Labour’s lack of vision
And there it was. Labour’s big opportunity get the gears of the 2015 election campaign into motion. You may have missed it, but Ed Miliband set out his vision for a New Jerusalem. One where energy prices won’t rise for two whole years and people won’t be out of pocket if they have an extra room in their council flat. As much as these policies do have their individual merits, they are typical of the propensity of political parties’ attempts to not annoy too many people at all costs and avoid big decisions.
Take the freezing of energy prices. Prices are high and will only get higher, but by saying that merely forcing the energy companies to freeze prices can solve the problem, Ed has dodged a difficult decision, instead choosing to make big business a scapegoat for people’s problems. It has been known for a long time that Britain lacks an energy policy and needs one quickly if spiralling wholesale and retail costs are to be avoided. Even if the UK meets the target of generating 20% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 that still leaves 80% to be generated from other sources, namely nuclear and fossil fuels. To really bring energy prices down, Miliband would have to commit to a programme of building these large power stations to quickly replace the capacity lost when two further nuclear power stations close within the life of the next parliament.
Miliband’s second flagship policy, reversing the ‘bedroom tax’ is little but a nod to the housing crisis. Reversing the spare room subsidy will be good for the small proportion of the population it affects, but does nothing at all the make it easier for people on low and average wages to afford to rent, never mind buy, houses. Left wing commentators such as Owen Jones in the Independent have long been calling for Labour to confront the crisis head on with programme of social housing building, the only way to diffuse the crisis in the long-term, but Ed is obviously hesitant about this.
Is this it from Labour?
Chances are that this week’s announcements are just a first round in the two years of sparring, leading up to the election. But Miliband’s failure to even hint at a broader, bigger vision for Britain after 2015 is worrying. So far it seems Labour is offering voters a vision that is broadly the same as the Conservative option, but with a few minor tweaks.
Ed clearly doesn’t want to annoy the middle classes by threatening to build power stations, wind farms and housing estates in their back yards. This is understandable as he needs their votes if Labour is to win, as they did in 1997, 2001 and 2005. But there is a risk that, although inoffensive Labour’s vision for Britain post-2015 is, it’s just too dull to tempt voters away from the Tories or out of their houses at all. Great leaders take bold decisions and win voters by inspiring people with visions. No one is ever considered great just because they never offended anybody.