Mary Riddell has a piece in the Telegraph this morning that has baffled me somewhat. Whilst it argues that Ed Miliband “is planning to get tough with his party”, there’s nothing concrete suggested that might constitute this proposed toughness. Crime, welfare, immigration and education are all mooted as areas that Miliband may move on that may shock the party – so lets take them one by one:
Crime – being “tough on crime” is pretty much a touchstone for the party now. Much of the crime and justice policy that upset Labour members in the New Labour years was based around attacks on civil liberties – something unlikely to be repeated by Ed Miliband. The argument on crime and justice has largely been won in the party – with leaflets across the country calling for more police officers.
Welfare – this is an area in which it is traditional for the party to be challenged by the leadership, and Liam Byrne may well be planning something along those lines. But one of the major bones of contention in the party – work assesments for the disabled – is something that the leadership has now begun to sit up and take note of. It’s hard to see a party that accepted “welfare to work” be too put out by anything in that direction, and whilst Universal Credit may be criticised for its implementation, it hasn’t been rejected by Labour as a principle.
Immigration – a huge issue, and tackling it – or at least nullifying it as a negative for the party – is essential to win in 2015. But the Labour Party once applauded (admittedly without much enthusiasm) “British Jobs for British Workers”, and implemented increased immigration controls. How far can we really expect Miliband to go in that direction, especially when he has made much of his background in a family of immigrants – and remembering how team Miliband shunned Maurice Glasman when he went very much off message on immigration.
Education – now this could be where the party challenging happens. Except…we’ve sort of been here already. When Stephen Twigg became Shadow Education Secretary, he appeared to indicate that there was some benefit in Free Schools. Cue outrage from some sections of the Labou grassroots. But that message was clarified. Now Labour’s position seems to be that closing Free Schools, or building news ones, wouldn’t be a priority. It’s possible that a modified version of Gove’s new academies programme could be embraced, with a less centralised structure (freeing the schools from Whitehall) – but as Gove’s schools reforms will be a reality by 2015, that wouldn’t be a huge surprise. The same could be said for plans to change GCSEs and A Levels.
So unless there’s some major change of heart (AKA a u-turn), I’m not sure where the party challenging policies in these areas would come from. There’s little here that I can see provoking angry responses from a large number of activists, but perhaps I am under-estimating the passion around some of these issues. I am sure there will be times when Miliband does fall foul of the party rank and file, but that is more likely to be over cuts, public sector pay, the NHS (which in fairness Riddell does reference) and the economy than any of the above policy areas. Ed Miliband and his team may well be preparing the ground for a row. But with the party united, and Miliband’s leadership starting to go up a gear – is it really necessary to play the old politics of “facing down the party”?