Peter Hoskin

Ed Miliband tries to detoxify his brand

Ed Miliband tries to detoxify his brand
Text settings

The scrubbing job starts in earnest this morning, as Ed Miliband tries to erase that "Red" epithet from before his name. Exhibit A was his appearance on the Andrew Marr show, in which he took every opportunity to cast the manner of his victory in a favourable light. "If you look at this as one vote-one member, then I got more votes than anyone else," he assured us, before going on to say that he won the union vote because, "I spoke about things that matter to working people in this country." When asked whether he would sway under pressure from the union leadership, he averred, "I'm nobody's man, I'm my own man – and I'm very, very clear about that." And as a final flourish, "I'm certainly not Bob Crow's man."

As for the actual substance of the interview, Miliband struck an ambiguous tone. On the all-important deficit, he would only say that the Alistair Darling plan was a "starting point". But, then, he did go onto say he "will not oppose every government cut," and he even made an admission that is rare from a Labour figure: "Some public sector workers would have lost their jobs under us, yes." So as to whether he will be veer towards or away from fiscal insanity, there is no clear answer yet. He did make some noises about increasing the taxes on the banks, but that's hardly surprising nor necessarily unpopular. The question is whether he can continue to be so vague in coming months. The Tories will certainly make an issue of it if he is.

Then, universal benefits. This was a subject that MiliE injected into the Westminster bloodstream before the election, and I've said before that it could be among the most significant dividing lines of this Parliament. His position, of course, is that benefits should remain universal, that they should stretch to the middle classes – and he reiterated that point here. "Means-testing has real problems," he told Marr, "it misses out the people in the middle." Ah, yes, the people in the middle. Miliband also makes an appeal to them in an article for this morning's Sunday Telegraph that rattles on about "aspiration" and the "squeezed middle". Expect him to return to this theme again and again.

The curious thing about Ed Miliband's attempt to broaden his appeal is that it cuts right into one of biggest political questions of the day: what can we afford? If Miliband can convince the public that middle-class benefits can be retained without sinking the public finances, then he has a fairly strong pitch for the next election. If not, then he may just be positioning himself on the wrong side of another "investment vs cuts" divide. He's made a decent first step today, but one that leaves all these matters unresolved.