Ed Miliband was on the Victoria Derbyshire show today, and received a somewhat predictable roughing up. He was there to talk about his “Made in Britain” speech, but instead was hit with a wall of (quite often personal) attacks.
That’s an occupational hazard for all politicians when facing a radio phone in – especially Derbyshire’s – where the only people who are motivated to call in are those who want to tell you how rubbish you are. No-one was calling in to tell Ed how thoughtful his squeezed middle rhetoric was, or how they believed Labour’s five point plan for jobs and growth would get the economy moving again. Why would they?
I’m obviously being unfair. I can’t think of any British politician who would get a positive reception from Derbyshire’s callers. The public perception of politicians is so low I imagine a Nelson Mandela / Aung San Suu-Kyi double act would probably get a rough ride.
But Ed doesn’t do himself any favours, because the conversation in Britain’s homes, workplaces and pubs when it comes to Labour (if indeed it comes to Labour at all) has shifted decisively – to what would you do?
And the honest answer is, we haven’t got an answer.
Months ago I said that “Ed needs to come up with some flagship policies that show what he is about, and would prioritise, in government” and in fairness Miliband adviser (and Lord) Stewart Wood responded with five solid things that Ed Miliband’s agenda of responsible capitalism means. But as I said at the time none of these are quite what I meant by flagship policies.
Well my pulse is still not racing, and the lack of a big policy idea, something that the public at large an identify with Miliband as “What he’s for”, something the Labour commits to implement above, beyond and before everything else is a real problem.
What Miliband faced today was a concentrated and unpleasant version of what many of us face each weekend on the doorstep. “What are you lot for?” “You’re no different to the Tories?” “What would you do differently?”
And we can waffle on about five point plans that not even party hacks really understand, or squeezed middle theories which make sense but have no policy implications as of yet. And we can use local examples on parking, and development and housing – as we must. But that’s not going to turn around someone’s perception that Labour is out of ideas.
Labour activists are being – to misquote Nye Bevan – sent naked onto the doorstep, without the national policies or direction we need to succeed. Today Ed Miliband got a taste of what’s like.
This policy vacuum can’t last forever. It’s time to start filling it – and soon.