Unlike Tony Blair, Ed Miliband has never sought to define himself by picking fights with his own party. Miliband and Ed Balls’s admission that Labour would have to keep most or even all of the coalition’s cuts was not an attempt to antagonise the trade unions but an acceptance of fiscal reality. As I wrote this morning, George Osborne will leave the next government a deficit of at least £79bn.
But though a conciliatory figure, Miliband has just issued a robust response to Len McCluskey’s fusillade against him in today’s Guardian. Here’s his statement in full:
Len McCluskey is entitled to his views but he is wrong.
I am changing the Labour Party so we can deliver fairness even when there is less money around and that requires tough decisions.
It requires a tough decision to put the priority on jobs ahead of public sector pay.
It also requires us to say we do believe the Government is going too far, too fast with their cuts but we are not going to make specific promises to reverse those cuts unless we are absolutely sure that we know where the money is coming from.
That is right, it is responsible and it is the way we are going to proceed.
His language (“we are not going to make specific promises to reverse those cuts”) is noticeably more nuanced than Ed Balls’s (“we are going to have keep all these cuts”) but the message is the same: we accept the public sector pay squeeze and can’t promise to reverse all or any of the cuts.
Those who say that Miliband cannot afford to alienate Unite, by far the party’s biggest donor, should remember that, even at the height of Blairism, the unions continued to pay the bills.