A Tale of Two Eds

Posted on September 26, 2011

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Have the shadow chancellor and the leader of the opposition agreed on a ‘good cop, bad cop’ policy for this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool?

For while Ed Miliband faced criticism from all sides for his backtracking on tuition fees, a climbdown that followed quick on the heels of similar betrayals and U-turns on the issue of the unions, Ed Balls made himself a conference sweetheart by tugging at the party’s heartstrings with talk of a new bank bonus tax.

Balls’ speech, though admitting that Labour made mistakes during its time in office (and they did), laid out a five-point growth plan as an alternative to the policy currently being followed by George Osborne which, though not demonstrably failing per se, has certainly failed to resuscitate the British economy as the Conservatives claimed it would. Expressing support for a repeat of the bank bonus tax and stating that “it wasn’t too many police officers, nurses and teachers in Britain that caused Lehmans to go bust in New York” are moves that strike a populist note and are sure to appease the party, but for all its criticisms of cuts, Tory-bashing and party-pandering rhetoric, Balls still managed to make a speech conservative enough in nature that Osborne & co will struggle to pull the rug out from underneath him.

If only the Politician Formerly Known As ‘Red’ Ed could say he was having as good a time. His words yesterday regarding tuition fees, which the Tories are right to label “a monumental U-turn”, have caused him nothing but problems and lay him open to accusations of opportunism. After his loud opposition to fee hikes last year, Miliband appears to have abandoned that policy, thus simultaneously abandoning those who had turned towards Labour in the face of the Liberal Democrat betrayal and confusing many in his own party who believed the party was still committed to some form of graduate tax.

Such a U-turn makes Miliband’s stance last year appear nothing more than opportunistic, and voters are justified in questioning his sincerity. These doubts will have been exacerbated by the events of the previous weeks, when Miliband bit the hand that feeds in criticising the unions whose votes won him the Labour leadership last September before being forced into another reversal of his position. Thus he has not only been denied his ‘Clause 4 moment’, but also alienated both the electorate that won him his current job and part of the electorate that he hopes will win him his next.

This writer supported Ed Miliband for the Labour leadership this time last year, and upon his victory expressed hope that he could usher in a new era for Labour. Yet Mr Miliband must be careful that by tacking to the right to cast off the ‘Red’ Ed label he does not wind up a leader with no natural constituency at all within his own party and the country at large. For in Ed Balls, who fought a surprisingly impressive leadership campaign last summer and has also earned the backing of this writer recently, he has a potential challenger that one feels would not be quite so willing to turn away from either a policy or a fight.

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Posted in: Politics