While all attention is on Scotland, preparations are ongoing for a vital party conference season.
Ed Miliband heads into the final party conference before the election with an opportunity to win but without the commanding lead in the polls he might have hoped for. As a recently-elected Labour councillor in the “unchangeable” Tory borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, I know all too well that the polls can’t always be trusted.
Over the summer, Ed changed the game in two ways. Firstly, by appealing to voters on a personal level, embracing his exceptional ability to take a bad photograph and secondly, by providing distinct policy differentiation from the Tories through the clever and honest #thechoice campaign.
However, it would seem that neither of these have been decisive. Instead, the Government’s real pressure points remain those that are self-inflicted. Backbench head banging on Europe, defections to UKIP and a Scottish electorate flirting with independence are causing the biggest headaches for the Tory leadership.
Ed’s opportunity is clear. He needs to seize the moment, showing off Labour’s offer against a backdrop of Tory woes. The problems that the Labour Party have taken on are those that the country finds itself inflicted with under a coalition government. They’re easily identified: a cost-of-living crisis with austerity measures hitting low and middle income families and people on benefits, jobs that don’t pay the living wage, unaffordable rents, lack of educational choice post-16 and an ailing NHS.
Ed has offered attractive solutions for four out of five of these problems. Frozen energy prices, a living wage, technical apprenticeships for the ‘forgotten 50%’ of young people and tighter regulation of rent prices. There is, however, a notable absentee: The NHS.
My bet is on Ed delivering a headline-grabbing policy to build a healthier NHS; it’s a keystone in Labour’s history and the polls continually show mistrust around Tory intentions. By leaving the NHS to now – an iconic element of Britain that David Cameron built his party’s rebrand around – Ed is saving his strongest play until last.
An NHS commitment will complete a set of policies that support change and choice. Ed must draw together a narrative for these individual policies into an unwavering vision for the future of this country and critically he must inspire. It’s only by crafting such a vision that Ed can counter the Tories’ narrative of a ‘long-term economic’ plan and in doing so, will move the Party into a strong place for the 2015 General Election, showing the public that when it comes to choosing their next Government, there is a real #choice.
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