viernes, 31 de diciembre de 2010

Ed Miliband - here are the harsh facts of political life -

But there's a trap here. The danger is to talk about the threat of a return to recession. This is a dead end. There will be some growth, however weak – and no opposition party should be seen to be running down the economy, or praying for a second recession.

Instead, Ed should focus on unemployment, in particular youth unemployment. That is already high – one in five young people are without a job – and it will rise. When the education maintenance allowance is abolished, thousands of 16- and 17-year-olds will leave school and sign on. And as the public sector shrinks, graduate unemployment will rise, too.

For the Coalition, this is a huge weakness, especially since it has abolished the successful and popular Future Jobs Fund. Also, voters think it is economically, socially and morally wrong to abandon young people to the dole. If Ed Miliband can succeed in making youth unemployment a central political issue, he will have created a potent symbol of economic failure.

Of course, no criticism of the Coalition will gain traction unless Labour has a coherent narrative about the wider economy. David Cameron's deft new year message was an interesting restatement of its core message – that the cuts are necessary, not pleasurable, and that he's only doing them because of Labour's economic legacy. Ed Miliband needs to find his own simple story and stick to it. Something like: "A banking crisis brought the world to the brink of disaster. Governments across the world followed Labour's lead and increased spending. All leading economists agree that this saved us from a catastrophic collapse. Creating a deficit was far better than the alternative – and we always planned to halve the deficit in four years. Your plan to eliminate the deficit went too far, too fast – and now you've doubled the pain, you have to take the blame."

Ed and his top team have to repeat this relentlessly, given the ground that the Coalition's narrative has gained. And this is his third challenge: bluntly, is he strong enough and disciplined enough to lead? His brother, Ed Balls and Nick Brown, the former chief whip, have all felt the cold steel of Ed's ambition. But the voters haven't seen it. They need to see more edge, and – far more importantly – more purpose.

Being Leader of the Opposition is a tough gig, but with a hung parliament you are a handful of votes and revolts away from being PM. A two-year policy review is a useful ploy for the party – but the public still need to know what kind of country Ed wants Britain to be, to get some early direction, to see some symbolic policies.

If Ed wants a graduate tax, he should say so, and work on the detail in private. He should set out a vision on supporting manufacturing – the Coalition is struggling here, and will do worse as Vince Cable's authority diminishes. And he needs a firm but fair social policy. On welfare, he should press for real workfare. On health, he needs an alternative to the "chaos" of Andrew Lansley's reforms. There will be plenty of chances for opportunism – on crime, if it rises as prisons are emptied; on housing, if cuts and planning changes see building halted, construction workers idle and waiting lists lengthening. But without a vision, smaller attacks won't add up to anything.

It's not easy to develop and project a message on the economy, the deficit and the future all at the same time. But with them, Ed Miliband could end the year as prime minister in waiting. Without them, the danger is that next New Year's Day will be Groundhog Day for Labour, and for its leader.

John McTernan is a former Political Secretary to Tony Blair

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