Ed is not our nation’s salvation

27 Sep

Photo credit: Ed Miliband

Photo credit: Ed Miliband

This week, three years after becoming leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband finally rolled out some policy. At this stage though it may be too little too late for those affected by coalition austerity.

Not that there is anything too disagreeable amongst the main headline announcements at this week’s Labour Party conference. The three that seem to have drawn the most attention on front pages and live rolling news are thus: the abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’, the announcement of free childcare for working parents, and a two year freeze on energy prices. Miliband’s tag team partner Ed Balls also proposed putting Labour’s next election manifesto to the Office of Budgetary Responsibility in what is likely an effort to earn some economic legitimacy.

Freezing energy prices will not go down well with the big six energy companies of course. The independent reported on Wednesday how energy firm Centrica had lost £950 million in its value on the stock exchange following the Labour leader’s announcement. The newspaper said ‘shareholders are concerned that their dividends will suffer as a result of the bill freeze’. This serves only to make the shareholders seems selfish and the Stock Exchange appear fickle.

If Centrica are expecting us to feel sympathy they are probably hoping we’ve all forgotten about the £16 million they could afford to pay their executives last year. The energy price freeze could be a lifeline for working people who have been hurt by the rising cost of living. With further energy price hikes imminent (most sources claim an increase of 5 to 10 per cent) the big six will certainly not be empty pocketed come the next election. It’s fairer they take the hit than struggling households.

The less said about the ‘bedroom tax’ the better. Freedom of information requests revealed last week that in the first four months of the ‘bedroom tax’ a third of council house tenants have found themselves in arrears. The obvious problem, a shortage of affordable housing, is known but is not being dealt with properly.

Miliband’s policies are well intentioned and will improve many people’s lives, but they are also calculated. The nod by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian on Tuesday to Miliband’s focus testing of his energy price freeze is revealing. This Labour conference isn’t the beginning of a slew of announcements that will turn back the tide of welfare abusing Tory policy. Cameron and Osborne have still managed to make a disastrous austerity policy seem like it’s working (spoiler – it’s not).

I am certainly not in Miliband’s corner, but I can see he is hamstrung by the election cycle and Tory spin on the economy. Instead of fighting every Tory attack on the public services millions depend upon, Miliband has to concentrate on one day in May 2015. Much like the American television industry with its new TV shows, our political parties big ideas seem destined always to be pumped out over the space of just a few weeks each autumn.

Despite Toby Young’s assertion that Red Ed simply re-announced the 1983 Labour manifesto this week he need not panic (though it must be said the list he presents is probably far less repugnant than he thinks, and would likely receive greater public support than it did in the 80s). Miliband is trapped in a political climate where calling for a fairer tax system and a better welfare state is labelled the ‘politics of envy’.

The present terms of political debate will never allow Miliaband to truly follow through on this week’s announcements. This needs to change.

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