In his almost three years as leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband has faced repeated criticism that he lacks coherent, concrete policies. The din has grown louder as 2015 approaches, and it has spread to parts of Miliband’s own party. He and his team will hope that his speech today at Newham Dockside puts those charges to rest. After three years of prevaricating, he’s throwing a manifesto’s worth of policies at the wall in one go.
These policies are being billed as the party’s “One Nation plan for social security reform.” They mark Miliband’s first genuine attempt to dispel the belief that Labour is weak on welfare and the economy. There is widespread feeling that the Labour governments of 1997 to 2010 helped foster a culture of welfare dependency, and in turn rising welfare costs.
Today Miliband will announce that a Labour government would cap structural spending on social security, starting in 2015/16—a significant change of course. (Structural spending relates to the long-term causes of social security spending, as opposed to the cyclical costs that are higher when the economy is weak.) It is a clear attempt to demonstrate that Labour has abandoned the profligacy of boom times: as Miliband will acknowledge, “the next Labour government will have less money to spend” and “will have to be laser focused on how we spend every single pound.” Such words are an implicit admission that his predecessors did not take such care.
If this message doesn’t sound wholly original—it is, after all, broadly similar to much of the rhetoric of the current government—then Miliband will remind us all that he still has his “One Nation” hat on. It is not enough to reform social security, he will insist—“only by reforming social security with the right values” can costs be controlled. What exactly are these right values? The principles are clearer than the specifics.
When it comes to housing benefit, Miliband does not want a cap (unlike the current government). Instead, he will promise that savings can be made by negotiating lower private rents with landlords. It is an appealing idea, but it would have to be carried out on a huge scale to have much of an impact. When rents fall, Miliband’s argument goes, dependence on housing benefit will…