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.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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