Sunday, January 16, 2011

The flaw in Ed Miliband's "Concede and Move On" strategy

This week Ed Miliband has been attempting a classic and necessary opposition strategy- "Concede and move on". His speech to the Fabian Society yesterday was heavily briefed as being the moment when he would criticise the previous Labour government and distance himself from its mistakes.

However, as the BBC's Nick Robinson noted, the text he delivered fell rather short of this. He conceded more should have been done to regulate the banks, and that Gordon Brown had been slow to acknowledge that cuts would be necessary. But at the heart of his speech was a fundamental argument:

"The implication of much of what the Conservative-led government say is that it was high levels of public borrowing that caused the crisis. That is just not true."

He may be correct that high government borrowing didn't cause the crisis, but that is not the main criticism of the last government's economic policy. The charge is that years of unsustainable borrowing gave us a structural deficit which meant we were spectacularly badly prepared when the economic crisis hit. His speech doesn't address that. Instead, having set up and knocked down an argument that no-one is seriously making, he turns it on its head to make an assertion of his own:

"In fact, it was the crisis that caused high levels of public borrowing."

This is demonstrably untrue. He claims that borrowing was at "manageable levels" until the crisis, when the bailout of the banks pushed it up. There was, in other words, nothing wrong with maxing out the national credit card during years of growth and hoping for the best. It could have been Gordon Brown speaking. In Robinson's words, "Ed Miliband believes that his old mentor got his language, but not his fiscal policy, wrong".

The Labour leader continued this line in his interview on the Andrew Marr show this morning, where his intransigence was more starkly illustrated from the start:

Marr: Can I ask you about Labour spending?... Do you accept that before the crisis happened, actually Labour was spending too much?
Miliband: No I don't.
You cannot be clearer than that. It may be his firm belief, and he may think he can win the argument with the public. But he cannot expect to gain the benefits of a "concede and move on" strategy on the economy unless he is prepared to concede more than just presentational errors.

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