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 713.

    Sunday - Say nothing = mysterious caution.
    Monday - Say something = gamble
    Tell me Goldilocks - what exactly would constitute baby bear's porridge? (just right).

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    U2s 709/10
    There is only one reason necessary to vote Labour and that is because it is the only sure way to put the current administration out of our misery. Small print: Please be aware that I might easily be saying a similar thing about a different party if Labour were in power. The 'skill' of a Wilson, Thatcher or Blair in achieving re-election is all too often greatly underestimated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    John Bull 703

    But it wasn't the political elite who took us into the Iraq war, that was the work of one man - Tony Blair.

    Any way ... the Euro ... hope you've remembered our little bet of a while ago: me saying it will survive more or less intact, you saying it will either implode completely or shrink to a much smaller core.

    I like my position, do you still like yours?

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    @705 John Bull
    Agree, either that or the two Eds & rest of Shadow Cabinet & senior Party members have no real idea what they are about ...
    ... or, even worse, ...
    they are cynically manipulating the Labour vote with no real intent of serving & bringing prosperity to working people.

    New Labour were like that. How much of One Labour are OL' New Labour?

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    Oh no I wouldn't. I would like a lot of reasons to vote Labour. If a Lab Chancellor could say "I see the problems, I think I can fix them, I have backing of the leadership. Heres the schedule, it will take some time, other events may affect it but we will stick to the course if you back us" & plans looked realistic, credible & didn't exacerbate existing problems, they'd get my vote

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    the reality is, that Labour could get all you Tory/UKIP keyboard warriors on here in a room to write up a secret wish list for what policies you want.
    And even if they adopted them to your every word.You'd still come on here to criticise them.
    Bunch of hapless Right Wing "Have a Go Politicos".

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    Wow. Politician fails to answer questions shocker! Rather than take on an apprentice, companies will outsource the work to another country, because of course that has no associated costs or bureaucracy and is completely straightforward. What a poor article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    The Tory/UKIP/EDL/BNP lot come on here with an axe to grind.
    Ed Miliband could have announced a cure for cancer today and you lot would have just come on and interpreted that as " Labour Plan to make 100's of Oncologists redundant..
    Just like with Syria.Ed was either going to be a war monger in the shadow of Blair or playing politics.Either way there was a crass narrative locked n loaded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    'Ed's policies..."

    These aren't policies, they're gimmicks & gestures. I thought that the blank sheet of paper was all about 'Thinking Outside the Box' - 'Blue Sky Thinking' - A radical new 'One Nation' approach. Instead, all he's doing is fiddling around at the margins.

    And, the apprentice for immigrants idea, is so flawed it must have been thought up in 3 Hrs not 3 Yrs

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    science 699

    That's a porkie, to be fair, you converting to UKIP because of me. Thank god it is too - I'd have trouble sleeping if it were true.

    But look, think about it, democracy is NOT the same as majority opinion, is it?

    Like, say the majority wish to outlaw the wearing of leather shorts by middle-aged men and the government act on this. That's democracy in action, is it, in your book?

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    'Democracy isn't majority opinion'
    Seemingly correct. Since what the majority want, they usually don't get & what they don't want is often forced upon them.

    Eg. EU referendum & mass immigration.

    But that's not by design Saga, it's by application. The Westminster elite decide by themselves that they know best, & as we saw under Blair (Iraq et al ) erroneously so!

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    Science Skeptic @699
    "Fully converted"
    Not too hasty?

    To be so moved in just one day here, from 'UKIP vs. Labour undecided' to 'majority opinion, committed whatever', giving as implicit reason the thought that in first one then the other might repose be found in 'democracy'… a sobering reflection on the education we share in Britain. "Long to rule over us…" Indeed. Despite all clues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    This immigration policy is even more stupid than Cameron's. The reason we have a skills shortage is Blair's decision to align Education policy towards social engineering rather than economic need

    Result, No Engineers & countless unemployed humanity graduates

    The correct solution is make Bsc courses free but I guess that didn't tick enough 'voter' boxes.

    Typical Labour!

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    Balls: "Clearly since June the recovery has begun"

    He finally noticed

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.


    I was an undecided voter until I came on this blog today and read some of the drivel you post "Democracy isn't a majority opinion".
    If your views are consistent with the Labour party you have certainly swayed my opinion, and I am now a fully converted UKIP voter and shall make democracy count. Thanks.

    Well I am now a fully converted UKIP voter and shall make democracy count..

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    Democracy isn't majority opinion"

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    IDB 694

    I quite like Nick's explanation for these hard policy announcements suddenly pouring forth from Labour.

    Being that they didn't really want to do it (who would, let's face it? - it's not how oppositions traditionally do things) but it's the only way they can fill up all the conference time between now and the election.

    That's just bizarre enough to be true. And if it is, hats off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.


    Don't be so tabloid. Democracy isn't majority opinion. I'll give you an example close to your heart: Regardless of how many managers are in the NHS, majority opinion will always say that there are too many managers in the NHS.

    And do stop all this coming and going. If you've decided to be on the blog you should do us the courtesy of being on it non-stop all day. If I can do it you can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    rRobin 593
    Lol. Anyone for The Big Society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    So far, so good then for Ed. Expect LC has saved up a little something for later. But now is the dangerous time for Miliband. He's being tempted into (some) policy anoouncements. Has he been panicked into declaring too soon? Making bullets for his enemies to shoot at him? Blank paper has worked quite well so far with the latest ComRes poll giving a 8 point/90 majority lead. Silly boy? Maybe not.


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