With the dust now settled on Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool I’m going to add my reflections to the many that have come from left and right.
At present the only aspect of the speech that is of any lasting importance is the call for a more interventionist approach to economic policy. Whether this ends up being a cornerstone of a coherent Labour approach to politics will depend on Labour’s policy wonks over the coming years.
The one hard policy to emerge from the Labour conference doesn’t augur well in this respect. The call to cap tuition fees at £6000 per year smacks more of short-term opportunism than a long-term vision for society. It’s already been dismissed as small beer even by those who continue to oppose tuition fees.
If Labour strategists are intent on capitalising on the problems of the Liberal Democrats then picking up on the idea of having worker representation on private companies’ remuneration committees seems like a step towards a more fruitful approach. This policy is something that was explicitly rejected by social democrats like Tony Crosland on the basis that it undermined the role of the trades unions. The old Liberal party, on the other hand, called repeatedly for this and other forms of worker democracy in the decades following world war 2. Taking up this agenda now looks credible as a means of making Labour attractive towards radical-minded people who currently or have recently supported the Liberal Democrats.
The approach that Ed Miliband appears to be flirting with isn’t a return to the social democracy of the past (as Martin Kettle has argued), but rather an attempt to seize the radical liberalism of the post-Lloyd George Liberal Party.
Ironically, the last Labour leader who claimed to have been an heir to Lloyd George et al was Tony Blair. The mere mention of Blair’s name was booed by the audience in Liverpool.