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 53.

    45. BlackWednesday - Then why not do something else until they manage to get the placement they want. It is not a case of pampered privilege but rather many many equally qualified candidates going for the same job. My children are both now in the field that goes with their degrees but initially did unskilled work while waiting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Meanwhile the Torys roll out their 'least-rich' Cabinet member to identify the wealthy as The Wealth Creators, The Unclobberable Untouchables.
    Good tax breaks for every full-time UK job created would sort the 'creators' from the parasites, I think

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Robinson and Marr should be careful about too much Labour-bashing in the run-up to an election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    8. Liquidfire "wondering about Miliband's "policies"/promises because we all know him to be someone who promises whatever he thinks that you want to hear"

    Put the name Clegg or Cameron in there and you'd be just as right.
    We can't trust any of them. The all lie, they all break promises and they all couldn't give a damn about the majority of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The problem with apprenticeships is that it takes a viable job out of the market. Government needs to think about the rules it sets and what it means to companies. To a company more apprenticeships is attractive because from their point of view it is a way around minimum wage. Over time you get more people trained in a skill but less actual fulltime jobs that require it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I can only see what i believe in my heart and that is in the 2015 election we will be presented by yet another Coalition made up with the following Cons Lab and UKIP.
    Their promises are useless in a coalition and we will be heading for disaster with diversions and rule and conquer techniques that will separate us even more than what we have now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    They always cite Australia don't they, on immigration. Australia is not in the EU. Miliband's apprentices are just as likely to be from the EU; anything else is illegal. So he is planning to curb immigration by requiring a firm employing someone from India to take on an apprentice from Poland. And of course if the new recruit is from Poland then no apprentice is required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Just like buses - nothing for ages and then a plethora - however the difference is that Miliband's buses don't serve any useful purpose. They impart vague destinations - to the big school, to the park with the grass or a-bit-further-up-the-road-and-to-the-left, change their mind halfway along a route and are tardy - squabbling amongst themselves as to who is going to hold the steering wheel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    34.Chris London
    "..will the add read "wanted apprentice heart surgeon, no experience required but must have own tools and mask"..."
    What drivel. As a British parent of British children I deplore the current lack of opportunity. Take my eldest: a graduate with a Legal Practice Certificate, but no Training Contracts available in the law's closed shop of privilege.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    He is certainly not cautious in recent days. Mr Ed promises to look at minimum wage and this that and the other and the result will be, much greater borrowing without the means to pay it back and then what: Yep you guessed it a larger and larger welfare state, until eventually those on benefits outstrip those working near as darn it. Mr Ed good at announcements but no idea how to pay for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    When are the labour party ever going to stop promising to spend money that another administration or generation is going to have to pay off? they are illiterate, profligate, wasteful, pompous, overbearing bores on every issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @blackwednesday, and it's frightening that many cannot see it. When Politics becomes a case of 'one side bad, one side good' according to the media, and that media gives the impression one side has the monopoly on truth (which is laughable given how may times the current Tory govt has been caught lying) then 1984 has arrived. It has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    A higher minimum wage might offer stability to those who are currently failing to meet their costs, reduce the need for subsidy and promote employment? Obviously, higher wage demands would probably force other issues.

    The bedroom tax is a confusing, and less progressive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I do hate the way politicians treat us like idiots

    there's a fairly starightforward reason why they do that

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Instead of voting for the "best" party/leader in the next election I fear we will have to choose the least worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Milliband really is a strange cookie. Chances are he'll get in at the next election but all i can really see is the same old, same old. By the way, i don't vote or follow any political party (tell a lie, i voted lib dem last time based on the fact i quite fancied Cleggs wife). As the old saying goes, whoever you vote for the government always gets in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    31. Unfortunately that won't matter to many people....

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Ed who ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "..Labour cannot extort any more money from people but they cannot function unless they are spraying and bribing people with their own money.."
    Personally, I would pay "the rich" by results.
    Since they are currently doing nothing for the country I would put a £38000pa ceiling on take home pay.
    That would pay for a few nurses, firemen, bedrooms...
    Sadly, I'm not a politician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Let’s start with the obvious; Governor of the BoE a non EU citizen so when can we see the ad for apprentice Governor appear. Or Doctor, a number of emanate surgeons recruit into the UK are from non EU countries. So will the add read "wanted apprentice heart surgeon, no experience required but must have own tools and mask". Ed lives in a world of his own where money and reality are not a problem!


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