22 Sep 2014

Near death experience still overshadows all

Ed Balls delivered a low-key speech aimed at swing voters who worry about whether Labour will borrow too much in office.

He emphasised the tough decisions he was ready to take as chancellor and even got booed by some as he repeated the party’s commitment to a welfare spending cap and formally announced the new policy of one extra year of child benefit freezes.

Just before he spoke, Unite’s general secretary said the lesson of the “near death experience” Labour suffered in Scotland was that the party must be radical. must enthuse the lost working class vote galvanised by the Yes campaign. After Ed Balls’ speech I asked if he thought the shadow chancellor’s slogan “we’ll balance the books in a fairer way” would do just that. Certainly not, he said.

Unite remained neutral in the referendum campaign despite pleas from senior Labour figures to come out for “no.” The assessment was that at least half its membership was won over by the positive buzz of the yes campaign and they didn’t want to risk splitting the union. Len McCluskey sounded in his speech like it went a bit further than that. He was quite interested to see whether the doomsday he’s long argued lurks for parties that neglect their base might be about to happen.

Low-key event

Scotland reared into view again on the stage in Manchester as Alistair Darling and Johann Lamont addressed delegates and then Ed Miliband asked Scottish activists and MSPsĀ  and MPs on to the stage. It was a slightly low-key event. Nobody argues the no campaign was a perfect construction. Maybe Gordon Brown would’ve excited the hall a bit more.

Given the shock-waves still emanating from Scotland, Labour’s more or less given up on getting mega publicity for more than one day this week. It’s putting all its hopes in tomorrow’s leader’s speech.

Ed Miliband will outline the targets Labour is setting itself as part of its plan for Britain. The Tories have been putting a lot of eggs in the “we’ve got a plan” basket thinking that is one of their positives with voters. David Cameron uses the term relentlessly, George Osborne likewise. Labour is hoping it can puncture the effectiveness of that term for the Tories. Its focus groups suggest that if voters hear the Tories saying “the plan is working” it irritates the hell out of them. If you juxtapose that statement with Labour’s message that it has a fairer plan the Labour ratings shoot up.

So expect a lot more “plan” talk in addition to the big NHS spending promise. Labour believes voters are sensing the impact of “cuts” in the NHS in a way that they’re not necessarily in schools, for instance. They want to put the NHS at the centre of the election and need tomorrow’s announcement to put clear red water between themselves and the Tories.

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