So YouGov tell us that Ed Miliband is regarded as “honest but untrustworthy”? What to make of it all? I’m sure his speech on Thursday will sort out all the confusion. What I think he need is to show us what he stands for.
There has been recent comment about whether Labour should reveal it’s policies, with Alan Johnson arguing that Miliband has already “shown too much leg”. Others, including myself, argue that a lack of openness creates a lack of trust. We’re both right and wrong. The confusion is in the distinction between policy, and aims/values.
The media always demand to know what the policies are, but the public want to know what the aims and values are. Policies are a list of promises while aims and values represent what we care about and what kind of a world we want to live in. It’s our aims and values to stick up for the small guy. It’s the aims and values of the Tories to stick up for big business and lobbyists.
Both parties try to present aims and values through slogans. The Tories say “We’re all in this together”, while Labour talk of “One Nation”. The Tory slogan is better because it’s about their intention to reduce the deficit. Ours was created as an attack on Tory hypocrisy, but has since been shown to mean little else.
It seems to me that Ed Miliband is forever working on the manifesto, instead of communicating what he stands for. Welfare is an obvious example. He chose to rise to the bait when Cameron challenged him on welfare, but then failed to put a lid on things when the “bedroom tax” got out of control.
This communicated that he was hazy about where the party was going. If he wasn’t waiting for think tank report he would have been on the case and ready with an answer. It’s as if everything is put on hold until we have a fully costed policy, when the proper way to do things is to define our aims and values and allow policy to rise from that.
Few people believe that austerity works. We won the argument on that one. Nor do I think that many people blame us for the banking crisis, per se. But we were in a weak position to deal with the crisis when it came, and that did cost us. Now the British people expect a smaller state. It’s not what we want, it’s what the public want. They employ us not the other way around, remember.
Ed Balls seems to get it, judging from his speech yesterday. We will demonstrate that we are credible about the indulgence of the public sector and the cost of welfare. We may commit to sustaining of the Tory welfare reforms.
For some, that idea is galling, but perhaps necessary. We are no longer in a position of strength, but a position of weakness. The main reason we are ahead in the polls is because the Tories look divided right now, but there is no guarantee that they’ll continue banging on about Europe. In fact, at the height of the Tory rebellion, some of the hardest nuts had distinctly flexible positions. That tells me that they are more bark than bite. We can’t rely on their disunity.
The most important thing is for Ed Miliband to get his message and his beliefs across. I’m still baffled as to why he doesn’t enter the Europe debate. After watching the Polish foreign minister on Newsnight, I see this as an argument for the winning. I’m sure Miliband is pro-EU, so why doesn’t he come fight the corner? It’s an opportunity. http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b020yqfd/?t=20m32s
Sometimes a politician can look stupid, if they pick a fight that they lose, and then refuse to move with the consensus. Boris Johnson did this over Heathrow expansion. He dug in his heels when everyone else moved on, and I think it cost him the Tory leadership as a result.
So I’m not suggesting that Ed Miliband should pick any fight, or be stubborn if the facts change. What I think is that if the public regard him as being honest, then there are plenty of people to win over, but they won’t be won over if all they see on are issues raised by the Tories, with no debate coming from the labour bloke.
Maybe I’ve missed a trick here. Maybe the strategy is to be sparing about public appearances? Maybe there is mystery or grandeur in being fleeting? If that’s the strategy, I don’t think it works. Ed Miliband needs to pin down what he stands for. He won’t do that by hiding away. He’ll do it by actively looking for a debate and then entering and winning it. People need to know what he is about.