Good policy, Good politics – Yesterday was a good day for the Labour Party
Ed Miliband’s 10p tax announcement was one of the high points of this parliament for Labour. The party’s “lack of policies” is often criticised – not least by me – and always receives a robust response from those close to Miliband, who say that they’ve produced the most policy of any opposition two years in. They cite the bankers bonus tax, technical baccalaureate, plans to build homes with the proceeds of 4G and – of course – the “five point plan”. The problem though is that none of that really punched through.
Yesterday’s announcement did though, leading news bulletins and drawing numerous (often conflicting) lines of attack from (one half of) the coalition.
Better than that, this was a good policy (taxing millionaires to cut taxes for millions) that is also exceptionally good politics. It divides the coalition, forces the Chancellor to produce a giveaway for working people of his own in the budget and puts some Clear Red Water between Miliband and Cameron – and perhaps just as significantly, Miliband/Balls and Brown.
There was a time when these two men would have charged at a hail of political bullets for their Scottish surrogate father – now they came to disinter one of his greatest policy failures. Balls in particular twisted the knife by comparing Brown’s 10p tax decision to Osbornian electoral divide and rule, pitting one group against another. Make no mistake, Ed Balls hates Osborne as much as he once appeared to love Gordon Brown. This wasn’t something he said lightly, and if Brown were watching – wherever he is – it will have hurt.
Perhaps the most impressive part of yesterday’s announcement though was the media management surrounding it. It was clearly meticulously planned – even going ahead when trains were cancelled and travelling from London to Bedford became something of an Odyssey. There was no way this speech was going to be cancelled.
The announcement was managed in three key ways – which the party can and should learn from for future Miliband interventions.
The expectation game – expectations were set rather low for Miliband’s speech. Few expected any sort of major announcement (we did though) and expectations were lowered further when Cameron mocked the speech on Wednesday at PMQs. As one Mili-spinner said yesterday, “David Cameron and Guido did a great job getting expectations lowered ahead of the speech”, and Miliband was able to far surpass them once the announcement was made. A few suspected that there was something coming – and key Miliband advisers alluded to something big in an off the record pre-briefing of the speech to “thought leaders” last Monday – but the full announcement was kept under wraps until the day, so everyone thought it would be a routine speech. It wasn’t.
Genuine policy offer – 10p tax punched through because it helps millions and is easy to explain on the doorstep. It’s also big enough that it can’t credibly be described as just tinkering with the tax code. The Tories will gripe that this was thought up overnight, but as Dan Hodges said yesterday “while Ed Miliband has his faults, a propensity for chucking major policy announcements around with gay abandon isn’t one of them”. Quite.
TV over papers – none of the papers were given the scoop ahead of the announcement. Even the Guardian – who got an interview with the Labour leader ahead of the speech – didn’t get the big announcement any earlier than anyone else. The pre-speech briefing made the speech sound like a typical fluffy and vague One Nation affair. How wrong that was. Holding the big announcement back for the speech ensured TV news coverage through the whole day and stopped what was a major announcement fizzling out by lunchtime. TV is how most people consume their news, and this announcement – especially in terms of the “optics” – was made for TV. And of course once the TV news has started focussing on the announcement, the newspapers have to follow suit on their websites and in the next day’s paper anyway.
Yesterday was a good day for the Labour Party. The policy was smart, will help millions, is incredibly clear and true to Labour values. The announcement was handled well, and it puts the ball firmly in Osborne’s court ahead of the budget.
More days like this, please, Mr Miliband.