“Ideas are the most underrated commodity in politics.” This was the claim that Ed Miliband made in his speech on the 28th of July. There are few who would argue with him on this point, the days of polarised political philosophies, of Thatcherism vs Socialism, have long passed and increasingly politicians revert back to the same-old tired centrism.
The question for Ed Miliband is this: when will he present his big idea? He has produced clear policies on housing, energy, education, the NHS and taxation all of which mark a departure from the New Labour, Tory-lite ways of the past. He has tentatively referenced ‘one-nation Labour’ and repeated the ‘cost of living crisis’ line but he has failed to produce an overarching theme that expresses what he would do and change.
Cost of living is a slogan; it is not in itself a coherent theme. The next step in developing the Labour message is to offer the electorate that single phrase that sums up his vision for the UK. One-nation Labour is too vague. It is not something which means anything to the vast majority of the public. To succeed, he must choose, ‘inequality.’
Not only would this theme have the intellectual substance Miliband desires but it is almost unique in that it is an issue of political complexity that the public has both a keen awareness of and strong views on. It would place Miliband firmly on the side of ordinary people against the super-rich, contrasting with David Cameron’s leadership for those at the top of society. Moreover, YouGov polling shows that ‘voters would choose greater equality over greater wealth for the UK’, this is clearly an issue that resonates with the public and would be seen as a radical, bold theme.
The election strategy would be obvious for Ed Miliband. Present to the public the notion that Labour cares about the majority, the working and middle-class people who are increasingly suffering due to the plutocratic nature of our society.
The advantages of such a theme are clear. Campaigning to deal with a major issue is positive campaigning, another break from the political norm. If Ed Miliband wants to be seen as a bold leader, he needs to differentiate his approach from the negative way that politics now operates.
Furthermore, it addresses the fact that while 21% of voters believe the Coalition is good for people like them, 53% believe it is bad for people like them. The electorate are desperate for a government that will truly represent them and addressing inequality would be a clear signal that Labour are committed to helping ordinary people at the expense of vested interests.
Finally, it offers an excellent line of attack against the right-wing media’s lazy attacks on his image. Miliband must use the leadership debates to elucidate his vision for a more equal and fair society. If the public genuinely believed in and supported Labour’s philosophy for governance and believed it would benefit people like them, the ‘image question’ would become the irrelevance it deserves to be.
Tony Blair won his 1997 landslide because people believed there would be a seismic shift in politics towards something fresh and beneficial for many people. Miliband must recreate the energy and momentum of that campaign if he wants to reach No. 10 in 2015.