Disagreeing with Andrew Rawnsley: I’m sorry, but Ed Miliband is the very definition of cautious

by Stephen Tall on September 25, 2011

Ever since Alan Watkins’ death, the political commentator to whom I turn first and whose opinion I value most is Andrew Rawnsley. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with him, and today is a case in point.

Here’s the conclusion to his profile of Labour leader Ed Miliband:

… those of his critics who describe Ed Miliband as timid, unimaginative or directionless are not correct. The Labour leader does have a strategy and it is really rather breathtaking in the boldness with which it challenges both conventional wisdom and historical experience. Successfully moving Britain to the left, doing so from opposition at a time of austerity and pulling it off in just one term would be in defiance of both Labour’s past record and the contemporary experience in other European democracies. Whatever you think of Ed Miliband’s strategy, absolutely the wrong word for it is cautious.

Hmmm. I’m sorry, Andrew, but I beg to differ: cautious is the word.

That’s not to say that Ed’s words are not ambitious. I’m sure they are. I’m sure he does dream of moving Britain to the left. I’m sure he will talk a good game.

That, to a large extent, is the fear of Labour supporters such as Dan Hodges, who today characterises Ed Miliband as the UK’s answer to Ralph Nader:

The Nader strategy: I am one of you, not one of them. I will not adapt to gain entry into their world. I will make them adapt, and shape their world view to mine — our — world view. It’s bold, it’s brave, and it’s politically suicidal. But you have to hand it to him. Ed Miliband is the new Ed Cojones.

And yet… What happens when Ed Miliband tries to translate that talk into action? A damp squib, that’s what happens.

Let’s take today’s announcement on tuition fees. As I’ve already highlighted, the actual impact on those from low-income households is zero, nothing, squat.

The only people who will benefit from a cut in tuition fees from £9k to £6k are those who perceive debt to be a real barrier to a university education regardless of the reality, and those who go on to earn in excess of £38,000 a year.

Where is the breathtaking boldness promised us by Andrew Rawnsley? Where are the cojones detected by Dan Hodges?

No, this policy is all about tactics, about triangulating a position that Ed hopes will be a little more popular than the Coalition’s. As was sarcastically remarked in a tweet today:

@robmanuel: Ed Miliband in 1982: Let’s invade 2/3rds of the Falklands.

It’s not that caution is always the wrong approach. Far from it. But to promise bold, breathtaking vision and deliver damp, fuzzy reality — well, that approach really is doomed to failure.

Labour will make no headway Ed’s way.