Labour Party,  UK Politics

Is Ed Miliband set to miss another open goal?

I’m just asking as by all accounts Ed Miliband did his best Frank Lampard impresson today and missed an open goal at Prime Minister’s question time. David Cameron was handed a get out of jail free card by the Labour leader. Oh the irony.

‎As the New Statesman and The Telegraph both note, Cameron’s serial U-turns on the NHS and on sentencing policy should have been easy wins for Ed Miliband. Alas this was not the case. He was wrong footed on the PM’s decision to drop Ken Clarke’s policy on sentences and after just two questions said that he would “move on” to the NHS where he then failed to land any blows. If he can’t do it with the NHS you have to wonder.

His failure unsurprisingly led to muttering from behind him and there will be more ahead as the Labour leader was earlier on the receiving end of some uncomfortable truths.

Miliband has been told in a private briefing that voters seem to want exactly what he has already declared is dead: New Labour. The briefing, reported in the Guardian this morning, was from the party’s policy co-ordinator Liam Byrne on the “sprawling” policy review process with its 17 different policy areas, which have generated 20,000 submissions.

The report is said to have told Miliband that the public wants a “tough responsibilities agenda”, focused on cutting crime, reforming welfare and reducing immigration. Voters also want want to see an international policy that puts “helping our own people first particularly in a time of economic difficulty”.

The paper says that the mood of the electorate detailed in the report represents a serious policy challenge to a leader who is trying to break away from Tony Blair and New Labour although hasn’t really given much of an indication of where he plans to take the party as he attempts that break.

Byrne has said that the policy submissions should serve as a “starting point for the formal start of the policy making process at the Autumn conference”, but will Miliband listen in what will be seen by some as a call to shift to the right?

One shadow cabinet source told the New Statesman: “The question is, do we want to listen to the public, or do we want to listen to ourselves. Just as importantly, are we prepared to challenge ourselves as a party, or do we want to lay back and tickle our own tummies. From what I saw of Byrne’s presentation, we haven’t got much of a choice.”

Byrne has apparently insisted that the party will have to take on board these findings (well he would to a degree as he is a Blairite himself). In a note to the front bench, Byrne wrote: “Ultimately we want a strong majority to support our agenda; remember this was something that eluded David Cameron. We won’t achieve that with a minor re-spray. It does demand a major rethink – and this takes time.”

None of this will be particularly welcomed by Miliband who having yet to show which direction he wants to head looks unlikely to take some ideas that have New Labour written all over them.

The challenge for Miliband will be to show that he can listen, to take some of what is said onboard, and then combine that with a vision of his own that moves the party forward. Failure to do that will surely just be another missed open goal, another missed opportunity in the post-Blair Labour Party.