Ed Miliband - standing up to who?


Ed Miliband believes that his task this week is to establish his character not Labour's policy prospectus (as I spelt out in yesterday's post).

He wants to portray himself as a leader who is strong and has a clear vision, in contrast to a prime minister who he portrays as interested in power for its own sake and who has swung between hugging hoodies and huskies in opposition to wanting to lock up the first and ignore the second now he's in government.

The first policy Labour has chosen to highlight at their conference is their willingness "to stand up to" the banks - to force a full split between their retail and investment arms on the lines recommended by the Vickers Commission and backed by the governor of the Bank of England.

This has the advantage of being a popular, untestable and cost-free promise. It, like promises of tougher energy price regulation, is meant to show that Labour will take on vested interests and improve people's lives without spending any more public money. So far, so easy.

Much harder for any Labour leader to stand up to are the trade unions and other interest groups who demand that their next government spends more money and undoes "Tory reforms". Ed Miliband says it would be "a distraction" to break the trade union link or to reform the rules which continue to give union leaders significant financial muscle and political influence.

Unite's General Secretary Len McCluskey presented him with an easy target by calling in the Sunday Times for Blairites to be pushed out of the party. Ed responded by insisting that Len was wrong and that he wanted to get people into and not push them out of the Labour party. He pointed out that he had already stood up to the unions by backing public sector pay curbs.

The real test, though, will come on longer term questions about public spending and the public services.

Take the confusion over the NHS in the past 24 hours. First Ed Miliband said he would not waste £3bn re-re-organising the health service. Then the shadow health spokesman Andy Burnham felt it necessary to issue a clarifying tweet stating that the coalition's NHS bill would be repealed. Now, Ed says that both things are true.

The promise not to re-re-organise the NHS was rooted in the realism of a leader who knows the limits of what Labour could do in office. The promise to repeal the bill was a political but potentially costly reaction to the many Labour supporters demanding fundamental change.

For the NHS read social care, tuition fees, free schools, exam reforms... and much, much more besides. All policies which Labour, like Tory oppositions in the past, says we must wait for until we are closer to the next election.

Standing up to the bankers, the wealthy and greedy companies may illustrate how a government can improve people's lives without spending money but it is also the easy bit.

The hard bit comes when you stand up to your own supporters and tell them what they can't have. The Labour leader says he's standing up for Britain. The question which the next phase of politics could turn on is exactly who he is standing up to?

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

Brown calls for three 'guarantees' for Scotland

Gordon Brown is calling for three "guarantees" for Scotland to be "locked in" before voting takes place in the referendum on Thursday.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Sad day when a journalist of your standard drops "whom" !

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    seems to me all parties support the same ideas !

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Thanks Nick, a very useful insight into the quandaries of being the Labour Leader, especially one who has so far failed to show the signs of being an effective one! As for 115. WunderfulBBC, I think you answered your own question!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    It's a very Tory view, Nick, that politics is a competition between oligarchies. And sadly it's the view of Oxbridge PPE alumni who are taught that democracy is irrational & conclude it from the Arrow & the other Impossibility Theorems.
    The LibDem oligarchy claims power because of the tawdry charisma that precisely this Oxbridge mis-education gives it. No wonder the govt they're in is UNELECTED.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    First policy Labour is willingness "to stand up to" the banks - to force a full split between their retail & investment arms on the lines recommended by the Vickers Commission. Now all Ed has to do is add implementation of Financial Transaction Tax to track banking nefarious activity, possible eliminate platform trading, as well as take some burden off taxpayers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The conference will not help moribund and ballsup.

    For a brief week the public will focus on the clowns in opposition rather than the clowns in government.

    That will be a major respite for the govt if they have enough sense to keep their heads down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    @117.deebee - er, Nick's talking about David Cameron there. I think you've got your comprehension muddled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Watched Ed M on the AM show.
    Worryingly, he is starting to use the same mannerisms and little catch phrases or segues that Blair uses. Is the great man himself now coaching Ed. Is this his way back into politics? Take possession of Ed's mind and soul. Scary thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    I thought it was David Cameron who hugged hoodies and huskies?

    I think you`ve got your party leaders muddled Nick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Yes. Growing, but on borrowed money even BEFORE 2007! If Brown had been prepared to be paying off some while the sun was shining (1997 to 2007 - after the Major government had brought the economy into a decent state) we would not be in such a bad position now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    In my early years I was Labour supporter and a union member.
    In those days, Labour stood for the under-privileged; for those on the lower rungs of the ladder.
    Blair realised that such a party might be unelectable, and New Labour was formed, enjoying 3 terms in power as a result, but they have left their core supporters behind, trying to be all things to all voters.

    UK needs a true Labour Party

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    No113 Unwize,
    'Successful Banks'
    Are they the one's that were so successful they engaged in systematic and widespread criminality and were so incompetent that they had to be nationalized?

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    "Stand up to the banks"?

    Labour would trash the only business sector in the country that is successful internationally and provides some 40% of income tax.

    They really don't care what they do or say as long as it pleases the 50% that are net beneficiaries of our welfare state. But what if the (less than) 50% who a net providers to the state stop providing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.


    "We should have gone the way of ICELAND, let the banks fail and seen off foreign investors"

    So if the bank that had been allowed to collapse had contained all your savings, pension & investments then that would have been fine then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    "Standing up"
    To unions?

    Egging-on to false strength

    Need never for 'commissars' on 'commanding heights'
    Nor for plutocrats or mafiosi 'to build & protect future'

    Forget 'banisters', infinity of 'targets', people 'like us'
    Need never for 'nationalisations' or 're-nationalisations'

    Rather, to put all 'on-side'
    Understand equal partnership
    Equal-voters 'in charge'
    In conscience

    Incomes Equal

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    @93 Giles Jones'
    I see your point. Personally, I don't have a problem with unions. Yes, they have a chequered past, but so do political parties - they are unions too!

    I have a problem with some of their leaders who appear not to be representative of their membership, nor share their pain - not unlike many leaders in the UK today.

    Ranting by some union leaders, gives other unions a bad name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    "The BBC is infested with agenda rather than objectivity , they take our fee and instead or reporting the news they manage it.
    Look how they handled the Rochdale cases,

    Yes indeed & now Jimmy Saville & hushing up FGM, BBC freelance tax dodging, Labour & Gaddaffi, & cost of seven new cities etc

    BBC never question the cost of immigration as costing UK taxpayers £ Trns

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    As a Tory I am delighted to see Ed and Ed in charge of the Labour party.

    "Ed, you're a TIGER! RAWWR!" "No Ed, you're a tiger." "Let's roar together." "RAWWWWWWRRRRR!"

    Unelectable. Utterly unelectable. Either ONE of them would be pretty bad but to have them TOGETHER?!?!?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    @msa1701 The BANKS bankrupted this country, not labour (and I'm not a labour fan). The Tories are continuing to do so, our floundering economy gives them all the excuses they need to stamp their ideology on us. We should have gone the way of ICELAND, let the banks fail and seen off foreign investors. Now THEY are reaping the rewards of common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    How easily people are brain washed by the Right Wing Press in the UK. The mendacious statement about "maxing out the Credit Card" .. etc play so well. The reality is Labour left govt with an economy growing at 3% (1.2% in the last year). If Brown had not taken the actions he did we may have had Clegg's wish come true: Greece style economics. This govt is leading UK to penury and plebs are happyl.


Page 1 of 7



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.