As the Conservative Party conference draws to the close of its second day, Ed Miliband is probably heeding the old adage to “know thy enemy”.
But what exactly can he take from the conference so far? Well, in their addresses today, MPs have begun to set out their attack lines. Here are the key points that have emerged so far:
The union connection
It’s predictable, but the nature of Miliband’s victory will continue to be the Tories’ main weapon. Boris Johnson’s address, full of harsh rhetoric about the 3,000 tube strikers “holding London to ransom”, included a jibe about the union’s “lackeys in the Labour Party”. In his speech today, George Osborne spoke of two sides to the economic debate:
On one side there is the IMF, the OECD, the credit rating agencies, the bond markets, the European Commission, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Governor of the Bank of England, most of British business, two of our great historic political parties, one of the Miliband brothers, Tony Blair, and the British people.
On the other side is Ed Miliband and the trade union leaders who put him where he is. The national interest or the vested interests.
This connection will only get more damaging as strikes begin to hit. Miliband has already said unequivocally that he will not be in thrall to the unions, but if that “vested interest” line comes up again, he would do well to point out the long-standing ties between the Conservatives and big business.
The overwhelming narrative of this conference is that the Conservatives have waded in to clear up the fiscal mess, like weary parents picking up the pieces after their naughty child has gone on a rampage. First and foremost, Labour must come up with a credible and exhaustive economic plan, and a clear response to the comprehensive spending review on 25 October. Moreover, it is vital to stress that the tentative recovery we are currently seeing is the result of Labour policies. Astonishingly, Osborne today claimed responsibility for the turnaround, despite the fact that he opposed the bank bail-out.
“Labour always fails”
This is subtler, but potentially deeply damaging. In his speech, Osborne said:
We’ve been here before: Labour do it every time they are in office: in 1931, in 1950, in 1967, and in 1976, and now.
Every Labour Government runs out of money and brings this country to the brink of bankruptcy.
And when it comes to the next election, we will say to the British people: don’t give the keys back to the people who crashed the car.
If the Conservatives successfully “toxify” the Labour brand by associating it with not just the 2008 crash, but all the economic problems in recent history, it could have serious electoral repercussions.
In his first speech as party leader, Miliband accused David Cameron of pessimism, promising that his party would offer the opposite. This is a simple but effective line, and has clearly discomfited the Tories, who are keen to show positivity at this conference ahead of the CSR. In what appeared to be a direct rebuttal to this claim, David Willets said this morning: “We’re the true optimists — optimistic about people and what they can achieve. We are the party of the wealth creators”. It appears to be an attempt to co-opt the label, though this will be difficult to sustain when the full pain of spending cuts is felt.