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.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

Debates - on or off?

David Cameron says he wants to take part in TV election debates and that he thinks a deal can be done but he's also setting new conditions for taking part.

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 73.

    Can I have a pint of what 70 purple has had please?

  • Comment number 72.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    "The coalition has mainly been concerned with the very wealthy given them a substantial tax cut while "clobbering" the poor."

    Highest tax rate under Labour 1997 - 2013 40%. Highest tax rate under coalition 45%. Capital gains tax for the wealthy raised, pensions relief loopholes closed for the rich. The rich are taxed considerably more now than they were under Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    All workers and their partners arriving in UK should immediately gain the vote and full national rights. Zero income tax for 5 years to establish themselves. Entitlement to discounted mortgage and loans. The wave of highly skilled immigrants benefit UK enormously and must be rewarded. We need many more.

    A Immigrants in UK Party should be organised nationally to fight for a better deal

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    the only people who will be hoping the tory s get in next time are rich russians arabs and footballers who have gained by there tax breaks. the rest of us fear old age without our public services because these will have been sold off to there rich friends

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Under the coalition, the UK has become more unequal. The coalition has mainly been concerned with the very wealthy given them a substantial tax cut while "clobbering" the poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The truth is that Labour are ignorant on how to cost their policies as Rachel Reeves proved this morning on the Sunday Politics show - she actually stated that to provide wrap around childcare to all primary school pupils ' wouldn't cost any more money'.
    Trustworthy on sorting the economy? I don't think so!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    We have a very interesting economic problem and it was caused by politicians. We now expect politicians to solve the problem that they are.

    Since big business will not pay its proper dues in taxes, high earners should now have their pay doubled and top tax at 42.5%. That should get Labour elected. MinWag should be halved and work related benefits scrapped. Interest rates should increase to 7%

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Its easy to win votes by promising people the world at their feet. The problem is that times have changed, the last 50 years of easy government debt are over, living within our means is the same for the state as it is for people. Spending less money and accepting less. The problem is Miliband still hasn't learnt that. All he promises is spending and somehow no tax increases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The trouble for labour is whatever they say, the Daily Mail and all the other Murdoch rags will trash them and because people are so stupid, they think the Tory party actually care about them, der!
    Its akin to a drug addict voting for their dealer, the dealer only has one thing in mind and that's to sell more drugs and make money.
    The Tory party is funded by big business who only care about money

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    So the conclusion is: -
    If you are a farmer and you want to grow redcurrants - move to Bulgaria.
    And leave the rest of us to try to rebuild our high-wage high-productivity capital-intensive economy.

  • Comment number 62.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Spouting trash won't stop them being elected - unfortunately

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Whats really scarey, is they keep on spouting trash, that they think will win votes, but judging by the majority of comments on here are not working.

    I can't see them being elected in the near future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    #20 unfortunately many voters ARE stupid. And they vote for the handouts Labour give them.

    #17 may be one of them - he thinks that an improvement in the economy means it's time for another Labour govt handing out people's hard-earned to the undeserving. Ignoring the national debt completely.

    There's a deficit (i.e. the annual over-spend) to deal with AND the total accumulated debt to be paid off

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    50. Correct and yet even though the majority out here amongst us plebs are relatively well educated, we fall for their lies every single time. 51. Why is that then. Hopefully now that the majority of us have recognised our gullibility Labour and Conservatives will never ever again win an outright majority, it is increasingly obvious that is the only way to curb their excesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    "..My children are both now in the field that goes with their degrees.."
    So is my eldest; underpaid for her skills because the industry is undercapitalised. "Low wage culture".
    The fault is now clearly with the providers of capital who are not fulfilling their function in society but continue to claim excessive risk-free reward..

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    What depresses the most about most BBC political commentary these days is that there is a fawning over those in power, with little real analysis of what is being said or done by them (known elsewhere as 'critical appraisal') while anything, but anything, relating to the Opposition is 'dissed'. The BBC is supposed to be impartial. Failing that, it should stop commentating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    More like an episode from Wallace and Gromit - be afraid, very afaid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Suit today. Sweater yesterday. Ed, you could wear a mankini and still no-one would pay any attention to you!


Page 33 of 36



Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.