Ed Miliband

Jim Pickard

The Romans used to predict the future by examining the entrails of dead animals. These days we use opinion polls, often with similarly haphazard results.

Even some of the most robust Westminster commentators are refusing to make firm bets about how the landscape will look after next May’s general election. It will be the closest fought, most unpredictable, most exciting battle for a generation. 

Kiran Stacey

Four polls have been published in the last 24 hours, all suggesting the same thing: the race for next year’s general election is now neck and neck.

Of course it is a symbolic moment that two of these polls show the Tories two points ahead – they are the first polls to put the governing party in the lead since early 2012. But within the margin of error, the race is essentially tied.

So what has happened in the last few days and weeks to cause Labour to slip from a pretty steady five point lead?

Unfortunately, the Lord Ashcroft poll can’t tell us, as it is the first in a series and so has no previous survey against which we can accurately monitor trends. Even more frustratingly, the ICM and the Populus polls seem to suggest very differing reasons for the poll move. 

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband’s op-ed for the FT today on Europe has finally crystallised what each of the parties’ European position will be going into next year’s election. But anyone listening to Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary on the Today programme this morning would be forgiven for not understanding exactly what Labour’s position is. This is what he said:

The next Labour government will legislate for a lock that guarantees there cannot be a transfer of power from Britain to the European Union in the future without that in/out referendum. It’s an agenda for reform in Europe, not immediate exit from Europe.

So what does this mean, and how does it compare to the other two parties? 

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron visit flood-hit SomersetThe prime minister surprised the Westminster press corps yesterday when he held a press conference to spell out his action to tackle flooding. It wasn’t just the press conference that surprised – it has been 238 days since his last at Downing Street – but what he said. He told reporters:

Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent.

He repeated that pledge at today’s PMQs, promising a string of spending measures to help relieve the burden on families and businesses. They include: 

Jim Pickard

I’ve looked through Labour’s manifesto from 1979 and it looked more than vaguely familiar:

There are frequent mentions of “living standards”.

Labour will promise to take great care to “protect working people and their families through the hardships of change.”

Government DOES have a role in creating employment, limiting price rises, and helping industry – contrary to what the right wing believes.

Foremost in the party’s aim is to “keep a curb on inflation and prices” and help “men and women struggling with low pay”.

Labour believes that “fair earnings for working people” should be put ahead of the “demands of private profit.”

And then I looked at the specific policies and noticed rather a few which have been adopted by Ed Miliband’s Labour in opposition.

Strengthening and extending consumer protection.

Setting up “job creation programmes”.

Bank reform: “The banking sector would benefit from increased competition.” 

Kiran Stacey

Last week, we reported on the suggestion by the BBC’s Nick Robinson that a truce had been agreed by Ed Miliband and David Cameron not to let PMQs descend into a slanging match. Certainly in the first week back after Christmas, we saw a new, civilised tone from both leaders and a rather subdued House having to watch it take place.

If there was ever an agreed truce, it lasted a week.

This week, Miliband led on bank bonuses – an issue on which Labour is currently leading the debate, as we revealed this morning. The Labour leader asked whether Cameron would accede to the request RBS is expected to make for bonuses of over 100 per cent of salary. The question was designed to embarrass the PM, who does intend to let RBS have their way. 

Kiran Stacey

Today’s PMQs was striking, but not particularly interesting.Ed Miliband decided to split his questions (always a recipe for taking some of the heat out). His first set were focused on the response to flooding over Christmas and New Year.

The Labour leader could have attacked the government for not doing more to get emergency services out in time, or not putting enough pressure on energy companies to restore power quickly. But he didn’t. Apparently seeking to start PMQs off on a calm and consensual note, Miliband began by asking:

Could the prime minister update the house on the number of people affected and what action is being taken now to ensure that areas affected by further flooding are getting the support they need?

 

Kiran Stacey

The last PMQs before a recess is always important for doing what the session is really designed for: crystallising the mood of each side of the House.

Tomorrow MPs will head off to their constituencies for several weeks, where they will be unencumbered by daily Commons business and free of the whips’ influence. It is during these breaks that leaders can become unstable and plots can begin to form, and so it is even more important for the leaders of the two main parties to give their troops something to cheer at this time.

Under these terms, today’s PMQs was a clear victory for Cameron. 

Kiran Stacey

Last week, Ed Miliband was beaten by the prime minister after failing to build a clear narrative from his rather scattergun questions. This week he was more disciplined, and had a clear and coherent attack. For some reason however, it didn’t generate the response from Labour MPs you might expect.

The Labour leader decided to lead on the government’s decision to set a cap on the amount of interest payday lenders can charge. It might not have been an obvious attack, given Labour also supports the policy, but Miliband worked it cleverly to his advantage, asking why this sort of market intervention is a good thing, when capping energy energy prices constitutes “Marxism”:

How did he go from believing that intervening in the markets is living in a Marxist universe to believing it is the solemn duty of government?

 

Kiran Stacey

A rather strange and fractious PMQs today. Amid much gnashing of teeth about the allegations surrounding Paul Flowers, the former chair of the Co-Op bank, and his links to Labour, Ed Miliband set off in an unexpected direction at the beginning of his questions. He asked the prime minister about “his campaign against the closure of children’s centres in Chipping Norton”.

It was an intriguing opening and Cameron floundered for a bit talking about “difficult decisions” on children’s centres. Miliband followed up by saying:

He has even signed a petition to save the children’s centre in his own area. Is he taking it right to the top?

 

Kiran Stacey

In the wake of the Labour party conference, hacks returned from Brighton with one question for Tory advisers: how will you counter Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze?

We won’t, came the reply. We don’t want to get into a micro-battle about who has the best giveaways for the public on cost-of-living. We will keep the focus on the big picture, on the nascent economic recovery – how that is the only thing that can sustain rising living standards and only we can be trusted to safeguard it.

That policy made sense, and was stuck to for a few weeks at least. During his conference speech, the prime minister resisted the temptation to promise a big giveaway, or really, any significant policy whatsoever. His critics said it was lacklustre, his supporters said it perfectly matched the tone of “steady as she goes”. 

Kiran Stacey

At his 2011 conference speech, Ed Miliband argued there were two kinds of business: “predators” and “producers”. The speech was not well received, not least because the bluntness of the message was not even backed up by any concrete examples of companies that fell into either category. Miliband’s attacked was drastically weakened by the fact that he was not willing to name any specific targets it was aimed at.

Well now he has. Last week, the Labour leader told the FT that SEE, the energy company that is raising bills by 8.2 per cent, was engaging in “predatory behaviour”. Today at PMQs, he went even further – but even more interestingly, he argued against one of the central tenets of free-market capitalism.

Arguing against SSE’s action, Miliband said: