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 393.

    Because they are reasonable people who don't hate others who happen to be richer or more successful
    Reasonable people conclude that others "hate" the rich simply for being rich....of course that's reasonable, perfectly so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Party conferences are all a waste of space - all parties play to the faithful in conference but it carries no weight if they get into power.

    I would imagine Miliband has been wrong footed by the McBride business and is struggling to get into his stride.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    @370 - I don't support them but; 1920's elected by Lions betrayed as ever by Tory donkeys.
    1945. Paying for Churchills 'deal' , recovery from war, don't suppose you include NHS etc. a success. 1960's global boom, so many jobs tories promote immigration from commonwealth. 1970's oil crisis, worldwide slump. 1990's appalling mess left by tories, worldwide boom, worldwide slump.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    The deficit was caused by a global banking crisis not by Labour. The economy was recovering under Labour until the coalition took over and choked off the recovery by cutting too fast and too deeply. The economy then unnecessarily flatlined for 3 years under the coalition, when it could have continued to recover under Labour. A lot of businesses have unnecessarily failed thanks to the coalition.

  • Comment number 389.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    384 Socialist

    ' that have a problem with taxing a success that they don't have theirself '

    Because they are reasonable people who don't hate others who happen to be richer or more successful and therefore don't try to target them out of sheer envy and spite.

    As the recent McBride/Brown revelations how - it is Labour who are the wicked, vile and malicious party in UK politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    373 makes an interesting point,the ideology you speak of has been handed down father to son,people brainwashed into believing the hype,then as always once elected they fail to deliver because of vested interests,either in unions or business,time & time again the electorate buy the story then wonder why it all goes wrong,p'haps its time to cherry pick the best from the worst and start again

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    Ed is not a mystery wrapped in an enigma...he just has no answers to tough questions and no clear idea how his populist policies are actually going to work.

  • Comment number 385.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    Taxing success ? I earned 42 grand last year and I don't mind one bit paying more tax.Why is it usually the forelock tugging Working Class Tory voters that have a problem with taxing a success that they don't have theirself ? And the ones who do are just called champagne socialist because they refuse to accept the Far Right Politics that's supposed to go with their sucess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Labour dun us in wiv their spending and they eat lobsters and they are hypocrites - at least the tories are honest and try to clear up and stuff.

    I think that just about captures the essence of most of the dross being posted - I think our resident torykipper fruitcakes deserve a jolly big Derrrrrrrr - I'll bring your badges along later.

  • Comment number 382.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    If by 2015 the economy is still improving and the deficit on track to be gone by 2016 (at which point the debt will start to go down resulting in lower interest payments and more available cash to spend) then government will have done its job and deserve to stay in power. Yes the growth isn't fantastic but this is what growth without borrowing looks like and what we should have always had.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    369. Chance would be a fine thing. They are all on treble time down in Brighton getting Labour ready for their election push. Now Mr Milliband tell me how you can win the election with no policies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    371 where am I

    'Well aware that we're competing with #Downton, but you really need to meet Hetty'

    No we don't.

    Labour poll lead at 3%. Biggest 'cuts' in UK history and all Labour can manage at this point in the electoral cycle is a 3% poll lead. No wonder Useless Ned doesn't want to reveal any policies.

    I reckon, by the time the Tory conference is over the Tories will have a poll lead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    Labour is paralysed by its left wing. Ultimately tackling the national debt, immigration, and the economy requires policy that is anathema to them. Public spending cannot be cut, immigration is discrimination, and the economy requires entrepreneurs who must be taxed - highly.

    They talk the talk, but can't walk the walk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    365. beemer
    Agreed, the projected scale of cumulative debt is certainly very worrying, which is why we should seek to minimise adding to it rapidly. Cynical vote hooking politics won't Labour's Caroline Flint promising before and after school care for children. Incredibly, she actually believes that this will not cost anything. Typical Labour - promise the earth, never mind the cost

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    366. They don't need to know though do they. Both Parties just add their meal bill to the National Debt without a second glance. They have both been in power so long that corruption has become legislation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    re.nazi`s.....this is quite scary,if you look at germany in the 1930`s,now look at the uk....all it would take is another major finacial crisis and the £375bn of QE gets called,even more QE,but its not stopping 10yr bonds from rising,interest rates are massivly forced up and bingo,rampant inflation...and suddenly the right wing "workshy/scrouger/flatscreen/sky" retouric creates the 1930 nightmare

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    Another rich public schoolboy pretending to be one of the people. Lib, Lab and Con - nice cosy little cabal pretending to be opponents but really serving the same masters.


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