On Sunday night, Ed Miliband stood on a stage in front of a crowded room alongside the black flag of Islamic State. A few minutes later, he was photographed next to a picture of Joseph Stalin. The Labour leader was speaking at the conference party of the New Statesman magazine, and those images were past covers of that publication which had been projected onto a screen behind him.
A characteristically disastrous PR exercise from his team, but one with no lack of irony: Miliband today unveils a “10 year plan” of national goals he says Britain must achieve. The Labour leader is in danger of becoming a parody of himself.
Reading the opening lines of the briefing note sent out by party spinners ahead of his speech in Manchester this afternoon, you could be forgiven for daring to expect something significant might be coming our way. We are promised in quite grandiose language “Labour’s plan for Britain’s future”, “a plan for the next decade to restore faith in the future and ensure the next generation does better than the last”.
It will be a “10-year plan will help overcome the greatest challenges of our age”, in which Miliband “will seek to raise the British people’s sights for what can be achieved”. These are big words.
Then we get to the substance: Labour’s “six goals”. The party will “give all young people a shot in life” by increasing the number of apprenticeships. Hardly inspiring the next generation, is it.
Labour will “tackle the cost of living crisis” by “help[ing] working families share fairly in the wealth of our country”. A rehash of an old slogan, accompanied by a meaningless platitude.
Then comes a guarantee on house-building and a proposed increase in the minimum wage, both announced over the weekend to a muted response.
Finally, a vow of “securing Britain’s future” by promoting green industries and, an old crowd-pleaser, “saving our NHS”. From whom or what the NHS is being saved, they offer no reasonable explanation.
That is it. Journalists spent most of Monday asking Labour advisers when the “rabbit in the hat” will be revealed, when the major policy announcement will come. It was not to be found in Ed Balls’ drab speech on the economy, which was so dire it left the editor of the paid up pro-party blog LabourList “underwhelmed” and “angry”. It was not to be found in Rachel Reeves’ speech on welfare, which the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman said left the room “entirely asleep”.
Unless Labour HQ has duped us all – or dreams something up in the next few hours – there is going to be no rabbit in Miliband’s speech either. This is quite remarkable. In all likelihood, Labour is going to be in charge after next year’s general election. Miliband is the clear odds-on favourite to be Prime Minister next May. Yet, in his final party conference before he potentially enters Downing Street, the Labour leader and his shadow cabinet have offered nothing in the way of an idea of what the country can expect if that is to happen.
Where is Labour’s big, bold, comprehensive offer to the British people? Where is Miliband’s grand plan for economic prosperity, jobs, growth, a fairer society? Is it really just a few more apprenticeships, a few more houses and some vague, uninspiring rhetoric about the NHS? Miliband may well win the election next year, but if Labour’s final party conference in opposition is anything to go by, he will only be doing so by default.