Having led the opinion polls for most of 2013, Ed Miliband might be forgiven for feeling just a bit complacent about his prospects come the election in 2015. A quick glance at his current policy announcements and the history books would warn him against such thoughts.
As the 2015 gets ever closer, we may rest assured that the Tories will rightly be reminding us that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were two of the chief lieutenants in the doomed Brown Government. Of course, some would argue that Brown was doomed from the moment Blair sidled off too sunnier climes safe in the knowledge that the British Economy was about to hit the proverbial ice berg. Be that as it may, it was Brown who put the ice berg there in the first place. As such, Miliband and Balls will find it very difficult to distance themselves from being associated with the horror show of Brown from 2007 until 2010.
So what did create that ice berg? Put simply, we spent in considerable excess of our income. Speculation is one thing but waste and profligacy are another. It is surprising therefore to see that one of Miliband's current policies is to embark on a sustained period of house building with the creation of several new towns. He also wants to expand local Government and increase their power. It's hard to say which of these two policies frightens me the most.
True to core Labour values, he doesn't divulge where the money is going to come from to finance such a massive house building project. Of course, he points to the job creation but that just about sums up the short term thinking being employed. When the houses are built, the jobs go. He points to the report this week that many in their 40s and 50s like myself will be worse off than our parents' generation. That is relative. Our parents' generation had a pretty good deal when we look back. Student grants, final salary pensions (index linked and inflation proofed), numerous public share floations in the 80s and 90s, the biggest sustained period of housing equity growth since records began and I could go on and on. If my generation is going to be slightly worse off than our predecessors, we will still enjoy a standard of living which remains a dream for billions around the world. Our generation has also become rather more conscious of waste than our parents' generation. Theirs was the generation which had too much too soon and, like the first big winner of the football pools in the 60s, embarked on the creation of the "me generation".
Building new houses will not sustain the British economy. It will provide a quick fix which will take us back to the events of 2008 which very nearly bankrupted us all. Giving more power to an already out of control Local Government would be lunacy. That sector remains unaccountable and continues to operate like a Stalinist Gulag. Relative to the size of communities they purport to represent, they are massive. It was not always like this. If Labour plans to build masses of houses are frightening, the ceaseless empire building in Local Government is more so. How many businesses do you know which could sustain a cut of between 5 and 10% and continue to operate effectively? That is what has happened to the majority of Local Government budgets since the Coalition took power. My point is that if you can manage with that much less in your budget, what was happening to all that money before hand?
Throughout the Parliament of the Coalition, Labour has continued to advocate it's failed policy of uncosted spending and paradoxically remain top of the opinion polls. History shows us that this is actually quite normal behaviour. When it comes to election day, people tend to vote more with their heads than their hearts. Like the Richard Prior character in Brewster's Millions, Miliband and Balls appear in a rush to spend outrageous sums of money which they don't even have. Does that worry you? It scares the living daylights out of me! Are people really considering returning these gamblers to power? Time will tell but after three years in opposition, Labour has yet to make one policy announcement which demands my attention by it's originality or by it's intellectual novelty.
The Coalition support for the housing market may yet see the bubble bursting again but at least they have attempted to control the growth. The growth in the economy under the Coalition has been steady. Under Labour in 1997, it was stratospheric but much of that was due to the foundations laid down by John Major. The speed of growth was instrumental in the size of the collapse in 2008.
And then there's the small matter of Europe. While many in his own party urge Miliband to back an EU referendum, he remains vehemently opposed. If there is one policy which will exert a huge effect on the outcome of the election in 2015, it is undoubtedly Europe. Nigel Farage has the contest sewn up as I write because he alone has been honest with the electorate. Cameron has tied his promise up with too many ifs, buts and maybes. To address the current housing shortage, building new houses fails to identify one of the biggest causes. By it's own admission, this Government and all of it's predecessors, have absolutely no idea about the scale of immigration to the UK. Immigration is fine by me along as we know how much we are getting. How on earth can we run our country form Central or Local Government when we don't actually know how many people there are?That is absurd. If he chooses to distance himself from the EU debate, Miliband will be the loser by it. This is not a subject the UK electorate are prepared to ignore any longer. Just as the Ukrainians demonstrate to seek greater EU involvement, the people of the UK are seeking the precise opposite. The choice for Miliband and the other party leaders is this; get involved with the debate or get left behind.