There are no recesses in opposition – so where is Ed?

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Today on LabourList we’ve been talking about the “Economic Alternative”. Meanwhile Ed Miliband has been talking about the NHS. He said it would be “a defining issue” at the next election. It’s been his only significant intervention this week – a significant mistake.

That’s not to say that Ed’s NHS visit today was wrong as such. I can see the logic behind it – the Tories are struggling on the NHS, let’s hammer the point home and put them under further pressure. I can even understand the logic behind saying it will be “a” defining issue at the next election – it’s a ramping up of rhetoric, it gets attention, it sounds impressive, but it avoids saying that it’s going to be “the” defining issue (which is obviously the economy…stupid). That nuance was lost on some people, but Team Ed were asking for it really – someone was trying to be clever and “say something without saying it”. That’s a ploy that rarely works – in this case, collapsing into a debate about how to define the word “defining”…

But that’s not why Ed’s visit today was an error. It was wrong because it’s the only significant intervention of any kind the Labour leader has made in the last week. In may be recess in Westminster, but there are no recesses in the real world – especially in opposition. Speaking up today was too little, too late – and after the real opportunity (rising unemployment) had already passed.

What Labour had this week was a quiet news week which could have been filled with set pieces from the Labour leader – a continuation of the momentum he had built over the last few weeks. Better still, when unemployment figures were released a few days agoLabour had an open goal. So where was Miliband? He was about, but you may have missed it – he made a brief visit to a job centre near his North London home. Hardly seizing the media agenda is it? Where was the speech? The challenge to Cameron? The planting of a flag upon Cameron’s lawn? Rather than being on his own doorstep, he should have been rattling the PM on his doorstep.

Meanwhile the PM was busy filling a quiet news week with plenty of self-generated headlines. An attack on public drinking, a trip to Scotland (with a defence of the union, natch) and finally a cheery visit to Paris. All of which gained more column inches that Miliband’s solitary keynote today.

Of course it’s tough being opposition leader – it’s the toughest job in British politics. Everything your opponent does gets maximum attention, whilst you have to scrabble around for the scraps. The only way to deal with this is to work harder than your opponent, rather than retreating from the media limelight when Parliament isn’t sitting. Whether fairly on unfairly, people will assume you’re on holiday. And that’s not a good look…

It’s not like we haven’t been here before. Only six weeks ago I was talking about the Ed Mili-vacuum, and yet here it is again at the
earliest possible opportunity. When people don’t see Ed Miliband the party gets jumpy and the media notices. Rather than filling a quiet news week with positive stories, this fills it with negative ones. And that, frankly, is unforgivable considering the trouble – on the economy as well as the NHS – that the government should be in.

It’s a habit Ed needs to get out of before it’s too late. Because as unfair as it sounds, the Labour leader never gets a day off. There are no recesses in opposition – and that applies especially to Ed Miliband.

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