The real problem with #EdStone is that Miliband cannot be sure he will be able to deliver

We are all sneering – myself included – at Ed Milliband’s decision to inscribe a monolith with 6 election pledges. Even the Labour-supporting Guardian has likened it to Neil Kinnock’s Sheffield Rally.

Preposterous as this seems, I suspect that the intended message – that they are really serious about these pledges – may nonetheless seep through, while politicians and reporters clutch their aching sides, to the wider public.

And here lies the bigger problem. I strongly advise Ed not to make pledges that he cannot be certain he would be able to keep. What are these pledges:

1. A strong economic foundation Not a stronger economy – another promise to abolish boom and bust – but I guess the potential to be a stronger economy. Usually this means flexible product and labour markets, “structural reforms”, reformed public services, low borrowing, though that doesn’t seem to be Ed’s agenda. Don’t we already have the potential to be a strong economy? Can Ed deliver on not wrecking that? Perhaps.

2. Higher living standards for working families Unlike 1, this does amount to a promise to abolish boom and bust. Now we probably aren’t (in my view) due another recession in 2015-2020, but it could happen and if it does, living standards will fall. Though when people lose their jobs, there will be fewer “working families” whose living standards count for the pledge.

3. An NHS with time to care This is intended just to underline Labour’s policy of inadequately funding the NHS. However, taken literally, given that the NHS needs £8bn in real terms and £22bn of efficiency savings just to stand still, Ed’s policy is to fail on this up front.

4. Controls on immigration UKIP do have a point that we don’t control migration to and from France and Poland, just as we don’t control migration between Sheffield and Manchester. Ed could meet this pledge with a U turn on EU membership.

5. A country where the next generation can do better than the last This may seem like another “no more boom and bust” pledge, like number 2, but because it has a generational time span it is much weaker. UK GP grew by 2.5 times between 1990 and 2015 and by 10 times between 1965 and 1990. It would take a monumental calamity for an economy to shrink over this timescale. And the promise is not that the economy will grow over this timescale, merely that it can. So this pledge is merely that monumental economic calamity is not guaranteed.

6. Homes to buy and action on rents How many homes to buy? To be meaningful this would have to be an improvement in the position for first-time buyers. A good ambition but hugely difficult to deliver, and I’ve seen no evidence that this has been thought through. The “action on rents” appears to be something that sounds like rent controls but (thankfully) isn’t really. Meaningful action would be lower rents relative to earnings, but driving landlords out of the business would do the opposite.

So in summary: 1 is weak, 2 is a hostage to fortune, 3 and 4 are already planned to fail, 5 is so weak as to be meaningless, 6 is probably some combination of planned failure, hostages to fortune and spin.

Tragically, the gimmickry has distracted us from this. Ed Miliband has had a hard time over his gaucheness, but frankly gaucheness is no big deal and it serves him well as a distraction from just how weak his ideas are.

The tablet of stone may be a bad gimmick, but it means nobody seems to have noticed that these are terrible, terrible pledges to make.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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30 Comments

  • SMART

    Specific
    Measurable
    Achievable
    Realistic
    Time bound

    Fails on all counts

  • Nick Collins 4th May '15 - 1:32pm

    All very amusing , Joe. But are not Clegg’s “red lines” equally thin?

  • @Nick Collins
    Probably, but the electorate Already know Clegg can be relied upon to break his pledges!

  • Eddie Sammon 4th May '15 - 1:49pm

    What interests me most is pledge number 5. The left want radical action on climate change and this isn’t really compatible with the next generation doing better than the last. Not to mention public and private debt.

    Miliband’s no compromise position means he will only command the support of about 200 MPs in the house, so I don’t see how he is going to deliver on his pledges either. The SNP might support the Queen’s speech, but once Miliband was in the mayhem would begin.

  • What TCO said. Also the last deliverable part is the promise to erect this monumental folly in the rose garden. He’s clearly not sought planning permission.

  • Malcolm Todd 4th May '15 - 2:11pm

    What TCO and Jennie said.
    The contrast with the 1997 “pledge card” with its meaningful and measurable promises is stark. Even Miliband’s rather vague 2012 version was better than this tosh.

  • Yet another LDV contributor who would rather spend his time imagining what Labour’s pledges mean rather than take literally one minute researching what they actually do mean. (Labour have produced a list of specific policy proposals for every one of the pledges listed so there is no need to make any up.)

    Does anyone know of any good websites where I can read a critique of the Tories? LDV barely mentions them.

  • In all honesty I can’t see how anyone from the lib dems can seriously discuss other parties pledges after what nick clegg did.

  • Joe Otten

    “Was it a Sheffield rally moment – almost certainly not”

    I think that’s how it was worded in the Guardian, not sure that counts as describing it as you do.

  • Lecturing other people on promises is probably not a wise move Joe.

  • Andrew Watson 4th May '15 - 3:47pm

    “We are all sneering.” Really? Speak for yourself (and probably the right wing press, the Mail and the Sun are pretty adept at sneering). If you think Labour are going to collapse (outside Scotland) why have you virtually abandoned campaigning in your marginal seat to try and save our great leader’s bacon in Hallam? Or are you so confident that Central is already in the bag that you can afford to ease off?

  • @Vincethur – why not? If Ed Miliband was smart he’d have learned from Nick’s mistakes. Clearly he isnt. In any case they are ridiculous. Take “controls on immigration” for example. There have always been controls on immigration. Noone other than the Greens proposes to remove them. So what does Ed’s promise mean? Apparently it means more border force officers. So, if Ed hires just one extra border force worker then he has fulfilled his manifest destiny? Rejoice!

  • paul barker 4th May '15 - 4:12pm

    Apart from the slab being ugly & the sort of daft stunt that gives all politics a bad name…. The big problems are that 4 is at best a “clever” fudge, at worst a lie while all the others are meaningless mood music that anyone could agree to. The stone is probably polystyrene.

  • “Take ‘controls on immigration’ for example. There have always been controls on immigration. Noone other than the Greens proposes to remove them. So what does Ed’s promise mean?”

    Why don’t you ask that question to Google? You will find the answer easily.

  • Gimmicks, Twitter, Lynton Crosby and other so-called experts shipped in from other continents,.

    What a depressing election — and I don’t even know the result yet.

    As for Mr Miiband’s stone. It is a work of political sophistication and genius compared to a visit to a Hedgehog Sanctuary .

    I am sick of all party leaders finger painting with small children, kissing lambs, getting “pumped up” whatever that is supposed to mean, Putting on high vis jackets and hard hats, pretending to lay bricks, walking around factories they have never visited before and will never visit again. Who thought that the Blue Peter approach to TV was a suitable way to portray political leaders in 2015?

  • paul barker 4th May ’15 – 4:12pm ……………Apart from the slab being ugly & the sort of daft stunt that gives all politics a bad name………………………

    Unlike carrying signed ‘pledges’ to every venue?

    ……………….. The stone is probably polystyrene…………

    How churlish can you get? Even t he Tory papers agree that it’s limestone.

  • jedibeeftrix 4th May '15 - 5:33pm

    @ Stuart – “(Labour have produced a list of specific policy proposals for every one of the pledges listed so there is no need to make any up.)”

    Can you give me the TLDR please, or at least point me to where they match up vague pledges with concrete policies?

    I failed to find the link.

  • Andrew Watson – absolutely. Sneering is not something I usually associate with libdems – just shows how out of touch I seem to be with the mainstream of the party and their PPCs nowadays.

    thankfully NC gave a powerhouse performance (without the sneer) at Citizens UK, which cheered me up a bit.

  • Well it looks as if Clegg will survive…From the Guardian..”Nick Clegg is on course to be saved from defeat in his Sheffield Hallam constituency by a tide of Tory tactical votes, according to a special Guardian/ICM poll conducted in the deputy prime minister’s constituency.
    The poll puts Clegg on 42%, seven points clear of his young Labour rival, Oliver Coppard, who is on 35%. Ian Walker, the candidate for the Conservatives, is on 12%.
    But Clegg achieves his seven-point lead only because almost half the people (48%) who say their nationwide preference is for the Conservatives are planning to support the Lib Dem leader.

    “You can tell a man who boozes by the Company he chooses…etc.
    l

  • Stuart, I did google. The Labour page is very vague. Which is understandable as many voters are married to immigrants or offspring of immigrants and are a bit sick of politicians trying to win votes out of it. There are already controls on immigration, go to the Med and count the bodies that wash up on the shore. At best Miliband is a self loathing hypocrite to try and win votes on immigration, and the least he can do is be specific on what he will change so we can judge the policies rather than the “man”.

  • @expats 4th May ’15 – 6:07pm

    To be fair on the Tories of Hallam, Clegg’s survival is essential if you want a Tory Government.

  • @Alistair
    You must be looking at the wrong page, as the Labour site lists specific policies – there is no room for ambiguity.

    As for the rest of your comment, here’s two facts that may surprise you: 1) The Lib Dems are not opposed to controls on immigration, and have even been known to campaign to that effect, and 2) Poll data suggests that most immigrants and ethnic minorities are themselves in favour of controls of immigration.

  • Bolano 4th May ’15 – 6:14pm ………[email protected] 4th May ’15 – 6:07pm To be fair on the Tories of Hallam, Clegg’s survival is essential if you want a Tory Government……

    And a Tory government is essential to Clegg’s survival

  • Stuart, why do you think would it surprise me to learn that the Lib Dems are in favour of controls on immigration when I just wrote “only the Greens are in favour of removing controls on immigration”? Like air and water and shelter, virtually everyone is in favour of some level of control on immigration, and only Labour felt a burning desire to have it chiselled into a rock.
    Your party has a unveiled a large rock. Perhaps this is for a politician, like a red sports car is for a merchant banker. On it you wrote 6 meaningless statements. If you read other threads you will see I dont much like red lines or pledges wherever they originate from. But you are clearly very very keen on Labour indeed, if you think that there is any merit, in this day and age of writing this rubbish on a large stone. It reminds me of the flintstones. It reminds me of the “Aids, dont die of ignorance” campaign. It reminds me of Asterisk and Obelisk. It reminds me of a gravestone. It doesnt in any way suggest to me I should vote for Labour. Which is ironic as I just voted Green and Labour in my local election as there was no Lib Dem standing. Lets hope the Labour recipients of my vote are less patronising than you. Google “patronising”, knock yourself out (on a large stone).

  • Peter Watson 4th May '15 - 8:01pm

    Regarding the polling in Sheffield Hallam, I am torn. In some ways, I would relish the schadenfreude of seeing Clegg lose the seat and creating a “Portillo moment” for the 21st century. However, I think it would be better for the Lib Dems if it were the party, rather than voters in Sheffield, who passed a verdict on the last five years of Coalition government. Whether the party decides to stick with Clegg or to replace him, it will either be a clear endorsement of his record or a decisive change in direction. A vacuum at the top of the party on 8 May just seems like a recipe for confusion and conflict.

  • David Allen 4th May '15 - 8:29pm

    “Whether the party decides to stick with Clegg or to replace him, it will either be a clear endorsement of his record or a decisive change in direction.”

    Well, the party has repeatedly endorsed Clegg through thick and thin (or to be more accurate, through thin and thin). Why should it change now?

    One reason might be – In order to preserve the Right in control. If I was one of the Orange Book funders, I might reason thus:

    Clegg after eight years can be asked to resign quickly and gracefully, and that might be better than having to fight off a challenger. If Clegg hangs on, while the centre-left throw mud, then the centre-left might gain some real traction. That would never do. Better to pay Clegg off somehow or other, and then have a nice civilised leadership contest in which Lamb or Davey can pose as a “decisive change in direction”. Once one of them gets elected, of course, we funders will make it clear to the “party leader” that a change in direction is not permissible.

  • SIMON BANKS 5th May '15 - 9:44am

    They seem incredibly vague to me, so that it would be very hard to prove either that they’d been honoured or that they’d been dishonoured. Contrary (a bit) to what Eddie says, the next generation “doing better than the last” does not necessarily mean them being wealthier. It could mean doing better than the last in not throwing away plastic bags, or doing better than the last at the World Cup.

    Labour wants to underline its policy of inadequately funding the NHS? Brave of them.

  • Tony Miller 5th May '15 - 3:20pm

    Why has it been called the #Edstone? Surely it’s more likely to turn out to be a #Millstone, yet another symptom of gesture politics remembered for its banality rather than for any meaningful or measurable political vision. Andrew Rawnsley said it all in last Sunday’s Observer.

  • @David Allen would you like a trip to the Orange Book secret island base? I’d be glad to show you around.

  • Joe you posted a frightening statistic “UK GP grew by 2.5 times between 1990 and 2015 and by 10 times between 1965 and 1990.”

    This proves that Keynesian economic policies are 4 times better than the neo-liberal economic policies that have become universal.
    From these figures it could be argued that UK GP will only grow by 62.5% between 2015 and 2040. We need to scrape the current way we manage our economy and do things much better.

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