Monday, 28 March 2011

Protest politics

Ed Miliband has been criticised for speaking to Saturday's TUC rally against the coalition's cuts, not least because of the fairly predictable efforts by anarchists to discredit the march with their mindless vandalism. But Ed was right to speak to a march attended by 250,000 people, though he is wrong in the message he is putting across. The 250,000+ people who marched on Saturday were not the usual suspects. They came from across the UK, and included many who rarely march. Contrary to the received wisdom of the London pundits, there are lots of Middle Englanders working in local government, schools and hospitals facing cuts and job losses over the next three years who are far from being traditional Labour voters. They include Mail readers and people who voted for the coalition last time, and Cameron and Clegg will need to find ways to talk to them as much as Miliband.

But Ed's problem lies not just in his message to the marchers, but in his and his shadow chancellor's wider approach both to the cuts and domestic reform. Labour learnt the hard way over 18 years in opposition after 1979 that effective opposition is selective opposition. That means being prepared to say much more clearly which broad areas Labour would cut - nobody wants a shadow budget - and which would be protected as a result of a slower repayment of the debt. It is not good enough, as Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, does too often, to pass over this as quickly as possible. The truth is that the voters may not like the cuts, and may particularly dislike certain cuts, but they don't yet feel that Labour has re-earned economic credibility because they see it as being responsible for some of the deficit even if they recognise the role of global banking too.

This is not just a problem with the cuts. It applies to domestic policy too, where Labour should welcome where the coalition has adopted and extended the party's approach - on academies, high speed rail or welfare reform - and be much more focused on opposing policies that go in another direction, such as forced GP fundholding or cutting frontline policing. In both cases, a clearer
honest message would be far more effective and have lasting benefits for Labour's image in the tough years ahead. After all, a three point poll lead in the midst of all these cuts is hardly the stuff of 2015 landslides.

1 comment:

Rob Marchant said...

Conor, agree with your analysis on the message and everything else except one thing: I am not sure that speaking in front of the few thousand marchers who were not "the usual suspects" were a good enough reason for Ed to speak. Indeed, they were surely outweighed by the many more thousands who will have witnessed on TV Ed's voice over pictures of Oxford Street carnage?

My Uncut article on it all here.