaction to Ed Miliband may not be fair (I don't think it is) but it is very powerful. Shown clips of the Labour leader, focus groups members start shaking their heads and saying "no". When asked what they think about having him as prime minister, they often laugh.

. . .

I don't believe that Mr Miliband is very left-wing, just that he is a tiny bit too left-wing. A leader can't fake his basic politics . . . He is reasonable and moderate, but he is also firmly a social democrat, steeped in the writings of the Left, accepting much of its analysis and regarding equality as his priority. And so, inevitably, he will shift the party to the left. That's what he did in his speech. . . Elections are won on the centre ground, and the centre ground is where it is, not where you want it to be.

Independent

Yes, Miliband did move to the left in this speech, says Steve Richards -- but this was a brave move. Its success depends on whether he can match it with concrete policy suggestions.

His speech had similarities with the one made by Cameron early in his leadership in which he set out why he was an optimist, wanting to let the sun shine through. I recall writing against virtually every paragraph of that address a one word question: How? Miliband's speech was similarly light on policy. What form would his more active state take? The biggest challenge always in politics is to link values with precise policy commitments that have broad appeal. In identifying the ending of the old lightly regulated era, Miliband moves with the tide of history, a break at least as big as the collapse of the old corporatist consensus in the late-1970s. That is the easy bit. Coming up with policies that unite his party and appeal to voters is much more challenging.

Telegraph

Predictably, the Telegraph does not find much to comment in Miliband's speech. An editorial argues that his ideas were wrong (except where he praised Margaret Thatcher) and that he missed an opportunity to rethink the centre-left.

Overall, Mr Miliband's demand for a new morality in public life has an alarmingly authoritarian edge. In the one rather startling outburst of honesty, he praised the Thatcher reforms of the Eighties - the sale of council houses, the deep cuts in tax rates, the new trade union laws - but then asserted that these reforms were often "based on the wrong values". That is sheer sophistry.

. . .

In truth, yesterday represented a retreat into the comfort zone: the loud boos that greeted the mention of Tony Blair - Labour's most successful leader by far - showed that clearly enough. Mr Miliband had the opportunity to show that he is bringing fresh and radical thinking to the centre-Left. He flunked it.

Financial Times

John Kay identifies a broader challenge facing the left, which Miliband must tackle if he wants to regain office:

Few voters were ever much interested in the old rhetoric of socialism, and they have equally little interest in the new rhetoric of rights. Support forsocial security is based not on recognition of claims to entitlement but on considerations of solidarity, sympathy and desert - there but for the grace of God go I.

. . .

So there is a division within parties of the left between those who cherish human rights, multi-culturalism and the environment, and the majority of their supporters.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.