The mystery of Miliband's caution

Andrew Marr and Ed Miliband Ed Miliband delivered pre-tested soundbites in his Andrew Marr interview

"A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma".

Ed Miliband's performance this morning on the Andrew Marr show reminds me of that old description of Winston Churchill's.

On the one hand, the Labour leader has done what many have demanded of him. He has unveiled not just one policy but a string of them - a reversal of what critics call the "bedroom tax", the strengthening of the minimum wage and an obligation on larger firms to train an apprentice for every non-EU skilled immigrant they hire.

On the other, he spent his conference curtain-raising interview with Andrew Marr sounding evasive about many other key policy questions.

Will the public sector pay cap be lifted?

Will top rate tax rise, let alone tax on those who the party now says are not rich (ie those earning £60,000)?

Will Labour change its opposition to an EU referendum?

Will the minimum wage go up under Labour? Will immigration go down?

The answer in each case was a mixture of little more than a wish - eg "I want to see the overall level of immigration fall/minimum wage go up" - or wait and see - "we'll spell out our plans at the next election."

This can partly be put down to Ed Miliband's unwillingness to promise what he knows he can't be sure to deliver (after all the government couldn't tell you the tax or immigration rate in 3 years time);.

It's partly due to his natural caution but it's also to do with style.

The Labour leader seemed to regard today's questions as an invitation not to give an answer but to deliver a pre-tested soundbite on a vaguely related issue.

So it is that Labour risks unveiling real policy substance and still leaving people wondering what on earth the man who wants to be our next prime minister might do if he reached Number 10.


The announcement on immigration/apprenticeships - "one in, one trained" - is fascinating. It is designed to cure two problems that many have long worried about - the so-called "free rider" problem (big companies relying on someone else to train the staff they need to recruit) and British firms' addiction to hiring immigrants as a cure to skill shortages.

I can see a potential problem with the policy.

Might firms not just move abroad or outsource rather than taking on the costs and bureaucracy of taking on an apprenticeship each time they want to hire skilled overseas workers?

Won't a company that feels it needs to hire 5 computer programmers from abroad simply outsource the work? I'll pose the question and post the answer when I get it.


Labour's answer to my question is that a version of this policy has been tried in Australia but hasn't led to a cut in jobs. Australia gives firms that want to take in an immigrant the option to pay into a training levy.

What's more, one of Ed's policy wonks tells me, there are already lots of conditions attached to sponsoring a migrant (for example the job has to be advertised in the UK first) so there's no reason to think an additional skills requirement will be the thing that will trigger exit or outsourcing.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This man is not fit for purpose. The longer he remains the more it becomes clear he hasn't the first idea what he wants to do. In this respect he is a true child of Brown... desperate for the high office but incapable of coming up with a workable, costed, effective plan for what to do. He is a vacuum, within a hollow inside an empty box.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Well done Ed for avoiding the pitfalls dug by the Tory press!
    There is no reason why he should reveal his fiscal strategy until the election because the Torygraph says so.
    Nor should he divorce himself from the Unions just because the Daily Mail says so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I seem to recall a not altogether different situation for the tories when they were in opposition. They also failed to predict a huge crash in the market and were actually pushing for less legislation and yet when they got in they had to do the exact opposite. With the Scots referendum next year things could change hugely in a short period of time. Caution is certainly warranted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The real question is - will he dye his hair like Cameron and Clegg do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Amazing! That is one of the most balanced critiques I have ever read from Nick!
    Ed Miliband spend too much time playing politics, and really fails to come up to the mark when faced with incisive questioning by an informed interviewer such as Andrew Marr. He looked shifty and uncomfortable. All sounbites - no substance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Nick, I would not fall into the trap of wondering about Miliband's "policies"/promises because we all know him to be someone who promises whatever he thinks that you want to hear. People like that never deliver on their "promises" once in power. The question of what Labour's stated "policies" are is irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I cannot believe that this Robinson post has only had 5 responses in the 35 minutes since it was posted. I can only assume that you are not publishing comments - why is that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    And the major issue that will see taxpayers money going on ever increasing social services housing subsidies caused by homes being used as investments, rent's that are the same as mortgages that no one under £60000 a year can afford. As people retire in the future and can no longer afford rents we are doomed to higher and higher taxation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Politics certainly sorts the men from the boys - looks like the shadow cabinet have a lot of growing up to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Before he'd said anything - Tories had accused him of making unfunded promises. So that is one clear tactic to smear. Each of Andrew Marr's questions needed a number. Andrew Marr knew that perfectly well and should have been a lot better if he wanted to be impartial. General ideas, specific examples are the only way he can answer now. That may not be good enough, but he'll have to overcome it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Just more of the same politics as we've suffered the last 20 or so years, from all three main UK parties. Career politicians, with little substance and no real desire to actually change the country for the better, just a desire to "get into power" and acquiring the relatively few votes in the correct constituencies. Until this type of political culture ends, the country will continue to stagnate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Ed Milliband must be kept out of power

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    He was downright evasive - everything is 'fully funded' but what does that mean? In this financial climate, you can't announce 10 new policies that will cost taxpayer's money and not announce a single new revenue stream via either cuts or tax rises. It's pandering, and people will see straight through it. He comes off as downright slimy in this interview.


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