David Blackburn

Miliband hampered by Labour’s ongoing vacuum

Miliband hampered by Labour's ongoing vacuum
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Time is against Ed Miliband: there is a void where there should be a new shadow chancellor. The party leadership cannot refine its arguments ahead of next month's spending review, upon which the immediate success of Miliband's regime depends. A further problem is that all of Labour’s arguments are made in the past tense. The previous government’s economic record is defended with evangelical fervour; but each speaker is struck dumb when asked about specific future savings and plans.

Alistair Darling closed his front-bench career this afternoon by saying, ‘The deficit is the result of the banking crisis – and the economic crisis that followed it. We had to take that action.’ No, the deficit was, is and ever shall be structural unless government spending is retrenched. Liam Byrne asserted that the economy was something of which every activist could be proud. Ed Balls’ vehemence veers beyond parody. The paucity of ideas stems from 5 listless months of leadership hustings. And it’s ongoing: the shadow cabinet elections are still to come.

The leader is yet to lead. Speaking to an increasingly hawkish Andrew Marr, he failed to identify a single cut he would support. His speech tomorrow will have to break new territory – perhaps, as James argues, by embracing the Darling plan and adding a few dextrous revisions.

In fact, Miliband could make the odd concession to coalition. In a letter to the Evening Standard, Lord Desai, the Labour peer, urges Miliband to articulate ‘a more nuanced economic policy that admits, for instance, that the Conservatives have the right idea on benefit reform.’ (Miliband told Marr that he was committed to preserving the universal welfare system.) Desai is savvy. To put it crudely, it is no longer acceptable that millionaires receive child benefit or to suggest that welfare dependency is preferable to work. The IMF has handed George Osborne an advantage; but there is still some evidence to suggest that cutting too swiftly might emasculate recovery. That must be Labour's territory, and Miliband’s speech will determine their immediate approach. Then we'll know how red, Ed really is.