Labour’s National Policy Forum: A missed opportunity?

Ed Miliband is a man of surprises. Standing against his brother – and winning. Delivering his hour-long 2012 Conference speech without notes. Single-handedly changing the political agenda from the economy to the cost of living at Conference in 2013.

So what rabbit out of the hat will he pull in just 60 days in Manchester?

Last weekend’s Labour National Policy Forum was supposed to give us some definition to the party’s 2015 election offer, but for those of us waiting for a bold new agenda we will clearly have to wait a little longer. If anything, Ed Miliband’s speech reads as a watered down version of what he could have said.

Let’s look at some of the policies announced. Is allowing the public sector to run railways going to set the public alight? Will having “an ordinary worker” on a company’s remuneration committee have any role in stopping ‘predatory’ capitalism and rising wage inequality?

I wonder if the public will even register the pledge to stick to the coalition’s spending plans for 2015/16 – although the party will certainly hope that this commitment will go some way to closing the gap with Cameron and Osborne on perceived economic competence.

Opportunities were missed to shout about some of the genuinely radical steps that are being worked up by the party.

Where was the rhetoric about the stirring set of proposals from Hilary Benn and Lord Adonis for ‘a new English deal’? Local enterprise partnerships respected, renewed and resourced with three times more money than the coalition’s two billion pound devolution offer.

Similarly Andy Burnham’s whole person care agenda, with its true integration of health and social care, was skimmed over rather than fleshed out. That is a game changing vision, but Miliband preferred to repeat platitudes about repealing the Health and Social Care Act and stopping privatisation – neither of which will happen in anywhere near the degree suggested.

To be fair, he repeated proposals on three year tenancies for those in the private rented sector and for upping home building to 200,000 new units per year. These are eye-catching if long overdue to Labour ears. Ditto plans to lever up the national minimum wage and living wage. The question here is not whether these policies are radical enough, but whether they form a cohesive agenda to win over enough of the electorate next May.

Like many people involved in politics on a day to day basis I am both cynical and idealistic. Cynical that what is, and will be, on offer remotely amounts to what Labour sources have optimistically titled ‘a new settlement for a new era’. But also idealistic that in 60 days’ time, the Labour leader will pull off another positive surprise. I still have a lingering belief that he will demonstrate that it is he, not David Cameron, who is ‘in touch’, articulating a narrative that touches people and enthuses them.

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