Miliband - Red or not so Red Ed?
So, who's right about Ed Miliband? Overnight the argument between those calling him Red Ed and those defending him was joined by two of New Labour's key architects - Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.
Lord Mandelson warned that "perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards" pointing out that "at the business department I tried to move on from the conventional choice in industrial policy between state control and laissez-faire".
Campbell tweeted his response: "Peter M wrong re energy policy being shift to left. It is putting consumer first v anti competitive force. More New Deal than old Labour."
It may be possible that both are right. Here's why:
Analyse any of Labour's allegedly anti-business announcements this week and you can make the case that they're not left-wing at all.
- the energy price freeze has been condemned by some as a return to 1970s-style "price controls" but government or regulators already have the power to set the price of water, stamps and, of course, energy
- the "use it or lose it" warning to property developers which some have presented as a "land grab" - has been advocated in the same terms by Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson who backs the compulsory purchase of land which developers choose to leave idle for year after year
- the "one in, one trained" policy which says any employer hiring a skilled non-EU immigrant must also hire an apprentice or pay a training levy is based on West European models of employers working together to tackle the "free rider" problem - firms relying on others to spend money training the workers they will later hire.*
One senior Labour figure pointed out to me that New Labour's big idea before the 1997 election was a "windfall tax" yet no-one had accused Blair and Brown of being Red or left-wing.
Context is all. New Labour took enormous efforts to make themselves the friends of big business. It bought them the space to do things which their new friends didn't much like. Whereas this week Ed Miliband chose to cast himself as "on your side" against big corporate interests and reassured a questioner that bringing back socialism was "what we are doing".
The CBI, IoD, British Chambers of Commerce, Gordon Brown's former trade minister Digby Jones all saw that as an attack on them and responded accordingly.
That's why it's possible - though you may, of course, disagree - that Peter Mandelson is right to warn about the perceptions of Labour policy and Alastair Campbell to insist that the policy is not what it seems.
* That's the case for the defence. The case for the prosecution - which I posed in a question to Ed Miliband yesterday - is that they are all examples of government ordering businesses to do things. Interestingly, he chose to respond not by defending the individual measures but by listing other allegedly pro-business announcements such as a cut in business rates targeted on smaller firms.