Ed Miliband says Labour behaved like “squatters in power”

Labour leadership candidate says the party was too hesitant while in office.

In my Sunday Mirror column today I offer a gently mocking end-of-first-term assessment of the coalition government. I also quote something from Ed Miliband, the Labour leadership contender.

When I spoke to him he contrasted the confidence of David Cameron and his coalition partners with the hesitancy and lack of confidence of New Labour in power, in spite of their landslide victories. It's as if New Labour always felt like imposters, as if they had somehow tricked their way into government and didn't quite belong.

In some ways, they did trick their way in to power and behaved as such. The whole New Labour period can look more and more like an elaborate confidence trick, in retrospect.

By contrast, David Cameron and George Osborne -- especially the latter, who, though you may disagree with him, is a very impressive conviction politician (as is Ed Miliband, it so happens) -- behave in the way of Conservatives of old. They act as if theirs is the natural party of government and it is the historic duty and role of the Conservatives to rescue the country from the irresponsibility and misrule of lesser parties.

Call it noblesse oblige or, perhaps, the entitlement of privilege. Whatever you call it, Ed Miliband is bothered by how the Tories, using the Lib Dems as cover, can be so radical and so bold, even though they didn't win a majority at the election in May.

This is what Ed said to me:

It's very interesting what the coalition has done, a bit like George Bush in 2000. The coalition, like Bush, has won a very questionable mandate and yet they act like they own the place. The cuts [in public spending] David Cameron is making are going well beyond what he needed to do. He could have chosen a different course. He didn't. Yet when Labour wins an emphatic mandate we act sometimes like we are squatters in power. That has to change, surely?

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.