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Articles on this Page
- 09/20/13--07:52: _Clegg deserves the ...
- 09/20/13--08:28: _Stephen Fry's guide...
- 09/20/13--08:36: _The Fed's decision ...
- 09/20/13--09:47: _We'll all have smar...
- 09/20/13--09:58: _Credit Unions just ...
- 09/20/13--10:08: _Miliband pledges th...
- 09/20/13--10:51: _Why Labour will con...
- 09/20/13--14:37: _Douglas Alexander's...
- 09/21/13--00:10: _Morning Call: pick ...
- 09/21/13--00:42: _Morning Call: pick ...
- 09/21/13--01:47: _It's time for footb...
- 09/21/13--02:36: _Voters don’t think ...
- 09/21/13--04:26: _Balls contradicts M...
- 09/21/13--10:06: _Labour is the only ...
- 09/21/13--10:48: _Labour's faith in c...
- 09/21/13--11:49: _New Statesman event...
- 09/24/13--07:32: _Prepare to be wrong...
- 09/24/13--08:09: _Taxi firm's ad agen...
- 09/24/13--08:53: _Ed Miliband's speec...
- 09/24/13--08:56: _Miliband's energy p...
- 09/20/13--07:52: Clegg deserves the chance to finish what he's started
- 09/20/13--08:28: Stephen Fry's guide to insulting your enemies
- 09/20/13--08:36: The Fed's decision not to taper was a protest
- 09/20/13--09:47: We'll all have smart meters by 2020
- 09/20/13--09:58: Credit Unions just might have a fighting chance
- 09/20/13--10:08: Miliband pledges that a Labour government will scrap the bedroom tax
- 09/20/13--10:51: Why Labour will consign the Bedroom Tax to the dustbin of history
- 09/21/13--00:10: Morning Call: pick of the papers
- 09/21/13--00:42: Morning Call: pick of the papers
- 09/21/13--04:26: Balls contradicts Miliband as he backs third runway over HS2
- 09/21/13--10:48: Labour's faith in community organising will lead it to victory
- 09/21/13--11:49: New Statesman events at Labour conference 2013
- 09/24/13--07:32: Prepare to be wrong about Sky
- 09/24/13--08:09: Taxi firm's ad agency dismissed for graphic photos of drunk women
- 09/24/13--08:53: Ed Miliband's speech: A manifesto for Milibandism
- 09/24/13--08:56: Miliband's energy price cap is a brilliant trap for the Tories
Despite what some on the left of the Lib Dems claim, we’re living out our principles in government.
Mathew Hulbert's piece calling for Nick Clegg to stand down is as wrong as I've ever seen any Lib Dem be. Mathew has badly interpreted the party and shown ignorance about its history and politics.
He states that that he is "in mourning" for a party that "believes in very little that it once held dear" but his examples aren’t just weak, they’re plain wrong. He mourns that the party did not vote for the 50p tax rate at conference, which present as totemic of our history. But while Mathew is technically correct that we have never believed in a 45p rate, the 50p rate hasn’t been in a manifesto for nearly 10 years. Our policy has traditionally been maintaining a 40p top rate, whilst shifting taxes to wealth. He also rails against the party for supporting a replacement for Trident. Except Lib Dem policy in 2010 was to find a smaller, cheaper Trident – we've never been anti-nuclear weapons.
Next, Hulbert argues that Nick Clegg wants to turn us into a British version of the German FDP, who he describes as a "parasitical attachment" to Merkel's CDU. He goes on to say that this must not be the aim of the Lib Dems. But this is a straw man; I don’t know a single Lib Dem who’d agree with him. Yes, we’re pitching for another term in government but we’ve said we’ll talk to whoever the public wants us to. If we aren’t aiming for government, there’s even less point to our existence than many of the commentators on the piece will claim.
Finally, Hulbert cites Clegg’s answer to Linda Jack during his Q&A at conference. Jack is one of the awkward squad, a lady for whom I have much respect, but we agree on little. Her group, Liberal Left, of which Mathew is a member, seeks permanent realignment of the Lib Dems with the left. Put simply, they want to be a "parasitical attachment" to Labour.
Every day we’re living out our principles in government. We’ve curtailed the worst of Tory excesses whilst lowering tax on the poor, introducing the pupil premium, attempting to reform our broken political system and so much more. We haven’t got everything, but that’s because we only have 57 MPs. We’ve accepted some bitter pills, but then so have the Conservatives.
What stands as a testament to Clegg’s character is his continuing leadership. He has lead us into government for the first time in decades and withstood the barrage of hatred directed at him from both left and right. His value is again growing with many recognising the strength he has shown throughout his leadership.
We have achieved so much so far, whether it's the fantastic free school meals policy, or raising the tax threshold for the poorest workers in society. There’s so much more still to push for.
Clegg has some of the sharpest liberal instincts in politics, there’s no one ready to replace him yet and to do so would be foolhardy. He deserves the chance to finish what he’s started.
Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer
The Telegraph's Tim Walker has piqued the (extremely creative) ire of a national treasure.
Tim Walker – or, if you prefer, the ‘shiny faced, arse-witted weasel of a Telegraph journo’ formerly known as Tim Walker – has unwisely provoked the ire of national treasure Stephen Fry by publicly suggesting that Fry doesn’t write his own tweets. During the course of his article attacking Fry's supposed lack of social media dedication, Walker referred somewhat bitchily to the cultural heavyweight as a “wit” in deliberate inverted commas (he also opened his piece with the accusation that Fry is ‘not quite up there with boy band One Direction’. In which stakes, we’ll never know.)
The linguistic prowess of Stephen Fry cannot be underestimated, and so opening a slanging match with him seems fairly inadvisable. Presumably to prove this point, Fry unleashed a deluge of delightful comebacks on his blog. Busy person? The best ten are compiled below, readily available for usage against your own worst enemies:
Creep from the inner ring of Satan’s rectum
It turns out that inside Satan’s rectum, there is a Hell within a Hell. And the inner ring – presumably analogous to the innermost ring of Dante’s Inferno, home of no less than Judas Iscariot – holds Tim Walker.
The brains of a lobotomised donkey
Few scientific studies have probed the actions of lobotomised donkeys, but presumably they combine their traditional stubbornness with a total lack of world comprehension. Fry may well be implying that men who write for The Telegraph also suffer from these twin pillars of idiocy, but it’s hard to conjecture.
Boll-weevils are large beetles that mainly feed on cotton. Fry considers Walker to be a particularly unpleasant strain of this insect, because sometimes being a serious South American pest isn’t enough.
He managed to exude a semi-literate gossipy turd
Presumably that’s the turd that came from Satan’s rectum. Walker is defecating from the inner circle of Satan’s rectum in Hell. It’s like working out an Escher painting.
I’d rather be chief enema administrator to Jabba the Hutt
Another scatological hilarity brings the job of gossip columnist at The Daily Telegraph into further disrepute than it has ever brought itself (and that is saying something.)
The Telegraph’s human cockroach
Being as they are quite closely related, it’s difficult to tell whether Walker would be more insulted while compared to a particularly noxious boll-weevil or the universally reviled cockroach. So Fry goes with both.
Anyone who’s attempted to make one of those boil-in-the-bag readymeals after a particularly heavy day at work knows what Fry is talking about here.
Breasts exuding pus. These are never good things.
You nauseating anus
Another addition to the Escher painting of rectal passageways and infernal dominions in which Tim Walker and his ilk apparently reside. Never has the pop culture phrase ‘shit’s going down’ been more appropriate.
And finally, a question...
Who knows what goes on in the acid-dripping voids of empty space between the ears of such low-life insults to DNA?
Use this one sparingly if you’re planning to insult your enemies the Fry way. You may only get the chance to whip it out once.
But do they protest too much?
The Fed’s decision to surprise the market by NOT tapering last Wednesday was clearly intended as a protest at the market’s interest rate expectations and maybe also told us that now Larry Summers has been forced shamefully out of the contest, the front-runner to replace Mr Bernanke, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen, is already easing herself quietly into the Chairman’s seat.
The FOMC’s shock tactic certainly had the desired effect, sending Treasury yields tumbling and forcing estimates for the timing of the first Fed Funds hike further into the distance.
My guess, however, would be that this is will be brief victory for the Fed, and maybe ultimately a Pyrrhic one, endangering its credibility; the reason being that the Fed’s actions and statements are littered with inconsistencies.
The Fed’s own prognoses for the economy, the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) would have us believe that by the end of 2016 the US will be enjoying an employment rate between 5.4 per cent to 5.9 per cent, very close to the FOMC’s own estimate for the long-run "full employment" rate which the economy can support without inflation getting out of hand, of 5.2 per cent to 5.8 per cent. However, extraordinarily, the SEP also tells us that inflation will be at or near the 2 per cent target, but that the nominal Fed Funds rate will still only be at 2 per cent (meaning the real rate will be near zero).
This set of outcomes would represent an unheard of state of affairs; for instance, the standard piece of theory used by economists to predict the appropriate level for interest rates, given prevailing unemployment and inflation rates, the so-called Taylor rule, would suggest a Fed Funds rate close to the long-run neutral level, which the FOMC itself estimates as 4 per cent!
When asked about these inconsistencies at the post-meeting press conference Chairman Bernanke said that “there may be possibly several reasons” for their end-2016 Fed Funds rate expectation being still far below the long-run neutral level but the “primary reason for that low value is that we expect that a number of factors, including the slow recovery of the housing sector, continued fiscal drag, perhaps continued effects from the financial crisis, may still prove to be headwinds to the recovery”.
Really? Eight years after the Financial crisis peaked? Why exactly? Show a little more faith in the US economy’s "animal spirits" please, Mr Bernanke but, hang on, your growth estimates for the next few years, with real GDP growth forecasts of 3.0 per cent in 2014, 3.25 per cent in 2015, and 2.9 per cent in 2016, are really quite upbeat? They don’t suggest that the crisis will still by then be inflicting the sort of structural damage that would call for the bizarre combination of economic variables and interest rates which you are trying to convince us will pertain?
My feeling would be that the Fed, like the BOE, will have to raise rates far earlier and faster than it would have us expect. Not tapering would have delivered an effective slap on the wrist to the market, the combination of the SEP and the forward interest rate guidance together meant "they did protest too much".
What's a smart meter?
Ambitious plans set out by the government aims to fit every UK home with a new smart meter by 2020.
However, despite the popular adoption of smart meters – Japan, China, US, Australia, Canada and the rest of EU have some type of smart meter strategy – some strongly believe UK residents should exercise their right to refuse a smart meter or risk detrimental health benefits and their privacy being infringed.
Smart meters run wirelessly using mobile phone-type signals and other wireless technologies to send accurate and more regular meter readings to your utility company.
The aim is to do away with estimated bills and the need for physical meter readings, while providing customers with energy usage information via an In-Home Display (IHD), which can be utilised to increase energy efficiency.
Dr Elizabeth Evans, campaigner and co-founder of Stop Smart Meters UK, believes the radiofrequency (RF) radiation omitted is harmful. She says: "This extra burden of RF radiation, on top of the wireless devices already present in a person’s home may be catastrophic to health."
As well as potentially causing cancer (Dr Evans says the World Health Organisation has listed RF radiation as a possible carcinogenic) and DNA damage in the long term, the campaign claims over exposure to the type of radiation omitted by smart meters can cause headaches, insomnia, sleep disorders, depression and arrhythmias, among other things.
Dr Evans refers to a survey of health effects reported by smart meter customers from the US, a Swedish neuroscientist who that mice continually exposed to WIFI are sterile by the fifth generation and a dramatic rise in frontal and temporal brain tumours of over 50 per cent from 1999-2009 in the UK as some of the evidence of the detrimental health effects caused by smart meters.
Official information from Public Health England's (PHE) dispute this and say there is no convincing evidence to suggest exposure to the radio waves produced by smart meters poses any health risk and that “Using mobile phones leads to greater exposures than other radio devices in widespread use by the general public, including smart meters.”
Offering another opinion, David J. Brenner Higgins, a professor of radiation biophysics at the Center for Radiological Research Columbia University Medical Center in the US, says, while it's always hard to prove something is "safe", "wireless smart power meters result in significantly less radiofrequency radiation exposure than produced by cellphones, so it is very unlikely they would be associated with adverse health effects." This a view supported by the PHE.
If a house hold is unconcerned by radiation from mobiles phones, the health risk factors from smart meters are unlikely to keep them up at night either, and according to many reliable sources, that’s just fine.
However, it seems fair to say we don’t yet know the full impact, if any, of the increased (and increasing) long term exposure of RF radiation may have 30 to 40 years down the line on public health, we can only go on the available information.
Another issue regularly raised by smart meter critics is the fact that smart meters essentially put all our energy data on the internet, which has the potential to be hacked.
"There have been numerous occasions where wireless smart meters have been shown to be easily hacked; for example, a group of ethical hackers showed how easy it was to hack a Discovergy [German energy supplier] smart meter less than two years ago at a conference in Berlin," she adds.
The incident Dr Evans refers to is said to have occurred when the company allowed information gathered by its smart meters to travel over an insecure link to its servers.
Should we be concerned about would be hackers trying to tamper with our energy usage data and potentially increasing our bills or cutting us off, which if done en-masse could cause a national emergency? Not according to British Gas, who has already started fitting some smart meters.
They say: "Smart meters must meet a number of security standards specified by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). DECC has brought in a number of security consultants to ensure data is protected and to allow draft license obligations to be prepared."
The company adds that data is stored in the meter using methods "widely used across a number of industries such as banking and telecommunications" and is sent using Advanced Encryption Standard, which is more complex than what is used for internet banking.
Only meter readings are available to a utility company, not information displayed on the IHD, and for half hourly readings, as opposed to daily or monthly, the customer needs to give permission, a spokesperson says.
Speaking to an IT security expert, David Emm of Kaspersky Lab, a worldwide IT security company, he warns:
"If someone is able to intercept such transmissions, they could gather personal information, interrupt the supply to the customer, or send false data - resulting in huge bills for those affected, or loss of revenue for suppliers.
"If the interruption of power could be done for large numbers of customers at once, this could result in an outage that, before the advent of smart meters, would have meant an attack on the power supplier's systems."
He adds that encryption of data being sent and received is the key to protecting privacy and would "greatly reduce the risk of attack".
Hacking of energy data from individual homes does seem to be a possibility, just as hacking any other computer run company is – just last week an attempt to hack a Santander bank computer was foiled with 12 arrested. It’s a constant hazard of our modern, increasingly digitalised society that for the most part is navigated relatively successfully.
It’s a question of the likelihood of this happening and trust that the relevant levels of encryption and security, as required by law, is employed and data, which will remain property of the customer, is securely stored. The DECC will not make all necessary smart meter security measures public for security reasons, which seems fair enough.
However, if anyone is worried about the potential for hacking or negative health effects there is always the option to say no to a smart meter.
In the meantime, further studies and looking to the US, which is years ahead in its smart meter roll out, will hopefully provide further clarity on these issues in the near future.
A real ethical alternative?
A recent report by the London Mutual Credit Union has given a real boost to the prospect of ensuring payday lending is undercut, not just by sensible regulation, but also by healthy competition from ethical alternatives.
The following figures, from that report, are astonishing:
According to the OFT, the average loan amount is £265 and the average cost of a payday loan is £25 for every £100 borrowed. This typical loan repaid over one month would therefore cost at least £66, compared to just £5.30 with LMCU. By borrowing through LMCU instead of high cost payday lenders, the 1,219 who borrowed during the pilot have collectively saved at minimum of £144,966 in interest charges alone, equivalent to almost £119 per borrower.
That saving could be used by consumers to ensure they don't get caught in a future debt cycle - and what a huge saving it is, too.
The report does some further number crunching:
If the 7.4m and 8.2m payday loans taken out in 2011/2012 from high cost lenders had been through a credit union alternative, we estimate that between £676m and £749m would have been collectively saved. This would equate to an average saving of at least £91.43 for every payday loan made through the credit union.
Millions and millions of pounds could be saved from going into the pockets of payday lenders if an alternative, based upon the LMCU model, could be secured.
There is, however, a caveat. A new report by Damon Gibbons of the Centre for Responsible Credit (CfRC) has the following discussion:
the evaluation of the London Mutual Credit Union pilot reported that the payday loan offering was a "loss leader", finding that on average each loan would require a subsidy of £6.85 to break even.
However the government announced earlier in the year that by 2014 the amount of interest that a credit union can charge on a loan will rise from 26.8 per cent now to 42.6 per cent. This way credit unions will be able to offer payday alternative products that break even.
The likelihood is that because of the slightly higher interest rate the savings that borrowers will be able to achieve will reduce slightly, but CfRC has worked out that for credit unions there will still be a healthy return on investment. What's more, it will provide immense savings compared to payday loans for consumers.
As is well known the Archbishop of Canterbury said recently that given time credit unions would out-compete Wonga, after which news came in that Wonga earned in profit £1m per week in 2012. Understandably many were sceptical. But credit unions now have a fighting chance. This is great news for consumers.
Labour leader announces: "We’ll scrap the bedroom tax by abolishing the shady schemes of tax loopholes for the privileged few which the Tories keep inventing."
The party has announced tonight that a Labour government will repeal the measure, which has already forced around half of those tenants affected into rent arrears, a quarter of those for the first time ever. Significantly, rather than merely another policy that Labour would enact "were it in government now", this is a manifesto commitment.
The National Housing Federation and the National Audit Office have predicted that the measure could end up costing more than it saves by forcing social housing tenants into the more expensive private sector (due to the lack of one-bedroom council properties available) and by increasing rent arrears (which deprives councils of revenue). But in order to demonstrate their commitment to fiscal discipline, Miliband and Ed Balls have still outlined how they will raise the £470m the Treasury claims the measure will save this year.
Labour has said it will:
- Reverse the £150m tax cut for hedge funds announced in the 2013 Budget.
- Abolish George Osborne's "shares for rights" scheme, which businesses have been using to avoid capital gains tax (shares sold at a profit are exempt) and which the OBR has forecast could cost up to £1bn.
- Prevent construction firms avoiding tax by falsely listing workers as self-employed.
Miliband will say tomorrow:
One Nation Labour is meeting here in Brighton talking about the most important issue facing families in Britain: the cost of living crisis.
Under David Cameron life is getting harder and harder with prices rising faster than wages in 38 of the 39 months that he has been in Downing Street. And working people are an average of almost £1,500 a year worse off under his government.
But we have a Tory-led Government which listens only to a privileged few. Tax cuts for millionaires and tax breaks for hedge funds.
I am leading a different Labour Party, a One Nation Labour Party, which listens to and will stand up for ordinary families like that of Danielle Heard, who I met this week.
We’ll fight for her like she has fought cancer heroically for 14 years. She is disabled and battling cancer again. But now her family must pay £80 a month they can’t afford under this government’s hated bedroom tax.
The bedroom tax – not what the Tories call the spare room subsidy – the bedroom tax: a symbol of an out of touch, uncaring Tory government that stands up for the privileged few – but never for you.
So we will scrap that tax. And what’s more I can tell you how.
We’ll scrap the bedroom tax by abolishing the shady schemes of tax loopholes for the privileged few which the Tories keep inventing. Tax cuts for hedge funds, the billion pound black hole created with a scheme for workers to sell their rights for shares, and by tackling scams which cheat the taxpayer in construction.
That’s what a One Nation Labour government will do. That’s a party that will fight for you.
The Tories will respond by arguing that Labour has abandoned its commitment to fiscal responsibility and returned to its old spending ways. But unlike on other issues, such as the benefit cap, they find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. A ComRes poll published today by the National Housing Federation (NHF) found that 59% of the public believe the policy should be abandoned, up from 51% when it was introduced in April. Four-fifths of Labour supporters (79%) favour its repeal, along with 65% of Lib Dems and 34% of Tories.
And one doesn't have to look far for evidence why. As I noted, a survey by the NHF of 51 housing associations found that more than half of those residents affected by the measure (32,432 people), fell into rent arrears between April and June, a quarter of those for the first time ever.
Ministers have defended the policy, which reduces housing benefit by 14% for those deemed to have one 'spare room" and by 25% for those with two or more, on the basis that it will encourage families to downsize to more "appropriately sized" accommodation. But they have ignored (or at least pretended to ignore) the lack of one bedroom houses available. In England, there are 180,000 social tenants "under-occupying" two bedroom houses but just 85,000 one bedroom properties available to move to. Rather than reducing overcrowding, the policy has largely become another welfare cut, further squeezing families already hit by the benefit cap, the 1% limit on benefit and tax credit increases (a real-terms cut) and the 10% reduction in council tax support.
The measure is also coming under increasing fire from the Lib Dems. Shirley Williams described it as "a big mistake" at the party's conference and delegates passed a motion calling for "an immediate evaluation of the impact of the policy, establishing the extent to which larger homes are freed up, money saved, costs of implementation, the impact on vulnerable tenants, and the impact on the private rented sector." It also called for "a redrafting of clear housing needs guidelines in association with those representing vulnerable groups including the disabled, elderly and children."
Whether or not the coalition eventually goes as far as scrapping the measure, to prevent Labour surfing a wave of public outrage, it is hard to see it surviving in its current form.
For the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, leaving vulnerable people hit with extra costs through no fault of their own.
We Britons are proud of our national characteristics. Others might see them as foibles but we see them as qualities – doughtiness, support of the underdog, keeping a cool head in sticky situations. But our greatest quality is a sense of fair play. That’s the reason why the British people get so angry about the Bedroom Tax.
The Bedroom Tax is cruel and unfair. For those in social housing whom the government thinks have an extra room, it means paying up or moving house. But for the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, leaving vulnerable people hit with extra costs through no fault of their own. In my city of Edinburgh, vacant one bedroom flats are attracting over 200 applications each week. The average family will lose £720 a year.
Families are facing a cost of living crisis. They’ve seen prices raise faster than wages for the last three years. They are on average £1,500 worse off under this government than under the last Labour government. This is something David Cameron and his out of touch ministers just can’t get their heads around. Even worse the Bedroom Tax hits over 400,000 disabled people hard. It's not just Labour politicians or campaigners who don’t like it, housing experts across the board condemn it. The Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation has described the policy as "an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families."
So it hurts people, but surely you’d think, at least it will bring in some extra revenue to the Treasury and help bring down this government’s borrowing? Well, you’d be wrong. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the Bedroom Tax could cost more money than it saves. The National Housing Federation have said the savings claimed by the government are "highly questionable", partly because those forced to move to the private rented sector will end up costing more in Housing Benefit. Housing Associations say that tens of millions are likely to be lost through the build up of arrears. And the National Audit Office have said that the government’s costing does not take account of the full scale of potential impacts and does not include the additional costs faced by local authorities.
Ed Miliband is crystal clear. The next Labour government will repeal the unfair and cruel Bedroom Tax. So how can this be funded? We need to do this by following our principles – a One Nation approach. David Cameron has cut tax for those who earn over £150,000 a year while raising it for everyone else. A classic example of him standing up for the wrong people.
We’ve been clear that we can’t borrow more to pay for social security changes. And we’ll take tough choices where necessary, including cutting Winter Fuel Payments for the wealthiest pensioners, and not reversing the cuts to child benefit for those on the highest incomes. But we’ll fund this change by getting rid of George Osborne’s tax loopholes, including the extraordinary tax cut for hedge funds announced in the 2013 Budget. We will also reverse his shares for rights schemem, which has been rejected by businesses and has, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, opened up a tax loophole of up to £1bn. And we’ll tackle tax scams in the construction industry. These changes will fully fund the cost of repealing the Bedroom Tax.
This is about taking a One Nation approach to deliver and run an economy that works in the interests of all the people, not just a narrow minority.
The Bedroom Tax is cruel, unjust, uneconomical and offends our sense of natural justice. The next Labour government will consign it to the dustbin of history.
Sheila Gilmore is Labour MP for Edinburgh East
"The politics I believe in, an affirming politics of solidarity and possibility, cannot be built on the act of walking away from our neighbours."
This week marks one year until the referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.
In some ways the 18th September is just another day, just another date in the calendar – but like so many seemingly random dates there is a deeper significance when you scratch beneath the surface.
The 18th September is a date with a fine progressive pedigree; as the day in 1895 that the Atlanta compromise was delivered – the precursor to the black civil rights movement in America.
It was the day in 1919 when Dutch women won the right to vote, in 1987 it was the day that America and Russia agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenal.
And the same day when the so called Saffron Revolution began in Burma in 2007.
The 18 September 2014 is a date I've been reflecting on for some time. And throughout the summer, as well as spending time with my family, I took the opportunity to read, think and to try and consider the significance of this date for Scotland...with a year to go until the referendum.
Stepping back over the summer from the day to day exchanges confirmed to me just how arid (a strong but honest assessment) much of the contemporary constitutional debate has become. In the last year alone we’ve seen a debate characterised all too often by shallowness, grievance and personal vitriol.
There is a real risk that the vitriol, which at times has infected the debate, will not simply fade post 18th September 2014, and when people look beneath the surface of whatever numbers define the result, it will not be a pleasant view.
Whatever the outcome of the vote, that cannot and would not be good for Scotland.
Of course rigorous and passionate debate, differences and opinions strongly held are to be welcomed.
The choice that Scotland makes next year will matter....and matter deeply. It will not only be the biggest political choice that many of us will make in our lifetimes, it is a choice that will affect the lives, identities and opportunities of our children and grandchildren.
So over past weeks I’ve been reflecting on the following issue: how can the referendum debate be more worthy of this moment in our nation’s history?
How can we replace the superficiality of much that passes for our contemporary political discourse with a better discussion about who we are and who we want to be in the decades to come?
How can we dig beneath the numbers, the assertions dressed up as fact, the insult purporting to be opinion and explore the real opportunity this year gives us both as a nation and as neighbours?
Tonight I want to suggest that to secure that richer and more engaging discourse demands that in place of the shallowness that characterises much of the present debate, it’s time to dig deeper.
Now - with a year to go - is the time to consciously ask deeper questions about who we are, what we want for future generations and what kind of nation we want to be in the decades ahead.
It’s time to dig deeper into the traditions which have shaped our better values and instincts and seek to apply them anew to this debate.
And, tonight, in that spirit, I want to try and make three contributions to that discussion.
The first is an attempt to assess the enduring limitation of the Nationalist’s appeal, and second, to explain why I believe remaining part of the UK offers a more sure foundation on which to build a society and politics of the common good here in Scotland. Thirdly, I want to talk about how the way we debate these issues both before and after that referendum, can allow us to say something significant about the kind of nation we want to be in the years ahead.
So first, the Nationalists case.
Given the nature of the choice confronting Scotland next year, the debate inevitably has a binary quality: between those of us who want to stay together and those who wish to walk away. Because the end of the debate is a vote, the parameters of discussion are shaped by being for or against.
But of course the truth is that human relationships, for that is actually what our choice is ultimately about, are much more complex than that.
This is a discussion that is not just about the politics and power tied up in constitutional arrangements. It’s about neighbours, about families, about friendships, about solidarity, about what it means to share our lives together on these islands.
The difficulty is that the deep timeless question of 'how do I love my neighbour’ is being forced into a single question of will I vote for or against separation. And it doesn’t fit. So the real texture of human relationships – what we mean by fairness and sharing, what motivates us to work, to volunteer, to give and receive, to help the stranger and campaign for a fairer society are too often lost in the debate.
That is a language of covenant - of relationships. Yet the Nationalists, under pressure from the polls, have chosen to retreat from covenantal language into a contractual language of economic absolutes and fiscal absolutes all too often absent facts, such as their claim that there will be £300k for every man, woman and child as a result of an oil bonanza.
I would suggest that one of the reasons the Nationalists are becalmed with a year to go is that this language just doesn’t accord with or even recognise the deeper emotional questions that underlie the choice of walking away from the ideas and institutions, the family members and the friends who have helped shape our sense of self in Scotland for generations and in turn our influence has helped shape the rest of the UK.
The ‘Yes’ campaign nonetheless endeavour to position themselves in the public mind as the optimists of the debate. They seek to describe their case for separation in terms that affirm a message of solidarity and community and claim a monopoly on the possibility of a more progressive future.
And setting aside their differences - between those in favour of the pound or the monarchy, or NATO, and those against as subjects for another day, it is fair to recognise that they have attracted support over the years by seeking repeatedly to claim for themselves the mantle of social democracy.
Today, instead, let's recognise and reflect upon the fact that so much of the Nationalist’s language is not about those very laudable aspirations.
For, if you look beyond the constant attacks on Labour, the denigration of ‘London’ and listen carefully, you see something more significant about these constant critiques.
You recognise that, for the Nationalist, this constant indictment of Labour, the UK, Britishness serves a central purpose in their constructed narrative of progress, possibility and uplift.
You come to see how at a deeper psychological level, their two messages - one relentlessly positive, the other relentlessly negative - actually rely upon each other.
For when the 'Yes' campaign speaks a language of solidarity and how we can make a new life for our nation, it expresses an implicit, if not explicit, criticism of the ‘other’ that holds us back.
For Scottish nationalists an assertion of fundamental differences and an implicit distrust of those beyond Scotland is a given. Loyalty extends to the Scottish nation and not beyond it. Indeed beyond Scotland's border notions of loyalty and solidarity cease to exist.
Nationalism in Scotland attempts to provide a simple and simplistic morality tale of decent, progressive Scots held back by whoever is their chosen 'other' of the day...Labour, London, the United Kingdom.
All too often this tale ignores causality and fault; it misinterprets our shared history, and at times our shared responsibility, and indulges a cultural conceit that not only are we – as Scots – concerned about social justice, but suggests that our friends, neighbours and family members in the rest of the UK are not.
The fact that the citizens of the rest of the UK are not all ‘austerity loving Tories’, but are friends, family, work colleagues, helps explains that while Scottish nationalism has proved to have some surface emotional appeal, it has struggled so badly to become an entrenched mainstream view of the majority of Scots.
And it explains the granite like resistance of most Scots towards embracing separation, whatever the anger we feel towards the policies and impact of a Conservative led Government whose mandate will have less than a year to run by September 18 2014.
But there is another reason why I and millions of other Scots resist the false claims of nationalism, and why I look forward to moving beyond the present terms of the debate towards a new discourse on the change we need in Scotland. A debate which will still be needed on September 19th next year.
Writing in a different context, in ‘Dreams of My Father’ Barack Obama explained his own encounter with and rejection of Black nationalism. Despite the evident differences between the ethnic nationalism of eighties Chicago, and the civic nationalism of Scotland today, his insight remains both powerful and relevant.
Speaking of the impact of nationalist discourse within his community, he wrote this:
“It was the distance between our talk and our actions, the effect it was having on us as individuals and as a people. The gap corrupted both language and thought: it made us forgetful and encouraged fabrication; it eventually eroded our ability to hold ourselves or each other accountable.”
As soon as I read these words, their relevance to the nationalists' claims here in Scotland seemed obvious to me. They highlight why, despite my passionate and continued belief in devolution, I am uncomfortable with much of what passes for contemporary argument about the constitutional question in Scotland.
For one of the central reasons all those years ago I stood in George Square, rallied in the Meadows or marched to Calton Hill to secure our Scottish Parliament, was in fact, to help liberate us from a political discourse of learned helplessness - where the challenges facing Scotland were always someone else’s fault.
I believed then and believe today in a culture of democratic accountability and shared responsibility.
Yet the centrality of the nationalist question to Scottish politics and their continued determination to avoid responsibility for every ill (while claiming credit for every success) has hollowed out and constrained too many of Scotland's debates. It is part of Scottish Nationalism's DNA that someone else is always to blame.
Of course supporters of separation believe they have obligations and responsibilities to their neighbours within Scotland. But central to their support for separation are notions of unbridgeable difference and mutual incomprehension that demands inevitable separation from those beyond Scotland's border.
Of course every society creates boundaries, but separation stands in a tradition that wants to put up boundaries, walls and restrictive definitions around the concept of our neighbour. Those with whom we can never fully identify, who are outside our group, who are different from us, or who might even place us in new uncomfortable, or even dangerous situations. In this case, it’s the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish.
The Nationalists' credo is not a politics of expanding and extending the identity of ‘our neighbour’. It is about limiting our sense of affinity and obligation to a line drawn somewhere from the Tweed to the Solway Firth.
For nationalists, the essential foundation for a progressive future is to walk away. For them not only is the United Kingdom the root of the problem. They also believe that exit from the United Kingdom is the only route to a progressive society.
And here, Obama’s further insights are instructive. Drawing on his experience as a Community Organiser he goes on to express a perspective that I think is highly relevant to where we find ourselves today:
“The continuing struggle to align word and action, our heartfelt desires with a workable plan - didn’t self esteem finally depend on just this? ... Our sense of wholeness would have to arise from something more fine than the bloodlines we inherited. It would have to find root in... all the messy contradictory details of our experience”
That insight that the true test of our esteem as a nation has to be rooted in those “messy contradictory details of our experience” rings true to me as a constituency Member of Parliament.
Politics is not about politicians, but about the people we are called to serve. And the true test for our national sense of who we are is not the false conceit of moral superiority, but the bracing and unyielding reality of the facts of everyday lives of the people we serve.
For my constituents today, the difference between pay and prices matters much more than any differences of outlook between Scotland and England.
For my constituents today, the real questions of will their children and grandchildren have a good school to go to, have opportunities to make the best of who they are for themselves and for others matters much more than Scottish separation.
For my constituents today, the challenges of welfare reform based on punishing those in poverty and blaming them for the national debt matters much more than the obsession with separation that is the lodestar of the present Nationalist Government at Holyrood.
Frankly, looking for solutions to those real, every day concerns of my constituents are being lost amid the aridity and acrimony of the present debate about separation.
But in the year ahead, if we are willing, we can offer a different approach. Of course the competing campaigns, and their vision of what offers the best future for Scotland need to be and will be tested over the next twelve months.
But the referendum debate can and should do something else. Whatever the outcome, it can be a real opportunity to do something radically different with our public discourse and our political process, something that will transcend and last beyond a vote with its ensuing numbers
So of course the critique of our opponents I have just offered matters, but, of itself, it is not and should not be enough.
If I and others believe, as we do, that within the United Kingdom our life together as Scots can be better, it is incumbent on me, and others, to also make that case.
And today I want to argue that the politics I believe in, an affirming politics of solidarity and possibility, cannot be built on the act of walking away from our neighbours.
On the contrary I want to suggest that the surest foundation on which to build that progressive future is instead determined by how we uphold an ethic of neighbourliness – both within Scottish society and beyond it, towards our neighbours across the rest of the UK.
Let me explain what I mean.
The coming 12 months give us all, on all sides of the debate, the opportunity to engage in a deeper discourse about who we are and what kind of nation we want to become.
Indeed, this time of deliberation and choosing challenges us to define anew who we are, but also how we are towards each other, those interactions intrinsic to human nature.
For myself, I believe that future of progressive possibility is best built not on false cultural conceit or assertions of grievance but on the very old idea of the common good – or, in the Scots dialect – the Common Weal.
As the newly published book by the American theologian Jim Wallis attests, the attainment of the common good rests on our answer to a question with deep scriptural roots: “who is my neighbour?”.
The pursuit of the common good not only challenges us to define who are labelled as ‘the others’, but also asks what are the obligations we owe to each other and how are we supposed to live together and why?
And it is in meeting those obligations that we owe each other that we best find out what we ourselves need and have those needs met.
The call to “love our neighbour” is the foundation of the common good, and the ethic of neighbourliness can be found in all of the great faith traditions.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam – each of the great Abrahamic faiths – all assert that you cannot separate your love of God from your love for your neighbour, your brothers and sisters.
Even the non-religious affirm the idea of “the Golden Rule”: ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.
That’s why it is both so welcome and so emblematic to see the Church of Scotland and the Church of England collaborating over the creation of a credit union not just for clergy, but eventually for every community that wishes to have one.
The collaboration is to do much more than that however. Its deepest objectives lie in changing the culture of our financial systems by promoting mutuality and interdependency to be at the heart of our financial thinking.
They seek to do this by changing the perception of credit unions from the “poor man’s bank” to one where, if many more become members, so many more who, at present, can't access any financial services, can have them made available.
By the Churches using their unmatched reach into every community across Britain, credit unions can cease to be for “others’ and gain a brand that is built of mutuality, common ownership and sharing what we have, so others can have something to share.
The founding principle of the project is that financial structures should be primarily built on common ground where we nurture human relationships, not economic ones.
It's that kind of thinking, and that kind of initiative that explains why I still believe that it is not time to walk away from our neighbours but instead here in Scotland to reclaim the too often neglected belief in the common good and seek to renew and live out that ethic of neighbourliness.
The fact that we are concerned about the actions of some of our neighbours is the time to engage with them, not give up on them and on those around them who share our concerns
It’s that foundation of common-good thinking on which we can best nurture our communities, promote a different and more civil national discourse, and approach our challenges in a mindset of hope and solutions rather than grievance and blame.
Now of course the referendum next year will represent a significant test of that ethic of neighbourliness.
Do those of us who believe in a politics of solidarity accept a diminished view that the limits of our neighbourliness, and the boundary of our solidarity is the border with England?
Yet even if, as I hope, Scotland rejects that view, we will still face the responsibility of translating an ethic of neighbourliness, and a politics of the Common Good, into practical improvements in the lives and opportunities of our fellow citizens.
And in particular the journey to the common good goes through the poorest communities.
Their voices - the voices of the dispossessed, the marginalised and the disadvantaged - are all too often the voices that are crowded out by the incessant chatter about separation. And when there is mention of those in poverty – it’s what will be done to or for them not what they will be enabled to do for themselves that is heard; it’s not enough to share a little more of any largess – it is power itself that needs to be shared.
Of course constitutional structures matter. I am and remain a committed believer in devolution - holding to the mainstream view that with a strong Scottish Parliament within the larger UK we can have the best of both worlds.
And as I have said many times - I am genuinely open minded as to how that devolution settlement can be improved.
I welcome the fact that Scottish Labour's Leader Johann Lamont has established a Devolution Commission to look at exactly that issue. It is necessary and important work.
But all of us – myself included - seeking to improve the devolution settlement need the humility to acknowledge that the debate about 'powers for the parliament', just like the debate about separation, has too often in the past left the public cold.
At best people need to be convinced how such powers will actually impact on their lives and the lives of their families and communities.
At worst an exclusive focus on 'powers for the parliament' has at times sounded like politicians talking both to themselves and about themselves.
So I would suggest that for Scotland to become a different and better nation, we need to have a different and better debate - both in the next twelve months and the years that follow.
In truth, for me that better nation would be characterised by a different balance of power in Scottish society, more than by a different balance of powers for Scotland's Parliament.
That’s why back in March I called for a National Convention ‘Scotland 2025’ - to chart a new vision for an old nation for the next decade.
It was a conscious attempt to break out of the narrowness of a debate bounded by support for nationalism on one side and support for the status quo on the other.
And the debate we have witnessed over the intervening months has only deepened my belief that we need such a new approach to chart a new way ahead for our nation.
I suggested that, in another date of significance, such a gathering 25 years on from the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, would mark a new way of working together, at times in disagreement, but with a common purpose.
As a Scottish Labour MP I welcome the response from both the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats supporting the idea of a National Convention that I set out back in March.
And so I hope that such a National Convention could become a shared commitment - by those parties who believe that Scotland's better future lies within the United Kingdom.
It would be both an expression of our patriotism and pride in Scotland, and a mechanism by which to translate our sense of possibility for post-2014 Scotland into practical policies.
Indeed it would be a very tangible answer to the question 'What comes next if Scotland rejects separation in 2014?"
The Edinburgh Agreement – signed by both the Scottish and UK governments – anticipated a “referendum that is legal and fair, producing a decisive and respected outcome.”
All sides of this debate have an interest in the referendum outcome being respected.
So if, in a year’s time, Scotland does reject separation, then why shouldn’t Nationalists too come to see a National Convention as a constructive means to discuss, deliberate and decide together on what our better future within the UK looks like?
For while the answer to the question put in a year’s time will resolve whether or not Scots want to be a nation separate from the rest of the UK, the deeper question as to what kind of Scotland we want to be will not be resolved by the answer given by the referendum.
A national convention could and should draw on initiatives taken in Iceland and Australia, both of whom have tried similar gatherings as catalysts for changing public debate.
In Australia, for example, in 2008 more than 1000 citizens came together in a convention that debated ideas and proposals across 10 areas of policy, ranging from productivity and the economy to health and aging, and rural Australia. While the Australian government was under no obligation to accept all of the convention’s recommendations, it was obliged to explain publically why any proposal made was rejected.
A Scottish National Convention therefore has the potential to enrich our civic life as a cornerstone of public debate and reflection, shaping the very framing of how we engage in dialogue and discussion.
It would lay out what would become political priorities but do so rooted in the authentic experience of the participants; whatever their background; rural, island, urban, wealthy or not so wealthy, bringing to the surface a sense of “this is what really matters to Scotland, for it is born in the lives of the people of Scotland”
And rather than pretending politicians have all the answers, it could engage the people of Scotland in deliberating together to chart a new vision for an old nation for the next decade.
Exactly this kind of thinking is already happening in the work of the Church of Scotland's “Imagining Scotland's Future” events.
These are 25 events in Churches and community halls are being held all across Scotland between March and December this year.
They are intended to open up discussion on the values folk want to see in Scotland in the future by focussing on three questions:
1. What values are most important to you for the Future of Scotland?
2. How can we make Scotland a better place to be?
3. How do we put our aspirations into action?
The events use “structured conversation techniques” (that is helping folk to listen to each other rather than simply waiting to answer back), and focus not on yes or no but on what are the participant’s values and beliefs and how do these then translate into political priorities.
The views of all the meetings will be collated, reviewed and published next spring.
The Kirk may have decided to be impartial on the vote but that's given it the freedom to be very active in creating a new 'safe space' for much deeper conversations to happen.
In doing so they have transcended the usual coconut shy of point scoring hustings events and instead built the experience round the lives and aspirations of the people themselves
Others are doing similar things. Some of the passion for deeper debate is also to be found in the work of the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project.
I know the foundation is itself in a different place to me on the issue of the referendum, but it has shown a desire to genuinely grapple with the opportunity that difference brings when it comes to political debate, rather than the usual statistical grenade lobbing that exemplifies much of the public discourse.
These types of conversation, and the development of places and spaces where such conversations are now taking place, are a sign that the coming year can be used to expose a deeper significance in our debates.
That the conversation about our nation's future can be about something more than power and process.
As a nation, the choice is ours: to be shaped by the future based on our vision of the common good, or to go back into the future bound by the continuing patterns of what has been.
So my question is this: whatever our individual views about how we will vote in a year’s time; are we willing to make the significance of this year something much deeper and longer lasting than is offered at the moment.
In disagreement and discussion, are we willing still to search for common ground, a common path, a common humanity that is undefined by boundaries and undefeated by disagreement?
That would make the months ahead a deeply significant chapter in our nation’s story.
Some say it was the Scottish enlightenment that invented some of the key ideas underpinning liberal democracy.
Have we something new to give the world, a new way to do democracy, rooted in real human experience, shaped by people's stories, understood as being about more than power; understood as being “all the messy contradictory details of our experience”?
That is my fervent hope as we look to the year ahead.
The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.
1. Miliband can build a new Labour majority (Times)
Claiming to lead a "One Nation Party", Miliband must pursue a 40 per cent strategy and build a new election-winning coalition, writes Marcus Roberts.
2. Political parties have been deserted, and no wonder (Daily Telegraph)
Today’s voters want a constant conversation, not set-piece occasions that pay them no heed, writes Charles Moore.
Another good Labour conference speech may boost ratings, but it is the day-to-day combat that will decide who occupies No 10, says Jonathan Freedland.
4. We have the Germany we always wanted (Financial Times)
Mature politics and economic power are what make the country special, writes Tony Barber.
Brown’s main allies now lead the party, writes Steve Richards. The tension has not died.
6. Embrace the hollowing out of London (Financial Times)
We should build on the city’s status as a global playground, writes Ben Rogers.
7. Give us sunny Conservatism again, Dave (Times)
The PM must renew his otimistic message and defeat Clegg’s attempt to paint Tories as panto villains, says Matthew Parris.
8. Labour Party conference: the future not the past (Guardian)
Polls have begun to show the Conservatives level pegging, and the unions, the leader and policy all need to be addressed, says a Guardian editorial.
The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning, says David Usborne.
Real issues arise out of the Snowden affair, but British security laws keep us safe without intruding on citizens' freedoms, says Malcolm Rifkind.
The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.
1. It’s Ed 'Ryanair’ Miliband v David 'Business Class' Cameron (Sunday Telegraph)
The Tories realise they are in trouble unless the public believes them to be in the same single class Boeing 737 as the rest of us, says Matthew d'Ancona.
Ed Miliband goes into conference facing huge challenges, writes Andrew Rawnsley. Some signature policies might help convince voters.
3. Zombies stir to drag Ed back to his dark side (Sunday Times)
McBride tells us more than we might like to know about where Miliband came from, writes Adam Boulton.
4. Ed really will be on the rocks if he slips up at the seaside... (Mail on Sunday)
Ethnic cleansing continues as President Rouhani prepares to address the UN on Tuesday, writes Patrick Cockburn.
6. Once, British statesmen were defined by their ambition (Mail on Sunday)
Clegg's proud conference boast of what the coalition hasn't done shows we are stuck in the politics of no, says Allister Heath.
Sceptics will rubbish a new report on climate change, dismissing calls for governmental action, writes Will Hutton. Don't be swayed.
8. Damian McBride knew: Get caught and you walk alone (Independent on Sunday)
It did not damage Gordon Brown's image that he seemed to practise gangland politics, writes John Rentoul.
9. 'Führerprinzip’ is killing off genuine debate (Sunday Telegraph)
The balance between state power and free markets needs to be constantly discussed, says Janet Daley.
The death toll from firearms in the US suggests that the country is gripped by civil war, writes Henry Porter.
It will take more than one weekend of footballers wearing rainbow laces to really tackle the problem.
"In football it's obviously impossible to come out – because no-one has done it. No one. It's crazy and sad." They were the words of Robbie Rogers, the former Leeds United player, who decided that once he became openly gay it would be impossible for him to continue in English football. He now plays Major League Football for LA Galaxy, seemingly a more pleasant place for a gay footballer than the home of football.
The saddest thing about the whole affair was that there was barely a single commentator who disagreed with Rogers' assessment that an openly gay footballer would be made to feel like an outcast in English football. Gay footballers have been advised by publicists not to 'come out' as it would damage their careers. British football needs to move beyond token gestures and really confront the homophobia that is putting the game out of step with British society.
Football should show the same determination to root out homophobia that it showed to root out racism over the past few decades. Admittedly, football still has a way to go on the racism issue, but we’ve made considerable progress compared to where football was in the 1970s and 1980s and compared to pretty much every other European country. I can’t remember the last time I heard a racist comment at a football match, whereas they were still relatively commonplace when I first started going to matches in the late 1980s.
On the flip side, football hasn’t made anything like the same level of progress in rooting out homophobia and it really needs to start taking the problem seriously. I’ve heard the chant at Sunderland away matches about the Gallowgate End at St James’s Park being "full of poofs, shits and wankers." Other teams use the same chant about their rivals. Throwaway homophobic words remain commonplace at football grounds around the country – I’ve heard words like "poof", "faggot" and "queer" being used on the terraces so many times in the past few years. It’s only a few years since Spurs fans sang a grotesquely offensive chant based on scurrilous rumours about Sol Campbell.
Football clubs should stop paying lip service to the issue and start taking it seriously. In February, the FA launched a "toolkit" about homophobia in football, but a month later only 29 of the 92 professional clubs had signed up to the football vs. homophobia campaign and even some of those did so half heartedly.
It’s pretty clear that racist abuse is increasingly dealt with properly by clubs, with supporters being thrown out and banned for racist abuse. They need to start learning from that and get tough on homophobic chanting and homophobic abuse, using real sanctions to show that they’re treating the issue with the gravity it deserves. The football ground shouldn’t be one of the only places in modern Britain where homophobia is seen as acceptable.
There’s obviously a shortage of gay role models in modern football and we’re kidding ourselves if we think that is going to end soon. But that shouldn’t stop top professionals and household names speaking out against homophobia and making clear that they’d be very happy to have a gay teammate. Kick Racism Out Of Football was effective because top footballers were willing to support the campaign and, in many cases be very vocal about their support. They should be prepared to show the same level of support to a campaign against homophobia in sport. And that means more than occasional players appearing shirtless in a gay lifestyle magazine – they should be making the case in the Sun, on Soccer Saturday and Match of the Day.
This weekend, Stonewall, Paddy Power and Joey Barton are encouraging footballers to wear rainbow laces in their boots to signal their determination to eliminate homophobia. It’s a good move and I hope that my beloved Sunderland show their support. But it says a lot that the campaign comes from gay rights campaigners, an Irish bookmaker and a footballer playing in France on loan from QPR, rather than the FA, the Premiership clubs and top Premiership footballers. And it will take more than one weekend of footballers wearing rainbow laces to really tackle the problem.
The people at the top of English football and the Premiership in particular (one of our great national successes) have to show that they’re taking the issue of homophobia in football very seriously indeed. Homophobic language or behaviour should be no more acceptable on the terraces, or on the pitch, than it is anywhere else in society, and clubs and football authorities have to emphasise that through actions as well as words. Hopefully that will mean that the next time a footballer such as Robbie Rogers decides to 'come out' he will feel comfortable continuing to play in English football.
All are blamed for the squeeze, all are being forced to compete on this terrain and all are struggling to be heard and believed, But the challenge is greatest for Labour.
If the next election is truly going to be a so-called living standards election – and that’s the assumption animating this year’s conference season - then all the parties have cause for concern. It turns out that, to date at least, voters aren’t impressed by what any of them has to say on the issue.
In part, according to a major polling project undertaken for Resolution Foundation by YouGov, this is because they are all blamed to some degree for the big squeeze that households have endured (though Labour more than the Conservatives/coalition). No one is deemed to be innocent. But it’s also because when it comes to a wide range of policy issues on which all the parties say they want to act – tackling low pay, tax cuts for low and middle income households, reducing utility bills, boosting affordable housing or reducing the cost of childcare - the public aren’t attracted to much of what they have heard (though Labour has the edge over other parties on most of these issues).
It’s not just that the leaders are yet to persuade the wider public that they have much to say; they are also a long way from winning over their own party supporters. Indeed, for a large swathe of the electorate the question of 'who governs' does not seem to matter terribly much when it comes to these key issues. Across a wide range of policy areas, the view that "it won't make much difference regardless of which party is running the government" was the most common response.
True, there are exceptions to this. The Conservatives score highly among their own supporters on the issue of targeting welfare payments to those who most need them - on this nearly half (49%) say their party has especially good ideas. Labour supporters select tackling low pay as an area where their party is thought to be strong (28 per cent). Liberal Democrats chose "tax-cuts for low and middle income families" as an area where they felt their party had ideas (23 per cent). But even these fairly modest approval ratings are the exception.
Yet in most policy areas the parties receive low approval ratings, sometimes surprisingly so. Take the issue of improving access to affordable childcare, supposedly one of the zeitgeisty issues of this Parliament. A total of 5 per cent of Labour supporters select this out of a list of options as an area where their party has strong ideas - the same proportion of Labour supporters who think the Conservatives have good ideas on this issue, and marginally behind Labour voters’ assessment of the Lib Dems ideas (6 per cent). By way of comparison, 19% of Lib Dems supporters highlight childcare as an issue where their party performs well. Given that Labour dominated the debate on childcare for so long – and that it speaks so directly to their current theme of supporting family living standards – these ratings are pretty damning (and it’s no surprise that childcare is the headline announcement as Labour arrives at its conference).
All of which raises the question of why the electorate takes such a dim view of the parties’ positions to date on living standards?
Most obviously, it is very likely to reflect the fact that many voters know very little about what the parties are actually saying on these matters: our politicians’ ideas and arguments struggle to penetrate the fog of indifference that hangs over Westminster politics. It’s also true that, to varying degrees, the parties haven’t really said that much to date in terms of concrete policies: perhaps approval ratings for their ideas will pick up significantly as we get closer to the election and all the parties are forced to set out their stall?
Another explanation is that regardless of what the parties say – whether they sound like good policy ideas or not – people are just not prepared to believe them. This 'believability' argument reflects the familiar point about low levels of trust in politicians and the wider political system to deliver on promises. From this perspective, why give the parties credit for their ideas, even if in theory they might be good ones, when you don’t believe they will come to fruition?
Then comes the argument that many voters have now fully internalised the austerity argument to the extent that they just don’t believe the money will be available anytime soon to implement some of these proposed measures. Or, more specifically, if a party isn’t deemed to have earned overall credibility on the economy then whether or not their specific policies sound attractive may be a non-issue. It won’t have permission to be heard.
Finally, it is possible to point the finger at the growing sense of fatalism, or more accurately deep scepticism about what acts of policy may achieve. Some voters believe that it doesn’t matter what the parties say on specific policy measures as none of it would make much difference anyway. The smallness of what they hear politicians talking about contrasts with the bigness of the challenges posed by globalisation, technology and trade. The evidence to back up this fatalistic interpretation is a bit thin though attitudes do seem to have tilted in this direction over recent months. Back in April 50 per cent of voters felt that it should be possible for a government with the right policies to ensure that overall growth in the economy translates into steadily rising family living standards, and 35 per cent disagreed. Today the public is evenly split (41 per cent either way). It’s noteworthy that this increased policy-pessimism has coincided with an upturn in households’ optimism about their own prospects.
Whatever the exact interpretation, it’s beyond doubt that each of the parties faces high stakes. All are blamed for the squeeze, all are being forced to compete on this terrain whether they like it or not, all are struggling to be heard and believed. A joyless recovery that stretches from now all the way to the election would leave the coalition parties incredibly exposed. Yet the cynical public mood is perhaps most challenging of all for Labour: its chosen pitch is that the return of growth alone won’t suffice and that only sweeping economic reform is capable of restoring the golden thread between national economic recovery and family living standards. Which means that it, more than anyone else, needs to convince a disenchanted electorate of both its overall economic credibility and the merits of its headline proposals. A tall order, but surely not an impossible one.
Gavin Kelly is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation
Asked to choose between a third runway at Heathrow and High Speed 2, Balls replies: "third runway". Miliband would say the reverse.
The most significant line in Ed Balls's Times interview today has gone strangely unnoted by the paper, which splashes on the news that he was part of a "macho Brownite cabal".
Asked in a "quick fire" section whether he favours a "third runway or HS2", the shadow chancellor replies: "third runway". Why is that striking? Because it is the reverse of the answer that Ed Miliband would give. As Damian McBride's memoir reminds us, Miliband "effectively threatened to resign from the cabinet" over the planned third runway at Heathrow, a move that successfully torpedoed the policy. Since then, shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle has said that the idea is "off the agenda" on account of Miliband's past opposition.
On HS2, while Balls is increasingly sceptical of the new high speed line, warning that there will be "no blank cheque from a Labour Treasury", Miliband remains personally supportive of the project, which was launched by Andrew Adonis, the party's shadow infrastructure minister and man he has appointed to lead Labour's economic growth review.
It has long been an open secret in Westminster that Balls believes Labour should prioritise airport expansion over HS2 but his decision to put this fact on record is significant.
The Tories and the Lib Dems' past opposition to the minimum wage shows why we should be sceptical of their warms words on low pay.
It's easy to forget, now that all the main political parties claim to support it, just how bold and radical the introduction of the minimum wage was. But when it was introduced by Labour, the Tories were outright opposed. They said that it would cripple business, and would destroy thousands of jobs.
Of course, that simply wasn't the case. Our careful approach when in government, working in partnership with employers and employees, maintaining the right balance between wage growth and the impact on employment, ensured its success.
The Lib Dems, too, are Jonny-come-lately's to the value of the minimum wage. In 2003, Vince Cable said increases in its level set "a dangerous precedent". So why would we believe his warm words about it last week? But perhaps the most convincing proof of the Cameron government's lack of enthusiasm is that the real value of the minimum wage has declined by 5% since 2010.
Labour is the only party with a track record of bold action on low pay, the only party that can be trusted to boost and strengthen the minimum wage. And it's action that is desperately needed. In 38 out of the 39 months that David Cameron's been in Downing Street, average wages have fallen; people are on average £1,500 worse off. Low pay is contributing to the crisis in living standards facing Britain.
So, building on the successful approach we used in government, Ed's commitment today is that Labour will strengthen the minimum wage. Fair pay is central to Ed's vision of a different kind of economy, one in which both workers and business play their part. The only way we're going to build a strong economy is to make sure it works for working people. That means competing on high skill, high wage jobs.
The minimum wage needs to rise faster than it has in recent years so that it catches up to where it was in 2010. There is also evidence that the minimum wage puts very little pressure on employers in sectors that could afford to pay more. Analysis by IPPR and the Resolution Foundation has shown that increasing the minimum wage to the level of the living wage would cost large employers in sectors like finance, construction and computing less than one half of one per cent of their total wage bill. Around one million workers would see their pay rise.
Of course, it's right that we work closely with business to ensure we get the detail right. I'm pleased that Alan Buckle, Deputy Chair of KPMG International, has agreed to lead a review to look at how to strengthen the powers of the Low Pay Commission. We must also have effective enforcement - that is why Labour has committed to increasing the fines for non-payment of the minimum wage and to giving local authorities a role in enforcement alongside HMRC.
We're right to take pride that it was a Labour government that introduced the minimum wage. We are right to be proud of the difference it's made. The next Labour government will strengthen the minimum wage.
I'm proud Ed has promised today that we will take action. It is Labour policies that will tackle the low pay that is driving the cost of living crisis and holding back growth.
Labour was founded as a party of action, taking on local landlords, bosses and racketeers. Today we are reshaping the party to honour that tradition.
While Westminster whips itself up over who said what to whom 5 years ago the real work - to rebuild our party ready for 2015 - goes on. The big truth about the recent revelations by former colleagues is that the public have other concerns. The cost of living is what the Labour Party conference will focus on this week in Brighton. Our business, away from the froth and the gossip of Westminster, will be to set out a One Nation programme to build a better Britain.
As General Secretary of the Labour Party, my overriding priority is to build the party organisation that enables it to win an overall majority at the next election. I want Labour to build a broad alliance of voters, beyond the narrowing pool of those who swing between the main parties. I want Labour to energise those who vote for fringe parties, young first-time voters, and those who haven't voted before. This wider, deeper pool of potential support is what will give Ed Miliband a sound working majority as Prime Minister. There'll be no talk of deals or coalitions on the floor of Labour Party conference.
In order to achieve that ambition, we are renewing the Labour Party as the most vibrant force in British politics. People talk of the terminal decline of political parties, but the Labour Party is proof that this is not the case. Since Ed Miliband was elected leader, thousands of new members have joined the Labour Party. We are drawing new members from all regions, classes, religions and ethnic groups. We are developing leaders from within communities, activists who are organising campaigns and delivering real change on the ground.
We are reshaping the culture of the party so that it is true to our traditions and our ethical purpose. We have to remember that relationships matter. If we use people, they feel used and we forgot that.
It's no surprise that Lord Ashcroft's marginal seats polling shows Labour outperforming the Tories. We're changing from a party that floods voters with leaflets delivered by a handful of volunteers; to being a movement, having hundreds of thousands of conversations with people. Our organisers are using both high-tech big data targeting techniques, digital campaigning and old fashioned community organising to win voters to Labour. As we saw in May's elections, there's a real link between where Labour has already picked its 2015 parliamentary candidates, recruited organisers and where we won council seats.
We have put our faith in community organising and we will soon have 110 organisers across our 106 battleground parliamentary seats. People coming together to oppose loan sharks and sky-high interest rates, to protect their post offices, fire stations and hospitals. It reminds us that the Labour Party was founded as a party of action, taking on local landlords, bosses and racketeers, long before there were Labour governments.
Community organising is a not a trick or a technique. It brings politics closer to people. It forces us to listen to what matters. This is what the US community organiser Arnie Graff has been showing us across the country. The local organising builds the political position. It is what will win us a majority and its helping the Labour Party to find its true voice once more. This week in Brighton, Labour will be focusing on the future for our country, not dredging through the sludge of the past. That's what millions worrying about their energy bills, cost of living and children's future are willing us to do.
Iain McNicol is general secretary of the Labour Party
What to look out for in Brighton, including events with Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan, Diane Abbott and Lord Adonis.
All events are free to attend and open to the public.
Sunday 22 September
Chuka Umunna MP in conversation with New Statesman
Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Business Secretary
12:30-1:30pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Diane Abbott MP in conversation with New Statesman
Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Public Health Minister
2-3pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel
Why invest in UK life sciences?
Shabanna Mahmood MP, Shadow Science and Higher Education Minister
5:30-6pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Smart Grids: Is this the way of selling low carbon policies to sceptics?
Tom Greatex MP, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister
5:30-6:30pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel
Home Front: The battle for a sustainable housing market
Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Housing Minister
8-9:30pm, Hall 7 Room D, The Hilton
Monday 23 September
What next for the criminal justice system?
Rt. Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow London Minister
9-10am, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Where now for aid to Syria and what role for Britain?
Rushanara Ali MP, Shadow International Development Minister
5:30-6:30pm, The Sandringham room, The Hilton
Could aid be effective without advocacy?
Cathy Jamieson MP, Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury
Rt. Hon Peter Hain MP
5:30-7pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel
Jobs for young people: how do we solve the problem?
Lord Adonis, Shadow Infrastructure Minister and former Transport Secretary
5:30-6:30pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Rachel Reeves MP in conversation with New Statesman
Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
7:15-8pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Tuesday 24 September
Innovation: what does the NHS need to do?
Andrew Gynne MP, Shadow Health Minister
8:30-9:30am, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Is integration enough to save the NHS?
Rt. Hon Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Health Secretary
12-1pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel
Will competition and choice open up the banking sector?
Chris Leslie MP, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury
4:45-5:45pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel
Is a cap on immigration a cap on growth?
Chris Bryant MP, Shadow Immigration Minister
5:30-6:30pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Wednesday 25 September
From prevention to survival: the cancer pathway at every step
Lord Hunt, Shadow Health Spokesperson
9-10am, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel
Cheers among the chattering classes.
Prepare to be wrong about Sky.
When BSkyB shares dipped recently there was more than a little cheer among certain parts of the UK's chattering classes. For many, especially those on the liberal, intelligent left Sky's Murdoch links, anti-intellectual approach and opposition to the BBC makes them feel that their subscription, bought on the basis that football is, after all, the stuff of life, smacks of hypocrisy. And hell hath no fury as a middle-class liberal made aware of their own hypocrisy.
Sky's dominance as a sport broadcaster, its presence in pubs and bars (even the rough ones) and its almost sacrilegious pokes at the BBC do not win it many friends.
But strip away the schadenfreude and the share price movement was entirely predictable. The initial drop in share price after the results were released was obviously just a reflection of profit taking rather than an indication of weaknesses in the business. The results themselves highlight the strengths of BSB, not least a solid strategy in the face of a confused and complex media scene.
Sky's great strength is that is has a good share of a market that is comfortable with a monthly subscription and eager for cross-platform services and content. It already has 35 per cent of its customers buying into the cross-platform offer.
Younger consumers don't understand annual licences and have no more interest in maintaining the BBC, or any other traditional broadcast operator or news provider come to that, than they have in buying newspapers.
The BSkyB investment strategy does not have to take into account legacy services of the sort that will, for many of its rivals, become an ever greater burden.
BT's foray into sport broadcasting is much lauded and gets positive media attention - mostly for all the wrong reasons. However, it does show that BT is serious about becoming a media player. It is determined to offer content as well as technology and infrastructure. That said, Ian Livingstone has departed and BSkyB is not going to wait around while rivals try to catch up.
Taxi firm ADT, who market themselves particularly to students, have been advertising their services with lurid photographs of semi-naked young girls. Some have a particularly sinister undertone.
A social media advert for East Midlands taxi company ADT Taxis has today drawn ire from students and women in the region with the release of a sexually explicit image supposedly intended to encourage young women to book taxis when drunk. Students at Loughborough University are demanding a boycott of the company, while others have publicly tweeted to the effect that they will no longer use ADT; meanwhile, the advertising agency possible has been dismissed.
The image, which appeared on Facebook about 16 hours ago, shows two young women, framed by a doorway, opening on to what appears to be a student bedroom. One is curled on the floor in a foetal position, her jeans around her ankles. The other crouches over her, an expression of apparent distress on her face.
While the first student retains her knickers, the focus is very clearly on her crotch. No attempt is made to anonymise facial details for either individual, who are both clearly identifiable from this picture – nor to cover over the first woman’s naked rear or crotch.
A caption to the image states: “be safe. Don’t overdo it… Adt it!”
Shortly after the original picture was spotted, campaigning organisation The Everyday Sexism Project took up the baton, calling on Loughborough University and Loughborough SU to boycott the company. This, in turn, called out a response from ADT’s Twitter account. They tweeted: “its [sic] called humour…now get back to your daytime tv, you miserable pc brigade.” They also briefly republished the picture, with both the women’s faces anonymised and the more sexual elements censored by means of strategically placed cut-outs.
However, this too was promptly taken down, and the ADT Twitter account became temporarily unavailable: a decision, we are told, that was taken by ADT’s own managing director.
Such a turn of events is unlikely to be good for business. Describing themselves as “Loughborough University’s reputable taxi and private hire operator for the last 10 years... with a fleet of over 100 vehicles”, they clearly depend significantly on business from the local student community.
“Based at Loughborough University on campus, our shop at the students' union is open 24 hours a day during term time," continues the ADT website. "We are fully licensed and undertake most of Loughborough University’s transport needs.
“Our rank is there for you, we have plenty of cards on Union nights, to reassure you that you are going home in a vehicle operated legally by Loughborough University’s reputable taxi and private hire operator.”
A spokesperson for the university confirmed that they do have a rank on site, but that this is subject to agreement with the Student Union and is in no way endorsed by the university itself.
We also spoke to a representative of the Student Union, who described themselves as “horrified” by the campaign. However, according to this same individual, the problem lay not with the taxi company directly but with their media agency, who have now been dismissed. This followed advice from Loughborough SU and took place within minutes of the company’s proprietor understanding what had happened.
Whether this will be enough to avoid a major loss of business is unclear.
As news of the ill-advised campaign spread, a number of students expressed disgust, with several stating they would never use ADT again. The university's Vice Chancellor has been asked to respond on the matter.
A spokeswoman for national campaigning group, Ending Victimisation & Abuse, added: "Images of vulnerable women being used as a marketing tool is one that we've surely grown out of. It seems not, if this advertisement is anything to go by. Regardless of whether they've 'overdone it' or not, we'd recommend using a taxi firm that is respectful towards all people - vulnerable women included."
This is not the first time that ADT appear to have used sexualised imagery in their social media advertising. A shot taken from their Facebook page, dated 13th September, depicts a topless women holding her breasts with the accompanying text: "That got your attention... Now remember our digits!" followed by the taxi company's various regional phone numbers.
A spokesperson for Loughborough University said: "This campaign by Ashley David Taxis (ADT) is totally unacceptable.
"Ashley David Taxis are an independent company, who rent operating space on the Loughborough campus."
An apology published on the ADT website stated: "Contrite apologies. The offensive tweet and response came from an agent who we misguidedly appointed to act for us on social media. We have dismissed them.
"We were horrified when we saw what had been put out on our behalf and even more so when we saw the rude response to @everydaysexism pointing out the issue.
Many apologies to anyone who has been offended. This absolutely does not represent ADTs [sic] values. We are very sorry for our error of judgement in appointing an unsuitable agent, at this point we can only apologise and make an assurance that we will make a more careful appointment in the future."
The Labour leader chose to tackle questions of his leadership credentials head-on.
The leader has spoken - at considerable length and without notes, which remains an impressive technical feat. But the important function of Ed Miliband’s keynote address to the Labour party this year was not to prove that he can orate effectively from memory (he did that last year) but to persuade people that he has an agenda for government.
The most common criticisms of the Miliband project from both inside and outside his party have been: (1) the lack of a compelling story about why Britain will need a Labour government in 2015 (2) a failure to win arguments over the economy and (3) doubts about whether Ed himself can be an effective advocate of change; does he look like a leader – and where would he lead?
Miliband tried to address each of those problems systematically. His approach was to tackle the leadership question head-on, setting out an account of the qualifications to be a good Prime Minister that better match his message and record than David Cameron’s. He stressed empathy (“walking in other people’s shoes”) unity and, one of the most memorable lines, standing up to the strong instead of standing up to the weak.
Miliband knows that people think the Tory leader looks more plausibly Prime Ministerial – incumbents generally do by virtue of, well, living in 10 Downing Street and the rest of it. He also knows the Tories will attack him personally and aggressively over the next few months on the basis that his perceived weakness is a drag on Labour’s poll ratings.
So the strategy, it seems, is to query the basis on which Cameron’s supposed strength stands. The Tory leader can be presented as tough only when the recipients of toughness are the weak and the vulnerable. His alleged capacity to lead is undermined by the charge that, on crucial moral choices, he sides with the wrong people: Rupert Murdoch; the tobacco lobby; millionaires.
That leads to the next stage of Miliband’s argument, which is that a Tory leader with the wrong values is presiding over the wrong kind of economy. This has been the theme of the conference, or rather the ambition has been to make it the theme. Other news and unwelcome blasts from the New Labour past have continually obstructed the message. The point Labour wants to get across is that the Tories’ claim to have rescued the economy is bogus and that the recovery will entrench unfairness and inequality. Miliband is working on the assumption that the pressures households face from a rising cost of living will make Cameron and George Osborne’s boasts of national salvation look arrogant and complacent. But Miliband went further – he argued that the inequality and injustice were a deliberate function of the Conservative economic strategy, not just unfortunate side-effects. He justified that claim on the grounds that Cameron’s “global race” is really a race to the bottom, depressing wages and scrapping employment rights to turn Britain into a brutal neo-Victorian sweatshop.
Having established that account of why the Tories are supposed to have forfeited their right to lead the country, Miliband set out some of the ideas he hopes will prove that Labour would do it better: lower bills, more homes, apprenticeships, a better NHS, some substantial measures aimed at rebutting the claim Labour has no big ideas, baked in with motherhood and apple pie.
It was notable that Miliband mentioned none of his shadow cabinet colleagues and referred more to himself than to his party. There seems little doubt that this speech was an attempt at personal brand rehabilitation. He knows there is a problem with perceptions of his capabilities as a leader. Some people in the party think he would be better off promoting the broader and much stronger Labour brand, campaigning as the captain of a team or even chairman of the board. He has chosen very clearly not to do that. Instead, he wants to defy conventional expectations of what a Prime Ministerial figure looks like and wrest back from the Tories some control of what defines “strong leadership.” In a memorable passage in the speech he said he expected the Tories to make the general election campaign personal and invited Cameron to “be my guest”. The line, I’m told by someone who worked with Miliband on the speech, was one that the Labour leader had improvised in rehearsal. It was deemed more civil and understated than the brash Americanism “bring it on!”
These are minute details but the point is an important one. The things that have made Labour delegates at this conference most despondent are the fear that they are losing on the economy, that they are constantly fighting battles on Tory terms and that Ed simply doesn’t look the part, no matter how hard he tries. This speech was a very direct attempt to neutralise those anxieties – to set a new framework for how the economy and leadership are defined; to make it clear that Labour is being refashioned not just as "One Nation Labour" but as Miliband's Labour. It was a well-structured argument and he delivered it pretty well. The audience was enthused; Miliband’s exhausted-looking aides seem happy and relieved.
So mission accomplished? Well, probably yes, for today. The rhetoric was right – but so it was last year too. The challenge, as many Labour people have been saying all week, is now whether there is a strategy for pushing these new arguments – erecting this new framework for debate – outside the conference centre. Miliband has set out clearly how he wants his project to be defined and it is notably more coherent today than it was yesterday, which is a start. It will only be a successful speech if it remains just as coherent tomorrow and the day after that and in the weeks and months to come.
The Tories' natural aversion to price controls means they will struggle to support a cap, leaving Miliband free to present Cameron as siding with the companies over the consumers.
After spending the summer telling voters that they're worse off under the Tories, Ed Miliband knew that he needed an emblematic policy that would show them how they'd be better off under Labour. The result, unveiled in his speech, was a pledge to freeze energy prices until 2017. Miliband said: "The next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will be frozen, benefitting millions of families and millions of businesses. That is what I mean by a government that fights for you. That's what I mean when I say: Britain can do better than this."
One senior Labour strategist told me after the speech that the party had focused-grouped the policy and that voter approval was "off the scale". Polling has consistently shown that of every 'cost-of-living' issue, it is energy prices that are the public's greatest concern. With this intervention, Miliband has framed himself as a strong leader prepared to stand up to predatory firms on behalf of the little guy. He noted that "the companies won't like it because it will cost them money" but added: "they have been overcharging people for so long because the market does not work. And we need to press the reset button." The party calculates that the move, which will be backed by legislation in the first month of a Labour government, will save consumers £120 and businesses £1,800.
While the Tories have capped benefits and immigration, Miliband has smartly borrowed this device to show how Labour would tackle the 'cost of living crisis" it has so often bemoaned. The question now is how the Conservaties will respond: will they steal it or kill it? David Cameron has promised action to force firms "to give the lowest tariff to their customers" but this falls well short of Miliband's pledge, and charities and consumer groups warn that it will have little meaningful effect on prices.
So far, the Tory attack machine has responded by claiming that Miliband's commitment to a 2030 decarbonisation target would add £125 to households' energy bills but soon Cameron will be forced to answer the question that Labour will inevitably pose: are you for a cap or against one?
The Tories' natural free-market aversion to price controls means it will be hard for Cameron to support any form of cap, but he will be reluctant to allow Labour to claim that he has taken the side of companies over consumers and again stood up for the "wrong people". At the moment, the Tories' response to Miliband's cap seems to be to change the subject. But as Labour found in the case of welfare and immigration, that is a politically fraught course. With his announcement today, Miliband has set a brilliant trap for Cameron that the Conservatives will struggle to avoid walking into.