Miliband attacks the coalition from the right

Labour leader shifts rhetoric and targets the coalition's record on crime.

Here's a rare sight: Ed Miliband attacking the coalition from the right. The Labour leader launched his party's local election campaign in Birmingham today and targeted the government's record on crime:

And when it comes to keeping our communities safe, look what this Tory-led government are doing. Taking 16,000 police officers off the streets.

Ditching ASBOs.

How out touch can you get?

It's a notable rhetorical shift. In his first speech as Labour leader, Miliband was at pains to endorse the coalition's break with Blair-Brown authoritarianism:

When I disagree with the government, as on the deficit, I will say so loud and clear and I will take the argument to them.

But when Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison because of high re-offending rates, I'm not going to say he's soft on crime.

When Theresa May says we should review stop and search laws to prevent excessive use of state power, I'm not going to say she is soft on terrorism.

Of the much-maligned ASBO, Miliband said: "ASBOs aren't perfect, but I have had too many people in my constituency in tears about their neighbours from hell to think that the solution is to just scrap ASBOs altogether."

ASBOs were a valuable political tool for New Labour but they were also blunt and largely ineffective. Of the 20,231 ASBOs issued between 2000 and 2010, 56.5 per cent (11,432) were breached at least once, with 8,492 (42 per cent) of these breached more than once. Unsurprisingly, then, only eight per cent of voters believe ASBOs have been successful in curbing anti-social behaviour. And with each ASBO costing around £3,000 to issue, the cost of failure is high.

Miliband's response, however, isn't to argue for their abolition but for further powers for the police. In a piece in today's Daily Mirror, he suggests that offenders should be frog-marched back to their victims in order to apologise. "When offenders have to confront the consequences of their crimes, they understand the damage they have caused," he writes.

There's a whiff of populism about Miliband's proposal - one is reminded of Tony Blair's short-lived plan for drunken teenagers to be frog-marched to cash points to pay on-the-spot fines - but this is fertile territory for Labour. As Blair never tired of reminding his party, it is working-class Labour voters who are the biggest victims of crime. With the coalition's cuts set to reduce police numbers by 20 per cent, expect Labour to focus relentlessly on this subject.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said scrapping ASBOs was not the solution. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.