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.

Photo: Getty
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Are the Conservatives getting ready to learn to love the EEA?

You can see the shape of the deal that the right would accept. 

In an early morning address aimed half reassuring the markets and half at salvaging his own legacy, George Osborne set out the government’s stall.

The difficulty was that the two halves were hard to reconcile. Talk of “fixing the roof” and getting Britain’s finances in control, an established part of Treasury setpieces under Osborne, are usually merely wrong. With the prospect of further downgrades in Britain’s credit rating and thus its ability to borrow cheaply, the £1.6 trillion that Britain still owes and the country’s deficit in day-to-day spending, they acquired a fresh layer of black humour. It made for uneasy listening.

But more importantly, it offered further signs of what post-Brexit deal the Conservatives will attempt to strike. Boris Johnson, the frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, set out the deal he wants in his Telegraph column: British access to the single market, free movement of British workers within the European Union but border control for workers from the EU within Britain.

There is no chance of that deal – in fact, reading Johnson’s Telegraph column called to mind the exasperated response that Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal and a supporter of a Remain vote, gave upon hearing that one of his players wanted to move to Real Madrid: “It's like you wanting to marry Miss World and she doesn't want you, what can I do about it? I can try to help you, but if she does not want to marry you what can I do?”

But Osborne, who has yet to rule out a bid for the top job and confirmed his intention to serve in the post-Cameron government, hinted at the deal that seems most likely – or, at least, the most optimistic: one that keeps Britain in the single market and therefore protects Britain’s financial services and manufacturing sectors.

For the Conservatives, you can see how such a deal might not prove electorally disastrous – it would allow them to maintain the idea with its own voters that they had voted for greater “sovereignty” while maintaining their easy continental holidays, au pairs and access to the Erasmus scheme.  They might be able to secure a few votes from relieved supporters of Remain who backed the Liberal Democrats or Labour at the last election – but, in any case, you can see how a deal of that kind would be sellable to their coalition of the vote. For Johnson, further disillusionment and anger among the voters of Sunderland, Hull and so on are a price that a Tory government can happily pay – and indeed, has, during both of the Conservatives’ recent long stays in government from 1951 to 1964 and from 1979 to 1997.

It feels unlikely that it will be a price that those Labour voters who backed a Leave vote – or the ethnic and social minorities that may take the blame – can happily pay.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.