Ed Miliband finds himself in the unique position as an opposition leader: ahead in the polls (or at the very least neck-and-neck) yet seemingly fighting for his political life. Some honeymoon for a man chosen to head his party just two months ago.
Miliband hasn’t always played his cards right over the last eight or nine weeks: his promising PMQs debut was followed by several duds (although he seemed to be more assured last Wednesday); he has opened himself up to criticism over tuition fees; he has allowed his “enforcer” Alan Johnson to undermine him on 50p tax and on the graduate tax; and appears to be pulled left and right by a party in desperate need of an Alastair Campbell figure — or so we are told. Notwithstanding all these criticisms one should, as Mehdi Hasan warns us in this week’s magazine, always beware of conventional wisdom.
Today, he starts a two-year policy renewal process aware that he may have to junk many of the policies that made up the party’s 2010 election manifesto, the manifesto he authored. (In this, of course, he won’t be alone; after all, David Cameron was responsible for compiling Michael Howard’s manifesto prior to the 2005 general election).
Judging by the lines made available to the media overnight, Miliband will continue to seek to represent the interests of the “squeezed middle” but accept that some of that squeezing began long before the coalition took over. This is what he’ll tell the national policy forum:
Over the last 13 years we saw a tremendous expansion in opportunity. But people’s ability to take advantage of those opportunities did not keep pace. And so, even before the financial crisis, people came to feel squeezed – by an economy that demanded more and more of them, by public services which didn’t keep pace with their rising expectations, by the pressures on family and community life outside of their control.
The hard truth is that New Labour, which set out to help people have a better life, lost its way and people felt that we were no longer offering them a route to a better life.”
More of the same from us will not close the gap between what people want out of life and what they can achieve at the moment. That is why we need to move beyond New Labour.