UK Politics

Miliband keeps focus on living standards

Ed Miliband Image copyright Getty Images

It may be the day Labour is launching its campaign for the local and European elections, but no one is talking about councils or Brussels.

That's because Ed Miliband has chosen this moment to open a new front in the argument over the cost of living - the issue which he believes will deliver victory at next year's general election.

It began with the autumn offensive on energy prices and a promise to freeze gas and electricity bills until 2017.

Then we had pledges on further controls on rail fares, plus some less specific promises around the cost of home insurance.

The leadership regards the energy policy as a significant success. And despite the return of economic growth, it believes people will still feel their standard of living has not returned to what it was before the government came to power.

Enemies

Today's announcement on private rents is an attempt to tap into a sense that housing is increasingly unaffordable - whether it is renting or buying.

It is also part of the "rip-off Britain" theme that Ed Miliband has pursued - styling unscrupulous and greedy landlords as a manifestation of so-called predatory capitalism.

So what are the risks for him in pursuing the cost-of-living issue so single-mindedly?

First, the obvious one. Come next year and, with another year of economic growth under the country's belt, people might feel more optimistic than he thinks they will. The voters might have had enough of doom and gloom and be unreceptive to a message predicated on someone telling them how miserable things are.

Second, his solutions - be they energy freezes or rent controls - make enemies of some powerful interests. Mr Miliband knows this and is attempting to make a virtue of it, but it risks being divisive and could make reform harder in practice.

So the policies just might not work.

Third, his opponents will do all they can to portray this kind of interventionism as a return to an old-style, left-wing command economy philosophy - Red Ed in tooth and claw!

Whether he succeeds or not, one thing seems clear: we will have a debate about the economy over the next year which pitches genuinely distinct visions against one another.