Ed Miliband has a strategy. It's called Ralph Nader

Miliband's new strategy is bold, brave, and politically suicidal

Labour's leader has a strategy. It's the wrong strategy. But it's a strategy nonetheless.

The days of drift are over. The search for definition and a coherent narrative are at an end. This week Ed Miliband will present himself as the Ralph Nader of British politics.

Nader was the quintessential east coast liberal. Ed is the quintessential north London liberal. Nader was a self-styled man of the people. In his speech on Tuesday, we will be introduced to the People's Ed. Nader was a consumer champion. Ed began this conference season going to war with the private utilities. Nader believed he could break the mould of US politics. Ed believes he can rip up the rule book that governs our own.

This comparison may seem churlish. In part it is, but it's also made with a degree of respect.

Miliband will not die wondering. This week will see him making the big political play. Miliband genuinely believes something has changed within the body politic. Labour's leader, and those around him, feel they have detected a mood in the country that the politicians, and commentators and rest of us camp-followers have missed.

"You don't understand", one of Miliband's aides told me last week. "The rules of the game have changed. You can't see beyond the New Labour playbook. Politics is different. People are looking at things differently. Ed sees that. You don't'".

He's right. I don't.

But Miliband does. Or at least he thinks he does. And now he's going to act on it. Labour's leader is going to back himself.

Much has been made about the announcement on the cut in student fees. But the most significant thing about it was the papers it was given to. Under Blair and Brown, the eve of conference briefing was traditionally used as a carrot to attract positive coverage from centre-right titles, typically the News of the World or the Sunday Times. Today Ed Miliband came home to the Sunday Mirror and the Observer. He's not just re-writing the rule book, he's re-writing the Sunday leader columns.

Look, too, at those endearing, and politically telling, official photos of Ed arriving at Limestreet with one of the kids on his shoulders. Remember, this is a man who has just been savaged in the media for not appearing Prime Ministerial. Did he choose to fight back? Arrive in an armored limo with a retinue? No. He looked like he was off visiting the Beatles museum, not making a pitch for the keys to Number 10.

The Nader strategy: I am one of you, not one of them. I will not adapt to gain entry into their world. I will make them adapt, and shape their world view to mine -- our -- world view.

It's bold, it's brave, and it's politically suicidal. But you have to hand it to him. Ed Miliband is the new Ed Cojones.

No compromise on Labour's economic message. No let up on the attacks on those at the top of society. No pandering to the right-wing press. Ed will be true to himself, and his party.

There's only one problem. The rules of the game don't change. That's why they're the rules.

Occasionally you can amend them. Reinterpret them. But you cannot do so from opposition. You can only do so from government.

But again, you have to admire Ed's chutzpah. He is leader of a party who secured 29 per cent of the vote at the last election. Since taking over the reigns, Labour's poll ratings have barely twitched. His personal ratings remain padlocked in a box, in a basement at the bottom of the deepest, darkest focus group dungeon.

His response? A declaration of total war against the British establishment. His ambition? The shattering of the Thatcherite neo-liberal consensus. His definition of success? Not just a Labour government, but an irreversible progressive revolution. Not bad for someone who less than a year ago had nothing more than a boyish grin and a blank piece of paper.

It is insanity. Wonderful, heroic, futile insanity. What does Ed Miliband stand for? By the end of this week, we will see. Where is Ed Miliband heading? By Friday the nation will know. Will they follow him there? Of course not. But nor will they be able to pull themselves away from the spectacle.

None of us will. We have not seen a senior politician attempting to defy political gravity like this in our lifetime. Michael Foot was hamstrung by ideology, Iain Duncan-Smith by insecurity.

Ed Miliband is no-one's prisoner, and he is no one's fool. "Where is the real Ed Miliband?" people have been asking. This week he'll be standing right in front of you.

"A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done". Ralph Nader believed that. Ed Miliband believes it too.

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Is TTIP a threat or an opportunity?

TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US - we should keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Barack Obama made it abundantly clear during his visit to the UK that if Britain left the European Union then it would be quite some time before we would be able to negotiate a trade deal with the United States. All the more reason to examine carefully what the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will mean for the UK. For Labour this is especially important because a number of trade unionists and Party members have expressed concerns about what TTIP could mean.

The economic worth of such a partnership between the European Union and the US has been questioned and it has been frequently stated that TTIP could give multinational companies unprecedented influence and undermine the British NHS.

With regard to the economic benefits of TTIP there are few that would argue that there are no economic gains to be achieved through the partnership. The question is to what extent economic growth will be stimulated. On the positive side the European Commission has argued that an agreement could bring economic gains of between €68 billion to €119 billion per year to the EU (0.3% to 0.5% of GDP) and €50 billion to €95 billion (0.2% to 0.4% of GDP) to the US. For Britain, this means that an agreement could add up to £10 billion annually to the UK economy.

On the negative side, a study commissioned by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament has maintained that TTIP would bring only “limited economic gains”. These gains have to be weighed, it was argued, against the “downside risks”. Those risks have been identified as coming from the alignment of standards in areas such as consumer safety, environmental protection and public health.

These are important concerns and they should not be quickly dismissed. They are made all the more important because the existence of already low tariffs between the EU and the US make the negotiations to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade all the more significant.

There are a number of areas of concern. These include food standards and the regulation of GM crops and the worry that the EU’s focus on applying the environmental precautionary principle might be weakened. The European Commission, which has a responsibility for negotiating TTIP on behalf of the EU, is however acutely aware of these concerns and is mindful of its legal responsibility to uphold, and not to in any way weaken, the agreed legal standards to which the EU adheres. A concern has been expressed that irrespective of what European law may say, TTIP could undermine those standards. This I find difficult to accept because the ‘rule of law’ is absolutely central to the negotiations and the adoption of the final agreement.

But the EU is mindful of this concern and has brought forward measures which have sought to address these fears. The latest proposals from the Commission clearly set out that it is the right of individual governments to take measures to achieve public policy objectives on the level that they deem appropriate. As the Commission’s proposal states, the Agreement shall not affect the right of the parties to regulate within their own territories in order to achieve policy objectives including “the protection of public health, safety, environmental or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity”.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there should not be vigilance, but equally I believe it would be wrong to assume the theoretical problems would inevitably become reality.

The main area of concern which has been expressed in Britain about TTIP relates to the NHS and the role of the private sector. Under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions investors would be able to bring proceedings against a foreign government that is party to the treaty. This would be done in tribunals outside the domestic legal system. If a Government is found to be in breach of its treaty obligations the investor who has been harmed could receive monetary compensation or other forms of redress.

The concern is that the ISDS arrangements will undermine the ability of democratically elected governments to act on behalf of their citizens. Some have maintained that measures to open up the NHS to competition could be made irreversible if US companies had to be compensated when there is a change of policy from a future Labour Government.

In response to these concerns the European Commission has proposed an Investor Court System. This would be based on judgements being made by publicly appointed and experienced judges and that cases would only be brought forward if they were precisely defined. Specifically, it is proposed that cases would be limited to targeted discrimination on the basis of gender, race or religion, or nationality, expropriation without compensation or the denial of justice.

Why, you might ask, is there a need at all for a trans-national Investor Court System? The reason in part lies in the parlous state of the judicial systems in some of the relatively recent EU accession countries in Eastern Europe. To be frank, it is sadly the case that there are significant shortcomings in the judiciary of some countries and the rule of law is, in these cases, more apparent than real. It is therefore not unreasonable for investors to have an international framework and structure which will give them confidence to invest. It should also be noted that there is nothing proposed in TTIP which contradicts anything which is already in UK law.

We need to remember too that this is not only about US investment in Europe, it is also about European investment in the US. No US-wide law prohibits discrimination against foreign investors, and international law, such as free trade and investment agreements like TTIP, cannot be invoked in US courts. The Investor Court System would therefore benefit European companies, especially Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. 

It is of course impossible to come to a definitive conclusion about these provisions because the negotiations are ongoing. But it would surely be unwise to assume that the final agreement would inevitably be problematic.

This is especially true regarding the NHS. Last year Unite the Union commissioned Michael Bowsher QC to provide an opinion. His opinion was that “TTIP does pose a threat to a future government wishing to take back control of health services”. The opinion does not express a view on whether TTIP will “force” the privatisation of the health service (as some have claimed) and Bowsher admits that much of the debate is “conducted at a rather speculative level” and he has been unable to produce any tangible evidence to support his contention about future problems. On the other hand, it is the case that there is nothing in the proposed agreement which would alter existing arrangements for compensation. There are of course many legal opinions which underpin the view that existing legal arrangements would continue. While I accept that it is theoretically possible for the Bowsher scenario to occur, it is nevertheless extremely improbable. That is not to say that there ought not to be watertight safeguards in the agreement, but let us not elevate the extremely improbable to the highly likely.

A frequently heard criticism of TTIP is that the negotiations between the US and the EU are being conducted in ‘secret’.  Greenpeace, for example, has strongly sought to make this a central part of their campaign.  Although the Commission publishes EU position papers and negotiating proposals soon after they are tabled, it is impossible to see how complex negotiations of this kind can be practically conducted in public.  However, I believe that the draft agreement should be made public well before the final decisions are taken.

Once the negotiations have been concluded, the draft agreement will be presented to the European Council and the European Parliament, both of which have to agree the text. The European Council is, of course, made up of representatives of the governments of the EU and the European Parliament is democratically elected. Both Houses of the British Parliament will also debate the draft and there will need to be parliamentary approval of the agreement.

Transparency and democratic scrutiny are two things which there cannot be too much of. But, in practical terms, it is difficult to see how there could be more of either without making it nigh on impossible to secure such a complex agreement. Unite, of which I am a member, and others are quite right to express their concerns about TTIP, but let’s not exaggerate the potential difficulties and let’s not assume that the worst case scenario will always come about. TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US, and we should therefore at least keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Wayne David is the Labour MP for Caerphilly and is Shadow Minister for Political Reform and Justice. He is a former Shadow Europe Minister and was a junior minister in the last Labour government.