Penurious progressives

There will no doubt be much soul-searching at this week’s Labour party conference. There will no doubt continue to be subtle – and not so subtle – attempts to distance the party from the legacy of the Brown government and its cataclysmic electoral implosion. Without, of course, suggesting that it is therefore inappropriate for some of Brown’s closest associates to be leading the party to a bright new dawn, whether red, blue or purple.

The biggest issue on the agenda is the party’s stance on the economy. How can it regain credibility for its stewardship of the economy, given the perception among much of the electorate – successfully promulgated by the Coalition – that the poor state of the public finances in 2010 was almost entirely attributable to Labour’s uncontrolled largesse with other people’s money? Personally, I don’t buy the narrative that it was all Labour’s fault. But it doesn’t matter whether it is accurate or not. It is the one that the party will have to neutralise if it wants another sniff of power any time soon.

Yet, there is a different way of thinking about the problem. And it perhaps highlights the scale of the challenge the party faces. Read more of this post


Mr Ed’s fishing expedition

Ed Miliband’s speech to the Fabian Society conference today was intriguing. That isn’t to say that I agreed with it all. But it was a fascinating step in the political game and a piece of political rhetoric worth examining. Mr Ed has come in for a bit of criticism for the low-key start to his tenure as Labour leader. This was significant speech to a set-piece event. People were eager to hear what he had to say. And what he had to say was interesting in at least two respects. First, in its attempt to dissociate itself from the legacy of New Labour and chart a way forward. Second, it was a transparent attempt to articulate a route for Labour that will also appeal to left-leaning Liberal Democrats. It was a supreme exercise in triangulation. It was, quite clearly, a fishing expedition.

The strategy had a number of components. Read more of this post

Mr Ed’s Team Invisible

Yesterday LabourList posted the results of their most recent survey of approval ratings for members of the Shadow Cabinet. While it would be unwise to place too much weight on such figures, they gave me cause to reflect on the current state of the political game.

The survey indicated that the approval ratings for some key members of the Shadow Cabinet – Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson in particular – have weakened, with the proportion of respondents indicating they felt these senior politicians are doing a ‘poor’ job increasing markedly.

In contrast, the approval ratings for the dynamic duo of Balls and Cooper held firm, while Andy Burnham recorded the most positive net rating of any Shadow Cabinet member. Equally notably, a good chunk of those surveyed felt unable to pass judgement either way on a significant proportion of the more junior members of the Shadow Cabinet. Read more of this post

Cuts, conflict and Alan Johnson getting all mythical

At the RSA last week Alan Johnson gave his second speech on the economy, the deficit, and the direction of policy – both Coalition and Labour. He travelled under the banner “Beyond fiscal fables and Greek myths” (available via @LabourList). This event got rather lost in the fallout from the tuition fee protests and IDS’s proposed welfare reforms. That is unfortunate because there was plenty in the speech that was interesting.

First, Johnson has clearly been doing some background reading of that economics primer he mentioned when he took up his current role, or at the very least he’s being better briefed. The economic content of the speech was rather more plausible than some of his previous pronouncements on the topic. Read more of this post