Waiting for a bus or a train or for a utility company to answer the wretched telephone might be irritating but is obviously not as urgent as waiting for a midwife. So, after three years, four months and 19 days of almost silence as Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition, actual Labour policies have at last arrived in style carried on a fleet of buses each one packed with jubilant midwives.
Ed Miliband has certainly been working on his presentation style. Although echoes of the sulking teenager not allowed to go the V Festival remained, his performance in Brighton at times harked back to an age before “socialism” was a dirty word and a guarantee of electoral annihilation. Apart from the weak self deprecation, unfunny jokes, the mandatory reference to mother, wife and children and the inevitable politics by anecdote, his speech was really rather good and contained, whisper it softly, actual commitments that might just be the start of a challenge to a truly awful coalition government. At last, three years of non-committal grunting over policy, a reluctance to question the creative use of bogus statistics and the dangerous assumption that doing nothing will bring about an election victory seem to be behind us. Given the most corrupt, inept and vindictive government driven by cruel ideology in living memory, an eight point lead in opinion polls is hardly the cause for celebration.
Any mid-term opposition party is bound to make all manner of vague promises safe in the knowledge that they can get out of jail free by playing the “inherited mess” card so beloved by the coalition but the proposals put forward by Labour this week in Brighton seem sensible and achievable. Offering the proposed budgetary figures to the “independent” OBR for scrutiny is a master stroke simply because that will never happen. The “independent” OBR and non-political “treasury officials” work exclusively for George Osborne to ensure that he and the Prime Minister are not exposed as innumerate, crooked imbeciles. Even if Labour`s sums are correct, the consequence of a fairer business tax burden and an end to obscene profiteering will be decreed not to be in the national interest because it is not in the interest of the wealthy few.
The pledge to build 200,000 homes every year is, at long last, something approaching a viable housing policy. You need builders, plumbers, electricians and you need people and business to make the materials to build houses and communities. You need shops and schools and hospitals and service industries and transport infrastructure; it`s called jobs and economic growth. Do you get that, Osborne? Miliband`s promise to repeal the criminal Bedroom Tax is long overdue. Perhaps he waited until a United Nations special envoy suggested that the evil economic cleansing was a breach of human rights before taking the risk of nailing his colours to the mast. The ridiculous and internationally embarrassing reaction of the right in claiming that the envoy was a witch involved in animal sacrifice proves that they have no defence for the Bedroom Tax or “Spare Room Subsidy” as the BBC have been ordered to call it. Interestingly, the title in law of this odious piece of legislation is “Over Occupancy Penalty” and is a sanction and a punishment for those guilty of the crime of being poor.
In terms of criminality and the Department of Work and Pensions, it is good to see that ATOS will be the first up against the wall. This blood sucking bunch of leeches has no place in any society let alone one that aspires to a modicum of civilisation and already vulnerable people being abused, bullied and harassed by this vermin should not have to wait until 2015 to see the back of this vile scum. It is also good news that a future Labour government will legislate for a new offence of disability hate crime. We can only hope that the statute is retrospective and look forward to the first day of the new administration when arrest warrants are issued for Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud, Mark Hoban, Maria Miller, Esther McVey and the rest of the low life at the DWP.
The reaction to Miliband`s speech has so far been completely hilarious. Junior government ministers have been unearthed to claim that Labour will ruin the country with more borrowing even though it seems that the proposals have been thoroughly costed and will reduce borrowing and, therefore, the dreadful “inherited mess” deficit. That seems a bit rich, in more than one sense, coming from a government that has borrowed more in three years than the previous 13 years of “inherited mess”. If only the “independent” OBR could go to work with their calculators to give us some unbiased facts.
New editorial guidelines from the BBC state news broadcaster insisted that any report from the Labour conference should contain the words McBride and Damian at least twice and should focus the news on an argument that took place a decade ago. Senior political correspondents, preferably former chairs of Conservative Student Unions, should count the number of times the Labour leader said a certain phrase “again and again and again” and then report that the Leader of the Opposition had convinced party members in the conference hall, but staring meaningfully into the camera ask; “but has HE convinced YOU?” (Nick Robinson`s emphasis)
Entrenched media bias reached new heights when Miliband dropped the carefully hidden bombshell of much needed regulation of energy companies. Tory Murdoch man, Andrew Neil pronounced that the move to freeze gas and electricity tariffs would prove to be “controversial”. The question is; who will think this proposal is controversial? The freezing pensioner, the family struggling with utility bills or the cartel of mega corporations who have made £3billion in profit since Cameron assumed power? Sure enough, the powerful talking heads representing greed were in front of the cameras within minutes. A creature by the name of Angela Knight, or at least a number of her clones, seemed to occupy every news studio on the planet. “We need investment”, she screamed; “this will result in power cuts”. Angela Knight is the Chief Executive of Energy UK, the cartel that increases power costs even though the bulk price has gone down. She was once the Chief Executive of the British Bankers` Association and defended the excessive greed that brought the world to the brink of financial ruin. Before that, she was a Conservative MP. In this case, threats and blackmail will probably result in a peerage.
The state broadcaster summarised the situation as an ideological battleground between “cheap” energy or “reliable” energy illustrated by archive film footage of little old ladies huddled for warmth around a candle during the power cuts of the early 1970`s when Edward Health was molesting miners. A cut of one half of one per cent of share dividends and a one per cent reduction in profit would provide more than enough investment for energy companies to do the job that we pay them to do. The BBC also reported that the Labour initiatives were about the “rich” and the “poor”. In a nation of increasingly hungry children, zero hour contracts, food banks, unemployment, people with disabilities branded as scroungers, inequality based on gender or ethnicity and the complete failure of the coalition, perhaps some definitions of rich and poor might be helpful.
If you cannot feed or clothe your family, even if you are fortunate enough to be in work; you are poor. If you cannot afford further education; you are poor. If you cannot afford heating; you are poor. If you cannot afford to rent, let alone buy, a house; you are poor. If you are rich, you are rich, or very rich, or extremely rich or obscenely rich. If you can afford to leave a tip after a meal at a restaurant that is more than a “poor” family has to live on for a month, you will be sheltered from the economic storm by the coalition government.
Three years, four months and 19 days is a very long pregnancy but the Labour midwives seem to have delivered some healthy, bouncing policies. I have to say that I have not been terribly impressed by Ed Miliband to date. After the massive disappointment of Blair it seemed that style would once again triumph over substance only this time without the style. However, in standing up to Murdoch and now the energy companies and, whisper it softly, Trade Union leaders, Miliband deserves some respect and support. He didn`t stop a war but he did stop it from getting much, much worse. If he manages to make these long awaited policies stick, he might just persuade me to vote Labour again.
If only local “socialists” in Walsall could get their act together and do something as radical as coming up with a policy or two.