Sunday, 22 September 2013

Bad start for Labour..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing..

Good morning. Andrew Marr called it an extraordinary interview, and there won't be many who will disagree. If Ed Miliband wanted to answer the critics about his capacity to lead, he chose a funny way of going about it. The media is often criticised for focusing on the trivial and ignoring the substance. In this case there was very little substance to consider, mainly because Mr Miliband side-stepped so many questions (towards the end Mr Marr was reduced to pleading 'is there nothing you can say about tax?'). The odd glimmers of policy precision happened almost by accident - he left open, for example, the possibility that Labour could levy a mansion tax on the full value of the mansion, not just the marginal difference, and suggested Labour was considering introducing different, sector-specific minimum wage levels.
Where Mr Miliband talked about substance it was all too often wrapped in truisms and cliches. At the centre of his analysis is a concern for living standards and a complaint that the recovery is not doing enough for those at the bottom. What he has still not answered is how a Labour model would generate the wealth necessary to push up living standards. We can't escape the style though. Anyone tuning in will, I suspect, have been distracted by how he performed. Has he done something to his voice, which sounded an octave lower? Has he had some kind of voice coaching to explain the languor that has crept into his speech patterns, a sort of drawly falling away at the end of sentences to suggest coolness? Has he been told to smile a lot more when he speaks, giving him that Gordon Brown rictus thing? And what was with the diminished eye contact? Mr Miliband is not shy and unlike his brother is great at making a connection with the person he's addressing. Today though he spent a lot of time staring down at the floor and leaning away from Mr Marr. It was quite odd and distracting (that and the ferris wheel turning into his head).
Other points to note: he corrected Mr Marr when he referred to 'New Labour': it's 'One Nation Labour' now. He refused to commit Labour to an in/out referendum on Europe in 2017, giving CCHQ something else to be pleased about. And on Damian McBride he made a big play of how he told Gordon Brown to sack his spin doctor because he didn't like what he was hearing. Notice then that he is buying into the view that all blame must be heaped on Mr McBride, none on Mr Brown (and contrast that to Tessa Jowell's call for Mr Brown to make a statement because he bears ultimate responsibility for what was done in his name). 'Can you look into your heart and say you were completely clean?' Matthew Parris asked him. 'It's never been my style of politics,' Mr Miliband replied. Let's see what others remember. The Marr interview is the leader's chance to shape his conference message and take the initiative. Mr Miliband is in trouble because the party is drifting in the polls, there are doubts about his personal ratings, the recovery is every day undermining Labour's economic argument, and the McBride revelations have stirred-up the party's painful and unresolved recent past. He needed therefore to put in a convincing performance that could counter the dynamic of doubt and nervousness. He didn't do that. His worry must be that his performance will become the story today.
What would an Ed Miliband government actually do? Despite the confusion of the Marr interview, we are a little better informed than a week ago. Mr Miliband said on Friday that Labour would abolish the bedroom tax; Mr Balls said they would abolish the 'shares-for-rights' scheme. Mr Miliband has said that Labour would introduce an immigration bill in his first year, as part of which large firms would have to train a British apprentice for every worker that they bring from overseas. He said that the policy would create 125,000 new apprentices in five years. Labour would also increase the penalty on firms that didn't pay the minimum wage to workers from £5,000 to £50,000. Mr Miliband was yesterday asked about whether he would "bring back socialism" in an open-air Q&A session in Brighton. His response? "That's what we are doing, sir."
The challenge for Mr Miliband is to make his message cut through. The Mail on Sunday's poll showing that 38 per cent of people think that the Tories have the best policies on the economy compared to only 20 per cent who think that Labour do is a reminder of the severity of his challenge. So, too, is talk of Labour's £28 billion black hole in its spending plans, reported in the Sunday Times; and Mr Miliband can brace himself for plenty more of the same before 2015, which will be "a vile, aggressive election", according to Chuka Umunna. That's why Ed Balls' speech, on Monday, is so critical. Labour "have to be bomb-proof on tax and spending at the next election", observes Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer.
His answer, it seems, is to focus relentlessly on the cost of living. AsMatthew D'Ancona writes, "this gathering has its binding principle in living standards, and the political claim that the headline figures of the recovery bear little relation to the experience of ordinary families trying to make ends meet, find affordable housing, steer their children towards apprenticeships, and pay utility bills." We will see plenty like the attempt to cast Ed as the Ryanair to Dave's Business Class.
Mr Miliband might cheer himself with the thought that, this time, there is no David Miliband to divert the attention from him; and Yvette Cooper, often talked of as a potential leader, told The Independent that she has no such ambitions: "No. I want to be the Home Secretary." But he has the spectre of Damian McBride instead; "It used to be all about David, now it’ll be all about Damian", as one of Ed's colleagues told James Forsyth.
Tessa Jowell says that Gordon Brown was "not an innocent" in the goings-on of Mr McBride, saying that "I feel sickened it was not just tolerated but encouraged at the heart of government." And the Mail on Sunday leads with claims that Mr McBride had a drunken one-night stand with an unnamed Labour Minister during the height of Gordon Brown's power. If enough damage hasn't been done to Labour already, remember that there are still a couple more days of serialisation to come. Alastair Campbell has written a blog on the fallout, describing Mr Brown as "a great Chancellor with a weakness for very bad people whose idea of political teamship was fundamentally at odds with Tony’s, mine, and the one that Gordon professed to sharing." Dan Hodges, who was once offered the job that became Mr McBride's, concludes that he was "not tough enough, ruthless enough, or sophisticated enough" to do it in the Mail on Sunday
Chris Grayling has written for the Sunday Telegraph of the dangers that Labour and Lib Dem plan to "clobber the rich" would drive "wealth creators" out of Britain. Mr Grayling writes: “The politics of envy is back. What do Labour want to do? They want to penalise the wealth creators. Higher taxes for the rich. To pay for what Labour really wants — a bigger and bigger welfare state.” The intervention is an early indicator of how the Tories will attack Labour at their conference. Jeremiah Cable is understood to be 'fair game' for attacks by Conservatives as they attempt to make the case that the economic recovery would have been even better without the Lib Dems in government.
Nick Clegg has launched an inquiry into claims that there is a "dirty tricks" campaign against Vince Cable. It has been claimed that members of the media have been briefed with erroneous information damaging Mr Cable's position in the party. A Lib Dem MP told The Observer that "lies have been briefed" about the scale of Mr Cable's defeat to Danny Alexander in a parliamentary party debate on the economy before the party voted on economic policy at Lib Dem conference last Monday. 
Was Alastair Campbell watching a different interview?
@campbellclaret: Good Ed M interview on #Marr but whole Party must hit Tories harder, defend record better and break thru to public re futurepolicy #lab13
In the Telegraph 
Chris Grayling - Stop clobbering the rich
Best of the rest
Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday - Dave, I'm leaving you
Adam Boulton in The Sunday Times - Zombies stir to drag Ed back to his dark side
Dan Hodges in The Mail on Sunday - PM's mad dog who practised methodical destruction
Labour Conference:
10.00 Doors formally open
11.35 Iain McNicol speaks
12.15 Ray Collins on the review of union links and a debate from the floor
2.35 Stephen Twigg speaks
3.15 Yvette Cooper speaks

4.25 Mary Creagh speaks