Ed's to-do list: smash Ukip, woo hacks, travel. Photo: Getty
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“Labour is in a tough fight”: five lessons from Ed Miliband’s speech

The Labour leader made a speech to party activists and journalists today in an attempt to draw a line under his party’s crisis. What did he tell us?

He’s going to get out more

One key criticism of Ed Miliband, voiced by the New Statesman editor Jason Cowley last week, is that he doesn’t get out enough. That he doesn’t seem to understand ordinary voters’ concerns because he is out of touch with the rest of the country, preferring a more comfortable mode of seminar socialism and lofty academic ideas.

He acknowledged this today, twice emphasising his plan to get around the country and deliver his message. “This speech is about setting out the big argument for the country, and by the way, I’m going to be doing this again and again, right across the country,” he said, in response to whether Britain can learn to love a geek in just six months.

When asked to identify one mistake he’s made over the past four years, he admitted that he hadn’t been around Britain enough:

“A lesson I learnt most in the last four and a half years or so is about going out more and engaging more,” he said. “Spend less time in Westminster and more time out in the country. You learn more. It makes you a better politician and engages more directly with people. So that’s what I’m going to spend the next six months doing.”

 

He’s trying to woo the press

As I wrote this morning, it is ridiculous that Miliband’s supporters when doing the media rounds during his time of crisis have been blaming the media, particularly the Murdoch press, for their leader’s problems. It seems Miliband has cottoned on to this rather lazy, misjudged defence.

Today’s speech was essentially a showcase for the press, showing that he can still make a good speech with a strong narrative, without fluffing his lines (the autocues were all too prominent today). He also made a point to take a significant number of questions from journalists, much to the anger of some of the Labour activists, who made up the majority of his audience.

It was also notable when pushed on his passage about holding “vested interests” to account that he mentioned energy companies, banks and payday lenders, but didn’t include Murdoch in that list. Usually he refers to what he sees as his gutsy part in the phonehacking furore when doing his “standing up to vested interests” shtick. He also repeated that he is “not in the whingeing business” and “The Times and all the other newspapers have to take their own views.”

Clearly Miliband and his team are noting the importance of having the media onside, and how difficult the consequences can be when they do not.

 

Vested interests are a convenient enemy

There was a key passage in his address today lashing out at “vested interests”:

No vested interest, whoever they are and however powerful they are, from banks to energy companies, should ever be able to hold our country back.

He insisted repeatedly that he would hold these to account when Prime Minister, as he has done in opposition, without really specifying what they are. His reticence to outline which or whose vested interests he’s keen to take on suggests two things:

The first is that there is a policy announcement due that ties nicely into this narrative (something new and radical on tax avoidance maybe? His “zero-zero economy” line suggests this too). The second is that they are a convenient enemy: people at the top, working in their own interests, without a care for ordinary working people. It doesn’t matter who they are, they’re just useful for making Miliband sound plucky.

 

Labour is finally ready to condemn Ukip

It is well-known that many in the Labour machine lament that they cottoned on to the Ukip threat to their vote too late, and have been having real trouble countering Nigel Farage’s narrative in northern and seaside towns that would have once been safe Labour bets.

But Miliband today gave his strongest, most direct, attack on Ukip yet:

I say to working people in this country, let’s really examine their vision. Because when you stop and look at it, it is not really very attractive. And it is rooted in the same failed ideas that have let our country down.

Piece together the different statements from Mr Farage and his gang and think about what it says: That working mothers aren’t worth as much as men. Life was easier when there wasn’t equality for gay and lesbian people. You feel safer when you don’t have someone who is foreign living next door. The NHS would be better off privatised. Rights at work, whether they come from Europe or from here, are simply a barrier to economic success. And let’s get out of the European Union. Is that really the country we want to be? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that’s the kind of country people want.

 

He’s developing a sharper immigration message

His message on immigration was still a little hazy, but he’s definitely sharpening it up.

In his speech he simply concluded on the subject: “We will be talking more about immigration as a party.” However, when pushed on the subject during the ensuing Q+A, he spoke quite candidly about what he sees as the drawback of only making the positive case for immigration:

I always talk about the positive benefits of migration and it’s absolutely right to do so. The thing that as a party it’s important that we acknowledge though, is that in aggregate migration is definitely beneficial for our country, that is my view, but people don’t live their lives in the aggregate. People live their lives specifically in their own circumstances. And migration affects different people differently.

***

It wasn’t a particularly exciting performance. I’d say those looking for a confident, coherent Miliband should look to his speech to the CBI earlier this week, which was largely missed by the media. I reported that it was an assured performance, with more to offer business than David Cameron’s attempt. Matthew Parris in his Times column today judged it “powerful” and “incomparably the best” of the three party leaders.

But today’s address did give Miliband the opportunity to outline what he is about, and how his party is going to fight the last six months to the election. His section on Labour’s programme for government was particularly good, delivered with passion and fluency:

And just in case you find people who still believe that there is no difference between the parties, just tell them what we are fighting for:

An £8 minimum wage.

An end to the exploitation of zero hours contracts.

Freezing energy bills until 2017.

Putting our young people back to work.

Paying down the deficit and doing it fairly.

Reforming our banks so that they work for small businesses.

Cutting business rates.

Apprenticeships alongside every government contract.

Building 200,000 homes a year.

Abolishing the bedroom tax.

Tackling tax avoidance.

Hiring more doctors, nurses, midwives and careworkers, and putting the right values back at the heart of the NHS and repealing the Health and Social Care Act.

Read the full speech here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.