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Friday, 23 September 2011

What Ed Miliband Should Say At Labour Conference, But Won’t

It is now beyond question that Ed Miliband is moving his party to the left, or redefining the centre ground if you prefer, or drawing a line under the New Labour era. Or whatever.

The latest symbolic move has been to back Palestinian statehood in advance of a vote at the UN. This is a peculiar decision that makes no real sense before knowing what the Palestinians are putting on the table, except to send a strong message to the party faithful that Ed Miliband is shifting policy on the Middle East. This line on Israel/Palestine is one that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would never have countenanced and that is the whole point.

Ed Miliband is determined to ditch the legacy of the Blair-Brown era (which is odd considering that he is its creature) and I can’t help thinking this is a terrible strategic error.

The opposition is hamstrung by the fact that it still hasn’t found the right language to take on the government. Miliband has squeezed himself into a tiny ideological sliver, where he can’t move any further to the left for fear of inviting ridicule, but can’t entirely embrace the achievements of the Blair-Brown years either.

In welfare to work, education and health, the Cameroons are engaged in implementing the Blairite reform agenda. The logic of Ed Miliband in the new post-New Labour era should make it possible to oppose this from the Left. But there are still too many Blairites around him to quite pull this off. With Liam Byrne in charge of the policy review it will be impossible to dump the New Labour policy agenda in its entirety.

Instead of trying to persuade people that Cameron is a Thatcherite in disguise, Labour should concentrate on questioning the Tories’ competence in government. Ed Miliband’s conference speech should recognise that all the most adventurous ideas of the new government are stolen from New Labour and give them a cautious welcome. He should then say that the job of opposition is to forensically examine the government’s record on delivery and stand back.

He won’t do this, of course, because to embrace the Blairite legacy would mean immediate death within the party.

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