Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A horse is a horse, of course, of course

All the talk leading up to Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour conference was about how much the party ought to apologize for the mistakes of the last government.

Miliband did apologize. For Labour's policy in the 1980s. The party shouldn't have opposed the reforms of Margaret Thatcher in terms of council house sales, cuts in income tax and trade union legislation. This came after his opening words, which had invoked the memory of the 1985 Bournemouth conference, when the then leader, Neil Kinnock, had attacked the left-wing council in Liverpool.

It was all a bit odd, this harking back a quarter of a century to a time when Miliband himself was still looking at his A-level options. Apart from anything else, wasn't this what the whole of New Labour had been about? The very existence of Tony Blair was an apology for the 1980s Labour Party.

Presumably we're supposed to take from this that, although he accepts some elements of the Thatcherite legacy, he's rejecting the political morality of the era: the veneration of big business and the City.

It's not very convincing, though it may yet become so. Because there's so little to underpin it.

The policies that have emerged so far this week have been busily ceding ground to the Conservatives. Miliband says that Labour would have a maximum of £6,000 a year student tuition fees: so he accepts the idea of doubling fees from the level at which a Labour government left them, but not a tripling. And if the current government doesn't reduce the deficit, then the next Labour government will. Meanwhile Ed Balls calls for a 'temporary' cut in VAT, thereby accepting in principle the level of 20 per cent introduced by the Coalition.

The Labour Party is looking dangerously as though its policy pitch is that they're just like the Tories, only not quite as much. Ho hum.

And still Miliband doesn't look strong enough to deliver a line like 'I'm my own man' without sounding like a studious teenager, anxious to be taken seriously.

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