Leaders: Miliband must spell out what Labour is for

Why isn’t Ed further ahead? That, in a nutshell, is the question which is being asked about Ed Miliband in relation to his and his Labour Party’s standing in the UK political opinion polls.
Labour leader Ed Miliband giving a speech in Chorley. Picture: PALabour leader Ed Miliband giving a speech in Chorley. Picture: PA
Labour leader Ed Miliband giving a speech in Chorley. Picture: PA

With the economy still in the doldrums, and the coalition patently failing to restore anything like a healthy level of growth, Labour should be so far ahead Mr Miliband would be a shoo-in to 10 Downing Street

That he is not says more about the state of the Labour Party under Mr Miliband than it does about the competence of a coalition born out of the Tories failure to secure a Commons majority, even when faced with a jaded Labour government under Gordon Brown.

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It is not that Mr Miliband is not trying. Yesterday, he presented an alternative Queen’s Speech in an effort to show that Labour had alternatives to the policies being pursued by David Cameron’s administration.

Although it was not new policy, taken together there were some interesting ideas, including a compulsory jobs guarantee, the reintroduction of the 10p tax band and moves to reduce energy bills and train fees.

Even though some of the ideas are flawed – most experts believe the 10p band would have a minimal effect on the poorest, for example – it was at least an attempt to articulate a coherent alternative approach.

Yet worthy though such exercises may be, they are not enough in themselves. The problems for Labour and Mr Miliband go deeper than their evident lack of detailed policies. No-one knows quite what the party now stands for. Simply put: what is the point of Labour?

Under Tony Blair, the party was “new Labour”, even though it never formally changed its name. No matter how he presented it, the thrust of Mr Blair’s reforms were continued by Mr Brown.

Ed Miliband, elected ahead of his Blairite brother David, was seen as more left-wing, backed as he was by powerful unions. But in recent days he had to slap down the leader of the Unite union, who called for a purge of Blairites, like Scots Douglas 
Alexander and Jim Murphy.

So if he is not an old-­fashioned left-winger, the Red Ed the Tories christened him, but also desperate to stress that the party has moved beyond the “new Labour” era, where does that leave Mr Miliband?

As things stand, he has a lead over the Tories of an average of 8 per cent, but no-one believes that will not narrow in the run-up to an election. On top of that, Mr Miliband’s personal poll
ratings are poor.

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There is time for Mr Miliband to put flesh on the policy bones in the run-up to a general election in 2015 and for him to define himself in the eyes of the electorate. However, to do that he needs first to spell out what the Labour Party he leads is for. We will know if he has suceeded if Ed moves further ahead.

Stop the law being an ass

There are times when the legal system in this country is simply bafflingly wrong. The issues thrown up by the case of sex offender Darren Mitchell is one of those times.

Mitchell was given a 30-month jail term after he admitted luring a 13-year-old girl to his home and taking turns with his twin brother to have sex with her.

Despite being assessed by prison chiefs as highly likely to reoffend, he walked free after serving 15 months in jail because of the policy of automatic early release.

Just 16 days after getting out of jail he was caught by a surveillance team of police officers committing another sexual offence involving a young girl.

What are we to conclude? First, that the prison service in assessing Mitchell and the police in trailing him and stopping him committing a possibly worse offence are to be commended for their adherence to their duty.

It is the law here that is the problem. It cannot be right that sex offenders deemed highly likely to reoffend should be released early from prison. It is true that sex offenders are not usually jailed for life, and he would have been released eventually, but the longer he was in jail – where he would hopefully have been on a sex offenders programme – the better.

Commenting on the case,

Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said there was simply no rationale for automatic early release. We agree. And as Holyrood makes Scots law, the Scottish Government can change this absurd provision. Early release should be earned, and only in cases where professionals deem little risk of reoffending.