Today Ed Miliband will show how far he’s come – and how far he still has to go

5th November, 2013 9:58 am

Today Ed Miliband is speaking at Battersea Power Station – a fitting venue, considering how his fortunes have been revived in recent weeks by his eye-catching energy pledge. Miliband is hoping to use today’s speech to broaden out his argument back to Living Standards as a whole (as I wrote last week – he needs to find ways to talk about this other than energy). His Living Wage “Make Work Pay” scheme has gained some traction in recent days (although I don’t think it goes far enough) – and this week is about using that as a springboard to return to the “squeezed middle” and the need for greater changes in our economy.

Today’s speech shows both how far Miliband has come in recent weeks – and how far he still has to go over the next eighteen months.

On the one hand, he’s beginning to make tangible inroads into the “cost of living” debate, and his announcements are being taken seriously (with his energy price freeze in particular shaping the debate for weeks afterwards). But at the same time these policies are still slightly too marginal, still slightly too small, still not transformative enough. They will make things a bit better for some people for a little while. But they don’t meet Miliband’s self-professed aim of “resetting” markets or “reshaping” the economy. Not yet.


And it’s clear that Miliband himself understands the scale of the task ahead of him. Here are just a few snippets from today’s speech:

“We can’t just make do and mend, we need to do much better than we are”

“We have to permanently restore the link between growth and living standards for all of Britain’s working people”

“a different kind of economy: one that really works for working people”

“we will mend other markets that aren’t working in the public interest”

All speak to a level of ambition that is far greater than short-term energy price freezes or tax rebates for businesses that are good enough to stop paying their employees poverty wages. It’s not enough to talk about the scale of the problems if our ideas are not yet up to the task of meeting them.

Miliband’s recent policy interventions – on payday lending, energy and wages – have all been steps in the right direction. But as we get closer to the election, the size of the ambition – and the policies – will need to match the scope and scale of the rhetoric. There’s nothing wrong with tinkering with a market or an economy per se – that approach can pay dividends and change lives for the better.

But if you’re going to talk about “a different type of economy” then one day you’re going to have to show you can deliver it. And that’s going to take some gear shifting in the boldness department – if you’ll excuse my clunky metaphor.

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