Miliband to make major speech on the economy this week

Labour leader will deliver speech on the economy on Thursday as new ICM poll shows his party continues to trail the Tories in this area.

One of the reasons why many Labour MPs remain pessimistic about their party's chances of winning of a majority in 2015 is that, even after a double-dip recession, Labour continues to trail the Conservatives on the economy. While the latest Guardian/ICM poll gives Labour a 12-point lead (its highest since May 2003), it also shows that more voters (29 per cent) blame the "unsustainable spending" of the last government for the slowdown than the Tories' cuts (23 per cent).

For Labour, the concern is that such ratings are often a better long-term indicator of the election result than voting intentions. History shows that at general election time, when the opposition comes under greater scrutiny, voters usually side with the party that they view as the most economically competent. With the economy likely to return to sustained growth in 2014, the danger is that the coalition will increase its advantage in advance of 2015. 

If Ed Miliband is to firmly establish himself as a prime-minister-in-waiting, he will need to improve his party's standing in this area. I'm told that the Labour leader will make a major speech on the economy this Thursday, outlining his party's priorities ahead of the Budget on 20 March. On the same day, Jon Cruddas, the head of Labour's policy review, will deliver a speech on "the condition of Britain" (an echo of the book of the same name by G.D.H. Coleto coincide with the launch of a major new IPPR project on living standards, described to me as the think-tank's most ambitious programme since its famous Commission on Social Justice, which helped shape Labour's 1997 manifesto. 

After Cruddas warned in his Resolution Foundation speech last week that "simply opposing the cuts without an alternative is no good" (interpreted by some as a coded critique of Ed Balls), expect Miliband to say more about his vision of a remade capitalism. 

Ed Miliband speaks at the CBI's annual conference last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.