Has Miliband committed Labour to "tax and spend" image?

24 September 2014 -


Amid crucial speech omissions, a flat delivery and questions over policy, the party’s chances of returning to government are hanging in the balance

Jon Bennett

Expectation can weigh heavily on the leader of a political party at the best of times – but on their last conference speech before a General Election, it can be crushing. As Ed Miliband stepped up in Manchester this week, commentators were remembering last year’s clever appropriation of “One Nation” for Labour, and the market-shocking announcement of an energy price freeze. What many wanted was a common thread to draw together Labour’s journey through opposition: from a party learning lessons, to a party with ideas, to a party with the policies for government.

What they got was “Together”; a word designed to set Labour apart from the Conservatives, but one that most Conservatives would likely embrace, albeit in a different way. Expect David Cameron to make a decent job of grabbing this ground back from Labour in his own conference speech, with reference to the togetherness of the coalition in the nation’s time of crisis – and accusations that Labour’s “Together” is just about a more powerful state.


So, was the speech a failure of leadership?

Perhaps not. Despite forgetting a few important sections on those small matters of the deficit and immigration – slips that are unlikely to go unremarked by the Coalition – the speech seemed to confirm a pre-existing strategy.

Based upon recent polls, Labour is on course for a small majority. The speech did nothing to upset the Labour faithful, among whom it was well received thanks to its commitment to the NHS – and intention to implement a mansion tax. Conventional wisdom holds that party leaders need to branch out from their core vote to the centre ground in order to win elections. However, if UKIP and other smaller parties create a patchwork of electoral mishaps around the country, Labour may get through by simply being less susceptible to them than its opponents. Shoring up the core vote in parts of the north, where UKIP could do well, may be sufficient.

So, is this wholly unremarkable speech in fact strong leadership – flying in the face of the media’s desire for a barnstorming set of new ideas and sticking with a long-term strategy to do just enough? It’s hardly without risk. As the man in charge, David Cameron will have eight months of opportunities to demonstrate his prime ministerial credentials in responding to unforeseen events… and the polls often move in favour of the incumbent as an election nears. More importantly, it leaves no room for manoeuvre from now on: Labour taxes and spends. That’s the message. And it’s one the Labour party spent some years trying to disown.

Jon Bennett is Managing Director of Corporate Communications Consultancy Linstock Communications.

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Image of Ed Miliband courtesy of landmarkmedia / Shutterstock.

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