Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Ed risks going the Romney way..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing.. 

Good morning. It's Ed Miliband's speech today. After several months of preparation - and so many drafts his team stopped numbering them - Mr Miliband needs to produce something that captures the imagination, and end the damaging narrative that has taken hold about his Labour leadership. A repeat of last year's notes-free style is expected, but it is the substance to which the electorate will be paying attention. Mr Miliband's central pitch will be an imitation of Ronald Reagan's "Are you better off than four years ago?" from the 1980 presidential election. To this end, Mr Miliband will argue that the link between economic growth and living standards has been broken, with the proceeds siphoned off by the richest in society. He will propose a shake-up of corporation tax rates, with increases for large businesses and decreases for small ones. Mr Miliband will also announce an ambitious house-building plan and say that Labour would build 200,000 new house a year by 2020.
Whether this will be enough to transform the mood around conference is unclear. The feeling is not one of defeatism, but confusion over what Labour's problem is. Is it Mr Miliband? Is it the other Ed? Is it the message itself? Or is it - and this seems the most common explanation - the way that the message is being delivered? As I write in my column, "Every conversation in Brighton, it seems, includes an admission that the Conservatives are winning the propaganda war hands down. If Craig Oliver and Lynton Crosby could hear what the shadow cabinet are saying in the bars, they would blush: “Their attack unit is ruthless. Their messaging is consistent and disciplined. They are beating us.” Polly Toynbee also notes the Conservative team's "supreme skill is sticking the stiletto into Labour".
Of course, the hope is that Mr Miliband's speech will help to change all this. By giving party activists something tangible to take to the doorsteps, he hopes to move from intellectual ideas - "pre-distribution", "responsible capitalism" and "One Nation" - into policies that will actually help; as Rachel Sylvester writes, "Too often, the Labour leader sounds more like a think-tank analyst than a prime minister in waiting." The cost of living line is a shrewd one to take; indeed, with economic growth having returned, it increasingly seems the only plausible one for Labour. Still, Labour will note the fate of the last man to try the 'Reagan line'. Mitt Romney was soundly beaten in America last year with the electorate unconvinced that they wanted to return to office the party in charge when the economic crisis occurred. Ed Miliband has a lot of work to do - as he and his team know full well - to prevent something similar happening in 2015.
Harriet Harman was on the Today programme this morning. On HS2, she said: "We think there should be more north-south links, but we want there to be value for money... This is public money at a time when finances are squeezed." On houses, Mrs Harman said: "The reason the cost of buying and renting has gone through the roof is there isn't enough supply of housing."
Damian McBride is doing a media round today that will include facing Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics later. He gets full marks for submitting himself to the most dangerous interviewers. Last night in Brighton dinners were finished early and tellies turned up for his opening appearance on Newsnight. It had great potential for interview violence: Paxman and an audience. But Mr McBride sailed through, largely by admitting everything, accepting every criticism, and offering himself for any further punishment his enemies might have in mind. All, that is, except the money: he refused an audience invitation to donate his fee from the Mail (reportedly around £130-150k) to the Labour party. His answer was matter-of-fact: he left government with nothing except debt, the cash will go towards paying them off. Apart from that he agreed he was despicable, and ashamed. His apology not just to those he targeted but particularly to the innocents caught in the cross-fire - the special advisers and civil servants - looked and sounded sincere. To the Tories calling for him to be investigated by the police and have his pension stripped he put his hands up: it's a matter for others (if anyone has any sense no more time will be wasted on that).
Where he was less convincing, or rather where his critics will be particularly sceptical, is his motivation for publication. He had the good grace to admit publishing in a party conference wasn't ideal, but Labour members will point out that he could have chosen not to publish at all. There will be speculation about which organisation offered to double his money if he held off publication until April 2015 to maximise damage to the Labour party. The (repeatable) Blairite view is that Mr McBride was never of the party, and therefore has no understanding of what loyalty to it entails. Mr McBride argues that he wants the party to avoid the factionalism and poison he embodied. He noted that his book had prompted the Shadow Cabinet to pledge never to brief against others (let's see how long that holds). His film for Newsnight though was too much of a plug for the two Eds and overlooked the tensions between the two. In fact, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mr McBride's capacity to analyse Labour's position - and its recent history - with any lucidity is blinkered by his loyalty to Mr Balls, a loyalty that has hardly been repaid in public: if he wants to put it all behind him, then he should no longer allow himself to be trashed by his hero. The most telling line, for my money, came when he was asked about Gordon Brown. Do his revelations reflect on him, he was asked? "Ultimately it does, because I was employed by him." If you haven't yet, you can see what happened when we asked the former PM about Mr McBride in New York yesterday. From today we all get a chance to read the book and judge for ourselves. 
The most significant aspect of Ed Balls' speech yesterday wasn't his cheap jibe at Dave's "surprisingly small towel" (see Quentin Letts' astonishment that "The man who would be Chancellor was making a joke about David Cameron being photographed alighting from his swimming trunks") but his words on HS2."The question is not just whether a new high-speed line is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether it is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country", Mr Balls said. It marked a new degree of scepticism - going a notch above Labour's previous "no blank cheque" comments - from Labour. But it also seems to highlight tensions between the two Eds, with a shadow cabinet minister confirming that "Ed B is much more sceptical about it than Ed M." The FT explains Labour's increased opposition, noting that complaints about HS2 have extended from the Chilterns to Labour strongholds in the North - including Yvette Cooper's constituency. Mr Balls' opposition wins rare praise from unlikely sources - the Mail and Sun - and, combined with Ukip's opposition, has the potential to create tactical problems for the Tories on the issue.
It's also a reminder, as Janan Ganesh observes in the FT, of the differences between Mr Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor. "Mr Balls values the City as a financial centre and source of revenue; Mr Miliband seems to regard it as a barely necessary evil. Mr Balls would expand London’s airport capacity to meet demand; Mr Miliband prefers the environmental case against. Mr Balls tends not to sermonise about what the economy “should” look like; Mr Miliband scolds betting shops, payday lenders and other “predatory” businesses." 
Len McCluskey continues to lurk over Labour's conference, however much many wish he would just go away. Yesterday he warned at a fringe meeting that "we’ve got no intention in Unite or in this movement of allowing laws introduced by the Bullingdon boys to restrict the legitimate and international rights that we have to protect our work." At least Mr Miliband won't have to worry about Len this evening: the Unite leader is boycotting his Gala dinner.
Jim Murphy has warned Labour that “No party in this country has a big enough core vote to win an election" and given the party some advice on how to broaden its appeal in the South. “I think there needs to be a new language about respecting diversity that is about some of those voters who live their lives in a way that is entirely straightforward. They go to church on Sunday and they have an immeasurable sense of patriotism and a real affection for the Royal Family and much else besides", Mr Murphy told a fringe meeting. Meanwhile, a Labour polling report leaked to LabourList gives the party reasons to be cheerful, emphasising its consistent lead on all the living standards issues.
Dave didn't have much of a holiday at the Queen's Scottish estate in Balmoral this year. He only pitched up on Sunday - after hosting Michael Gove and others at Chequers on Saturday night - and, less than 24 hours later, was back to London to chair a Cobra meeting on Kenya. 
Alastair Campbell isn't speaking to Damian:
@campbellclaret: Newsnight asking me to debate @DPMcBride re his book. Just asked my mate Fergie if he would do debate with Manager of Blackburn reserves 
In the Telegraph 
Telegraph View - Blustering Balls 
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in the Times - Ed is haunted by the ghosts of politics past 
Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times - Miliband the dreamer needs Balls the pragmatist
Labour Conference:
Ed Miliband speech from 2.15pm. The Brighton Centre and Conference hotel.


9.30am British Bankers' Association (BBA) releases its latest high street banking report. 

10.00am New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launches the Mayors Challenge alongside the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Living Room at City Hall.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague at UN General Assembly, New York