It’s a party line, a cliché, and the stock response for loyal Labour politicians when asked about the problem with their leader’s appeal: “He has stood up to vested interests”.
This is politics speak for Ed Miliband being a bit of a plucky underdog: he stood up to bankers following revelations about their misconduct, the Murdoch press during the hacking scandal, the energy companies, and, now, to the wealthy engaging in tax avoidance. His move against military intervention in Syria is also often cited – although his 11th-hour withdrawal of support is seen by many as morally shortsighted.
And after days of Miliband hammering away at his message against tax avoidance, even appearing unruffled by the threat of being sued, the Labour party is stalwart in its fight against establishment malpractice. Or at least that’s its message.
The latest development is Ed Balls saying that Labour will extend the “clawback” of bonuses paid to bankers who have since been found guilty of misconduct from seven to ten years. The Tories have dismissed this intervention, saying the Bank of England is already looking into increasing the “clawback” period, but again, as with slamming the tax arrangements of senior Tory donors, Labour wins on message. What will win over the public? A shadow chancellor saying we need to recoup more money from crooked bankers, or the government sneering at such a suggestion?
It’s a popular and populist message, just as Miliband has been gaining political capital from exacerbating the Tories’ toxic reputation as a party of the rich through his tax avoidance accusations. So maybe Labour’s loyalists have been right all along when they talk about Miliband standing up to the man, even if their man hasn’t been seen to make a particular success of standing up for the party.