Before the Conference season we were promised the most sustained attack on Ed Miliband from Tory High Command. Leading Tory bloggers excitedly wrote that their self styled strategic genius George Osborne (it’s beyond me why they still rate this guy but hey ho) had deliberately kept the Tory attack dogs at bay but would be soon letting them off the leash.
Yet it’s an indication of the extent to which Ed Miliband’s one nation speech rattled the Tories, that far from us being ripped to shreds by Osborne it was the Tories who were forced to question their positioning as Cameron found himself having to move onto Ed’s terrain and rewrite his Party Conference speech. In the last few days Michael Gove devoted half his text of what was supposed to be a major speech on education to attacking Ed’s appropriation of one nation politic. Sadly for Mr Gove while the prose was beautifully written as one would expect from a journalist of his calibre, he failed to land a glove.
The Tory’s problem in trying to hit their target doesn’t surprise me.
As a young Labour researcher in the 2000s my job was to marshal the evidence and write dossiers showing how extreme and out of touch the Tory Parties of Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard had become. It was easy as pie. Every time our national leaders set them a trap they marched up and jumped right in. I can imagine similar dossiers were attempted by young Tory researchers and yet so far we have deftly side-stepped their elephant traps and doggedly refused to live up to the caricatures of Tory Head Office. It was easy for me ten years ago, it must be very frustrating for CCHQ today.
If I was writing those dossiers today I would have bags of evidence to draw upon. For all the rhetoric that was associated with Cameron’s modernisation project, their actions in government exposes them for what they really are. The vote green go blue slogans, the husky photos, the let sunshine rule the day catchphrases were nothing more than a bit of new gloss on the same old Tory policies. After two and a half years we’ve become ever more divided between those in work and out of work, between north and south, between the inner cities and rural communities. That’s why Ed Miliband’s call to rebuild one nation where everyone has a stake is so powerful.
In my Leicester South constituency youth unemployment in my inner city areas remains stubbornly high. When I tackled Cameron on this at PMQs earlier in the year he dismissed schemes such as the Future Job Fund as just creating ‘phoney’ jobs. Yet in Leicester I’ve met young people who were given a chance because of that scheme and are now lost because the government refuses to act in any meaningful way. Building one nation rightly involves a wholesale assault on youth unemployment.
It must also mean changing our banking culture. Leicester is a city of many small businesses many of whom feel Osborne’s credit easing schemes simply are not up to scratch. They have all heard the Osborne bluster on banking and they all know it fail to match what life for a small business owners is really like on the ground. We need, more than ever, a banking system that works for all our communities.
We also have to continue to change our party and select candidates from the broadest range of backgrounds. Of course I completely accept I need to tread with caution here – I was a political insider having worked as a Labour Party researcher and Special Advisor though no one can doubt the modest background of this son of a former Manchester barmaid. But we need to reach out and select more candidates from all walks of life especially those from manual backgrounds. What’s more the drive for more working class MPs should not mean just working class men. We all know that the battle of over all women shortlists has not been accepted in some CLPs so let’s make sure we have just as much emphasis on selecting working class women as working class men. And that means we shouldn’t let up on our commitment to all-women shortlists.
What has rattled Cameron and Gove most is that they know in their hearts that our commitment to building One Nation is a commitment the Tories cannot possibly hope to match. David Cameron’s choice has been to raise taxes on ordinary families in constituencies like Sherwood, Hastings, Pudsey and Bury North while handing millionaires a £40,000 tax cut.
David Cameron’s choice has been to allow youth unemployment to rise and do nothing to take on the banks. David Cameron’ choice has been to cut 15,000 police officers and force through a top down reorganisation of the NHS while sitting back and doing nothing about the reduction of 5,500 nurses.
But let’s not be under any illusions. Just because they aren’t currently landing blows doesn’t mean they will stop punching. Indeed the well informed James Forsyth tells us the Tories are to start coming after us even more.
We must never forget that David Cameron first cut his political teeth a young Tory staffer on the 1992 election campaign. He will want the 2015 election to be a rerun of that 92 campaign. The truth is David Cameron and George Osborne cannot run on their own record so their election strategy will be one of sustained attack. It is why Ed Balls is right not to offer hostages to fortune in the form of spending commitments that can be picked apart in two years time.
So as we move into the second half of the Parliament lets steal ourselves for a vicious assault from Cameron and Osborne. But we need not be cowered by such attacks. In response we need to continue to remind people that a Prime Minister who attacks our public services, increase taxes on ordinary families and hands millionaires a £40,000 tax cut cannot possibly build the one nation Britain that we need.
Jon Ashworth is an Opposition Whip and the MP for Leicester South