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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  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I do hate the way politicians treat us like idiots. How can we vote for you when you don't get a straight honest answer.

    May as well have got a child to ask him if father Christmas is real

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    It doesn't really matter what Miliband says now but when the manifesto comes out he had better ensure that all his policies are properly costed otherwise many people's opinion of him and his party will change from being cautious to being reckless.

    Promising everyone better standards of living while remaining within current spending limits will be nothing short of a miracle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Surprise, surprise. When David Cameron prior to the last election (and other shadow cabinet members) was asked how he would fund his policies (many of which failed to materialise) he answered 'I cannot be expected to answer that until we know what we are inheriting'. Seems that's not good enough if you're a Labour leader. Still what do you expect when both 'Nick and Andy' are avowed Tories?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The apprentice idea should apply to skilled workers from the EU too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The assumption that skilled immigrants are all going to be in apprenticeable trades seems an even more basic problem. Take your example of five programmers - if that's for, say, a computer animation company, then the only apprentice-level job that would be available within such a company would be runner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    "Caution is certainly warranted."

    I don't disagree, but he's not been that cautious in opposing almost all of the coalition cuts, just on how he'd pay to reverse them. This is the central problem with Milliband and Labour and I can't see it going away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    The thinking in both parties in opposition is not to commit yourself too much, partly because if circumstances change you might have to U-turn Govt has to commit & sometimes U-turn, opposition doesn't. There's also a trap in promising specifics, the next question is "where's the money". The trick is to portray a vision without specifics that dominates the discussion so you dont get asked specifics

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Its time the BBC faced up to their responsibilities.
    One thing that came out of the Marr show was that the Tory press are already wound up to make this a rubbish election of mudslinging and misinformation.
    I am still waiting to hear reports of one UKIP policy as they managed to totally trash the UKIP conference.
    That way lies totalitarianism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The apprentice idea is a good one. Government should make sure that UK youth gets a chance to learn a skilled job.
    If companies are outsourcing abroad, then it is time for government through incentives to make sure that they do not do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Yes they will outsource IT rather than hire people here. That's the problem that needs to be fixed. A so-called "global" economy only benefits the workers in less developed nations to the detriment of those in more developed nations.
    There's short-term gain for big business in the developed world, but short-sightedness will cost them - competition will grow from the now-cheap firms they use abroad

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "Everything is 'fully funded' but what does that mean?"

    It means he's going to spend £50bn and fund it by borrowing £50bn, leaving the problem of the 3% interest for someone else to deal with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    He is cautious because even he knows what he is saying is cobblers. Labour cannot extort any more money from people but they cannot function unless they are spraying and bribing people with their own money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "He was downright evasive - everything is 'fully funded' but what does that mean?"

    It means Miliband would do what Brown did. Borrow too much and then leave the bill to later parliaments to pay it off with tax rises. Labour really think voters are stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The problem for Labour is that it is seen, probably quite correctly, as the party of immigrants, the workshy and benefit claimants. Essentially, unelectable !

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Another article rubbishing Labour by the former national chairman of the Young Conservatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    There's much to like in this vision. It's not tax and spend is it - it's less tax and more spend. And that might work if the economy has recovered enough by then or if we borrow more. As at now, there must be a black hole mustn't there? But we should have debate about the many things to improve, once the money's there

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    voters care more about what a polititan looks like now than there policys. ivote they should be banned from tv . keep them on the wireless then we wont have the x factor voters

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    'Fully funded' simply means raising enough money to pay for these things, presumably as usual by raising taxes on those of us on PAYE; more govt borrowing, selling something the state owns or printing some more. Even cuts or mythical efficiency savings. And of course some envy driven taxation proposals to wow the party faithful at conference.
    Still looks like 'flatline Ed' to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Nick, will you also ask why the Treasury has allegedly produced costings of opposition policies which have only been disclosed to allow the Conservatives to attack Labour? That doesn't seem to respect the neutrality of the civil service.


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