Ed Miliband cannot be radical and cautious at the same time

The Labour leader indulges contradictory positions in his entourage. He needs to choose a course and

The Labour leader indulges contradictory positions in his entourage. He needs to choose a course and stick with it.

A new year has deepened old splits. This week Ed Miliband's guru Lord Glasman politely excoriated the party for seemingly having "no strategy". If anyone thought it was a direct attack on Ed Miliband, they missed the point. It was a thinly veiled assault on Ed Balls and the shadow chancellor's associated vision for the state.

Glasman is not alone. Labour MP Jim Murphy reached out to join him and In the Black Labour argued that the lack of coherence on the deficit was undermining the party's credibility. Liam Byrne MP called for benefits to be overhauled. Although Ed Miliband has agreed to all these positions in theory, he has not led them in practice.

Whilst the parliamentary party is closer to Ed Balls, the country is closer to Maurice Glasman, at least in terms of spending. Ed Miliband is somewhere in the middle, and the result is an awkward triangulation that doesn't get through to the public.

In his latest interview for the Guardian, the Labour leader papered over the split. He came out relatively strongly in favour of fiscal conservatism, saying that finding a way to improve the country with less money was "the challenge" facing Labour. But he also defended Ed Balls, saying that he was the man who led spending cuts in 1997.

This feels disingenuous. Ed Balls clearly believes a form of Keynesian economics is a credible way to get us out of the red, and if he does have plans to improve the country beyond a traditional tax and spend model, I haven't heard them. I am still not clear what his plans are to boost the private sector or how to rebalance growth out of the South East and financial services, although this may be because Balls believes it would take even more investment in enterprise zones or tax breaks, meaning even great cuts elsewhere.

Blue Labour is calling for a radically different programme. Glasman has repeatedly urged us to learn the lessons of Germany, increasing vocational education, regional banks and workers' representation. He wants a more reciprocal model of the state with a heavier emphasis on contribution, giving people control over assets rather than material flows. He wants a deep cultural change that allows the party to speak about small 'c' conservative values that deal with family, neighbourliness and place.

Glasman also clashes with Balls on the market. He wants to place limits on the flexibility of capital and labour and have a dialogue about responsible capitalism. Ed Balls seems at best uninterested with this approach. When the opposition asked Balls to define "predatory behaviour" heralded by his leader under the inspiration of Glasman, he had nothing to say, and as left blogger Sunny Hundal points out, Balls' recent position on bankers was essentially the same as the Conservatives.

Both sides have their challenges. The problem for Ed Balls is that his strategy seems bankrupt. We don't know where the money for tax and spend is going to come from. Even if we did, it doesn't answer the fact that Labour's huge welfare bill failed to empower many vulnerable people. And it's not where the public are at. They hate waste and want fiscal discipline.

The problem for Glasman is that he lacks a strategy for power. Ed Miliband is - or was - his key relationship with power. He took a risk by speaking out, and the leader's office is now irritated with him, and the parliamentary party is unlikely to be sympathetic. There are only so many times you can set fire to a bridge before it burns down completely.

So now Ed Miliband has to make a choice. I want him to succeed, but too often his interviews appear to be carving out a difficult intellectual position for journalists and politicians to accept as consistent. He needs to speak over the heads of Westminster elites and talk to the country about exactly what a Labour government would look like. His messages on the squeezed middle, responsibility and the promise of Britain are right on. He just needs the strength to follow through what these radical changes mean in practice. We need to see how Labour will turn a sense of national decline into something great.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage