Ed Miliband’s decision to talk about his schooling at conference has been put in context by this morning’s front-pages. Red Ed will give his big speech today, and education will be the theme.
The Guardian leads with the line that Ed will concentrate on the “forgotten 50%” and pledge to “end elitism”, as the paper puts it. He will tell the conference:
"We cannot succeed if we have an education system that only works for half the country. It's time now to focus on those who don't go to university."
Other strands of thought are in evidence elsewhere in the morning papers. As we report, the proposals will include the idea that children ought to learn maths and English until they reach 18. The Times (£), meanwhile, reports that the Labour leader will pump £1bn into apprenticeship schemes.
Mr Miliband is in need of a strong performance. His personal poll ratings have always underperformed those of the party, a point which theIndependent makes with its splash on the results of its ComRes poll. Only 22pc of the electorate believe Ed has what it takes to make an effective Prime Minister. Dave polls 39pc, four points higher than his party when voters are asked for party preference. The Labour team of the two Eds also trail Dave and George on economic trust.
If personality politics is Labour’s real weakness at present, then as I write in my column this morning, the Labour leadership are becoming increasingly sharp in attempting to close the gap between Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron:
“This why the battle of ideas forms such a big part of Mr Miliband’s strategy. He is happy to out-wonk Mr Cameron, in order to show him up as a toff with nothing to say. He is proud, he admits, to be a pointy-head. In fact, it is a form of intellectual snobbery, an invitation to the public to join him in deriding the apparent shallowness of the Prime Minister’s leadership style, with its emphasis on box sets and banging tunes... Coupled with a video about his time in a north London comprehensive, he will stress yet again his background as the son of immigrants whose ‘family hasn’t sat under the same oak tree for 500 years’.”
If becoming more likeable is part of the task, it is not the whole of it. As Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) and Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) write, there is still a lack of understanding at the conference as to why voters rejected the Labour Party last time around. Relying solely on voters disliking the Conservatives isn’t enough.
Still, at least Mr Miliband has one less thing to worry about today. According to the Independent, his brother David went home last night to avoid embarrassing the leader by looking distracted during his conference speech.
ED BALLS: MP, 1ST GRADE PIANIST, COMEDIAN
Given the trashing of poor Danny Alexander at the Lib Dem conference after his attempts at comedy fell flat, Ed Balls was brave to take the comic option yesterday. The headline announcements had already been extensively trailed in the morning press - not least the plan to provide 100,000 new affordable homes through proceeds from the sale of the 4G phone spectrum. What was left was the gags, and Mr Balls had plenty of those. As we report, Mr Balls gave Dave and George a wild west twist:
“Butch? Butch? Whatever did he mean? And if David Cameron is butch, where does that leave George Osborne?
“Perhaps this is why George Osborne will never be sacked. A Prime Minister and a Chancellor destined to go down fighting together. And this time, let’s see them riding off into the sun-set. Butch Cameron and the flat-line kid.”
Sketch writers loved it, even if the editorials proved a little more sober- “a stand-up comedian with a straight face,” was the verdict of the Telegraph’s leader writer. Ann Treneman in the Times (£) wrote that the conference got “New Balls!”, and the Guardian’s Simon Hoggart praised Mr Balls’ ability to tell the conference what it didn’t want to hear and still get a standing ovation on the back of his Osborne gags. In the Mail, Quentin Letts seized upon the similarities between Mr Balls and his mentor, writing:
“The Balls speech was Brownian in its political brutality. There was the denial of responsibility, the affronted hyperbole, the over-rehearsed insults. He made a long joke about Mr Cameron’s machismo which you will have understood only if you watch PMQs every week.
“[However] Mr Balls has improved as an orator. He has learned to insert variation in pace and volume. He kept the leery look off his lips and even managed not to bulge his gobstopper eyes quite so much.”
No matter the effect on the rest of the faithful, the unions did not raise a chuckle. As the Guardianreported, Unite’s Len McCluskey, who has already made a thorough nuisance of himself to the Labour hierarchy this week, popped up to tell the Shadow Chancellor that:
“A public squeeze while the City continues to let rip is simply not acceptable. Asking the poorest for further sacrifices for a crisis they did not cause is the road to political ruin and defeat at the next election.”
But as any good comedian and entertainer knows, you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.
At a time when public faith in politicians is at its lowest ebb, all parties are searching for unifying figures as election candidates with unblemished records of honesty and public service. Luckily for the Labour Party, Alastair Campbell is mulling a comeback. Mr Campbell revealed that he was “thinking about” standing for election during an interview with LBC yesterday. The Guardian reports that he added:
"All I'll say to you is I get a lot of people asking me, particularly when I'm up here, and I do think about it and I am thinking about it and I don't think there's a fantastic rush. We sort of know when the next election is."
VAZ MYSTERY DEEPENS
In the meantime, another senior Labour figure from the days of Mr Tony is sinking deeper into the mire. Our revelations about Keith Vaz and the “suspicious nature” of his banking arrangements has been followed up in today’s Telegraph with the news that Mr Vaz was able to pay a mortgage bill which was seven times as large as his salary. In October 2008, Mr Vaz was meeting mortgage commitments of £26,500 a month on a backbench MP’s salary of £45,066.
LABOUR BORROW DAVE’S BIG IDEA
It’s the Big Society, but not as we know it. In fact it’s the...Labour Big Society. Jon Cruddas told the conference yesterday that Labour had “missed a trick” by not adopting the concept earlier. As the Independentreports, Mr Cruddas now plans to put the idea at the heart of the party’s policy review over the next year.
Fortunately, the policy has two influential cheerleaders at the top of the party. Ed Balls has previously described the Big Society as a “big con”, while to his leader it was simply a “failure”.
MAUDE MAULS CIVIL SERVANTS
Taking a brief break from his war on Whitehall waste, Francis Maude gives a speech to the Institute of Government this evening in which he will claim that senior Whitehall mandarins deliberately obstruct government policy. The Telegraph reports that Mr Maude will say:
“Ministers from this Government, and in previous ones, have too often found that decisions they have made do not then get implemented... There are cases when permanent secretaries have blocked agreed Government policy from going ahead or advised other officials not to implement ministerial decisions - that is unacceptable.”
GEORGE’S CHILLAXING FOILED
And finally... The Telegraph’s Mandrake column reports that it looks like there will be no more afternoons at the opera for George Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey. Following the furore over their attendance at the Royal Opera House for the second part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the trio turned down tickets to the following performance. Never mind. Although afternoon opera is now off the list of approved chillaxing activities, there’s always Fruit Ninja.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Paul Flynn is one delegate energised by Jon Cruddas’ Labour Big Society:
@Paulflynnmp: “Weird. Jon Cruddas imitates 'Thick of it" by adopting Tory Big Society just as Tories are burying idea 6 feet deep with concrete slab on top ”
ComRes/Independent - Con 35%, Lab 38%, Lib 15%, Other 12%