Miliband struggling to get his message across
Opinion: the British public seems to trust Labour to run things more fairly; but more trust the Tories to run the economy
“The problem with Miliband’s strategy is not the ideas but rather their execution.” Photograph: EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga
Ed Miliband trailed his big speech last Friday for days in advance, offering titbits to flesh out the line that he will be the man to put manners on big business.
In the end he was beaten to the punch and many of the headlines by Conservative chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne.
On Thursday, Osborne seemingly accidentally announced that he favours a 69p per hour rise in the minimum wage. A prospect he had rejected a year ago.
Nothing is ever accidental with the ever-political Osborne. For him, every waking moment is about elections and winning them. But the incident, perhaps, provides insight for the next year.
Miliband undoubtedly touched a public nerve by proclaiming a need for responsible capitalism. His “predatory capitalists” speech of 2011 was initially mocked, but no longer.
Equally, he did so by promising to freeze British electricity companies’ prices for nearly two years if elected in May 2015.
That action triggered chaos within Conservative ranks who were unable, for weeks on end, to come up with rebuttal arguments that made much sense.
Electricity prices formed a core part of Miliband’s “cost of living” crisis argument, fertile territory in a country where wages have not kept pace with inflation.
The problem with Miliband’s strategy is not the ideas, but rather their execution in a country where background events make that difficult, if not impossible.
Barring a collapse in raw energy costs, for example, British electricity prices are going to rise at above inflation for years to come.
Since privatisation, for example, electricity firms have sweated assets in pursuit of higher profits, which now leaves a £120 billion (€145 billion) refurbishment bill that can be little further delayed.
Ministers of any political hue enjoy few levers to exert pressure on companies in a world where the issue becomes ever more about supply and not just price.
Contentious banking policy
Meanwhile, Miliband promises to break up the biggest banks. Undoubtedly, the big five: Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, Santander and RBS hold too much sway.
State-backed banks would become more important. Two additional high street banks would be created. “This is not about whether we have new banks, but how,” he said.
However, a plan to force branch sell-offs is fraught with difficulty. Significant competitors are slow about showing signs of wanting to break up the market.
The US Metro Bank – the first on the high street in 100 years – started in 2011, but still has few branches, while Virgin is yet to offer current accounts to customers.
Moreover, there is a problem – not often acknowledged – with the lack, particularly outside London, of backable businesses. Even a state-backed fund is struggling to find candidates