Why Ed Miliband’s Sun article is a significant moment

Unlike some in his party, the leader believes Labour must engage with the tabloid.

When Tony Woodley tore up a copy of the Sun at the 2009 Labour party conference and Harriet Harman mocked the paper's "news in briefs", it seemed as if the relationship between Labour and the tabloid was at an end. But Ed Miliband's decision to write an op-ed piece for the paper attacking David Cameron's stance on crime suggests he takes a different view.

In his first conference speech as leader, Miliband memorably declared: "[W]hen Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison because of high reoffending rates, I'm not going to say he's soft on crime." He hasn't broken that promise, but he has adopted a notably tougher tone.

Here's the key passage:

Before the election Mr Cameron made promise after promise to get elected. He promised to protect front-line services but now we find he is cutting 10,000 police officers. He promised a prison sentence for anyone caught in possession of a knife and then broke his word. He promised there would be "honesty in sentencing".

But he broke that promise, too. Bluff on crime, bluff on the causes of crime – the worst kind of politics.

Miliband may have argued that "the era of New Labour has passed" yet he isn't afraid to borrow tricks from the Tony Blair playbook. The Labour leader's decision to adopt a policy of constructive engagement towards the tabloid that dubbed him "Red Ed" does much to explain his stance on another issue – phone-hacking.

As the NS blogger Dan Hodges recently revealed, an email sent on behalf of Miliband's director of strategy, Tom Baldwin (a former Times man) warned Labour's front bench not to link the hacking scandal with the BSkyB bid and to "guard against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite". We now have a better idea why.

Few political strategists would argue against engaging with a paper whose circulation remains above three million, but Miliband has also sensed a political opportunity. The Sun is no fan of coalition politics and the compromises it involves, and it recently launched a campaign against Ken Clarke's prisons policy (an editorial last week called for the Justice Secretary's head).

Miliband's intervention, like his decision to come out against votes for prisoners, proves that he isn't afraid to use populism to Labour's advantage. As the coalition's troubles deepen, expect to see a lot more of this.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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