A tale of two Labours
As the dust settles on the Labour conference and Ed Miliband's rousing and policy-bedecked speech, the political soothsayers are reading the tea leaves and peering over the horizon to May 2015 to ask themselves if Labour's shadow cabinet should be preparing for government.
Time, of course, will tell. But while some of the popular measures put forward by Mr Miliband are sure to appeal – not least the promise to freeze energy bills for the first 20 months of a Labour administration – many will wonder if the electorate are going to swallow the headlines without delving into the small print.
On the Today programme yesterday Mr Miliband was forensically questioned on some of that detail. While he sounded commanding, sure-footed and confident of his facts in the conference hall on Tuesday, the shine had started to fade by yesterday morning. What, for example, would he do if wholesale energy prices soared in summer 2015 as his price freeze kicked in? He didn't seem to know.
He faced similar questioning on BBC Breakfast when asked about another policy announcement, this one designed to appeal to youngsters trying to get onto the housing ladder. In his speech Mr Miliband had said Labour would force developers sitting on land with permission to build to get on with it, charging them a levy for failure to get a move on and – if that did not work – compulsorily purchasing the land. He insisted – and he may be right – that people just want affordable energy and homes. But do they want the State to intervene to fix energy prices and forcibly take land from landowners who won't build homes? That's what we will find out over the coming months and, ultimately, on election day.
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Already the Tory press are writing off Mr Miliband as Red Ed and insisting that he is taking the Labour Party – modernised and made electable by Tony Blair's reforms – back to the disastrous days of the late Michael Foot. Mr Foot's 1983 election manifesto, with its promises of state intervention to "make lives better" went down among critics as the longest suicide note in history.
Will Mr Miliband, whose personal rating ought to get a lift from this speech, be able to show that people are ready for more state intervention? One Nation Labour or scary old Labour. Mr Miliband has argued persuasively. The voters will choose.