Miliband's perplexing silence

Even supporters are wondering why the Labour leader has made such a slow start to 2012.

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The media, like nature, abhors a vacuum but this week Ed Miliband has created one. As a result, the void has been filled by Maurice Glasman's critical New Statesman article, Diane Abbott's tweet and Tom Baldwin's leaked memo, all stories, in their own way, that are damaging for the Labour leader.

Even Jim Murphy's pledge to accept £5bn of the government's defence cuts (a specific example of Miliband and Balls's promise to show "fiscal responsibility") is being spun as an anti-Miliband intervention, with the Guardian's story misleadingly headlined "Labour told: accept spending cuts to be credible". In fact, Miliband has been saying much the same thing for months. In his speech to the ippr, for instance, he remarked:

There are huge implications from the financial crisis in 2008 and the new crisis which has developed in the last 18 months for the next Labour government, for our own priorities of social justice.

Indeed the failure of the Tory austerity plan means the next Labour government is likely to inherit borrowing levels that still need to be reduced.

So even then resources will have to be focused significantly on paying down that deficit.

But the Labour leader's silence fuels the suspicion that Murphy's words are, in some sense, a coded attack on his economic strategy.

That this has been a bad week for him is summed up by the fact that both the Independent and the Daily Telegraph have Miliband cartoons riffing on the assisted suicide story. But, unusually, the Labour leader isn't being attacked for what he has done but what he hasn't done.

Miliband needed to use the first week of the political year to flesh out his vision, not least because the Tories' post-veto poll surge confirmed that the Labour lead was as soft as we'd feared. But he hasn't.

We are promised that Miliband will finally assert himself next week (Radio 4 tell me that he will appear on the Today programme), with a renewed emphasis on "the squeezed middle" and "responsible capitalism" (territory that both Nick Clegg and David Cameron are desperately trying to wrest from his grasp). But even those who believe that Miliband should never hug huskies, or anything of the sort, are beginning to ask why the Labour leader has made such a slow start to 2012.

Update: Here is Miliband's (unfortunate) contribution for the week.

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George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.

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