Today Ed Miliband put substance over style. His speech won’t be remembered for its rhetorical flourish. But in his remarks today, Ed set out big, radical goals for changing Britain over a decade. It was the most Fabian speech I’ve ever heard from a Labour leader.
At the start of the year I wrote:
Fabian gradualism is distinct, not because we believe in small footsteps, but because we see them in a strategic context, where many incremental steps can form the road to transformative social and economic change. This is the perspective Labour must rediscover at the start of 2014, for the time to plan for power is fast running out … Labour needs a radical five year programme of government, because nothing else will be sufficient to bring about the structural reforms we need if Britain is to be a fairer, greener, more prosperous country in 20 years’ time.
Well that’s exactly what we got in this speech. Ed set out six fundamental, structural changes that he wants to be the defining goals of his government. Each will take years to achieve, through successive waves of reform. But in each case, to begin the journey, Ed set out a package of reforms that are bold but also achievable. The specifics announced today may not prove sufficient by themselves, but with the goals now locked down, Labour will be able to recharge its batteries in office and go further.
For five out of six of the goals, Ed defined his success criteria for 2025 in precise measurable terms. This is the approach Robert Tinker and I proposed in our recent report Measure for Measure, which called for national economic ambitions relating to middle incomes, low pay, housing, skills and carbon reduction.
This exercise provides a template which we hope will be emulated by others. We would like to see future governments sign up to a set of indicators along the lines proposed in this report to make a clear statement of what matters with respect to the economy … Specifying what success looks like is the first step on the road to a comprehensive strategy for economic reform, as future governments can then work backwards to consider what actions will lead to change of the required direction and magnitude.
Today, like the Fabian he is, Ed laid out a bold vision of a different society and pragmatic, incremental steps to achieving it. But in one respect he failed, because he did not address the question of the public finances. All his commitments are compatible with closing the deficit in the next parliament, but he chose not to say this. As the Fabians’ 2013 Commission on Future Spending Choices showed, long-term transformative politics has to start with hard-headed realism about what the nation can afford.
Yesterday’s speech from Ed Balls was all fiscal prudence and no long-term ambition – today’s from Ed Miliband was the opposite. Labour needs both.