Giving a speech without notes looks impressive. David Cameron did it when he was standing to be Conservative leader in 2005. It won him the contest. Ed Miliband did it yesterday, applying to be the next PM. It’s hard to commit a long speech to memory, and therefore I’m not going to criticise him just for forgetting part of it. We’re all human after all.
What does interest me though is the part of the speech which he forgot to give. It was a passage dealing with the economy in which he was due to promise to continue the present Government’s reduction of the deficit. The fact that he forgot this part tells me that it is not something he truly believes is part of his mission. He probably felt he had to say something about the deficit as he will know that he is trailing David Cameron on the important economic competence indicator. Research shows that the party considered to be best suited to run the national economy well, generally wins the next election.
The fact is that the Labour party front bench is in complete denial about its role in creating the deficit. Ed Miliband was one of Gordon Brown’s chief lieutenants and his fingerprints (and those of Ed Balls) are all over the spending spree which led to our government debt being one of the largest in the developed world. We have never heard an apology for that nor a promise to behave differently if trusted with office again.
Deep down, Miliband does not really think that he and his former boss did anything wrong. He believes in high state spending. Yesterday he promised to spend millions more on the NHS. Let’s not forget that spending on the NHS rose exponentially in the 13 years from 1997 and it was one of the few departmental budgets not cut by the Coalition. If money was ever going to solve Britain’s healthcare problems it would have done so by now. And of course Ed is going to find the extra money by raising taxes. We have heard all this before.
It’s not the memory lapse that bothers me, it is the fact that of all the parts of his speech that he could have forgotten to deliver, it was the one dealing with the deficit which was left out. He forgot it because he doesn’t really believe that addressing the deficit is important. He cannot be trusted with our nation’s economy.
Last week I was back in Spain at our usual haunt near Marbella, and once again I went to have a look at the state of the local shopping streets and the construction industry. Last year (see “End of Austerity?”) I thought I had seen the green shoots of recovery there. This year I was delighted to see that things have improved considerably. There were only one or two shops still looking for tenants and those were in the worst situations. Stalled sites are now building again – on the development where my in-laws own an apartment 24 new houses are being built of which only 5 remain available. Further, if you look in the local rags aimed at the ex-pat market the doom-ridden articles giving advice on how to cash up and go home which I could still find last year have been replaced with the cheerful ones extolling life on the Costas. Optimism is now in the air, albeit that no-one is selling properties at the same levels that you could find 7 or 8 years ago. There is a greater sense of realism and there are still cheap re-possession properties available.
The other countries which are now doing reasonably well are the UK and Ireland. And what do these two plus Spain have in common? Governments of the Right and centre-right which have imposed austerity measures after years of over-spending by left-wing governments which buried their heads in the sand, afraid to stand up to their client groups. Not that it has been easy – Rajoy has had to face down regular protests in Madrid and the youth unemployment in Spain has been horrific. Let us hope that history places the blame for this squarely on the complacent governments which failed to rein in spending, and not on those prudent administrations forced to clear up the mess.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have demonstrated time and again that they have not learned the lesson. It would be a tragedy for Britain if they were allowed, practically by default, to make all the same mistakes again.
I have just come back from my annual trip to Spain (update on the economy down there to follow, as per recent years) to find a stack of emails waiting, asking me (and everyone else on the Candidates’ List and on any other CCHQ list no doubt) to kindly go to Clacton and fight the good fight at the forthcoming by-election. Thus far, the requests have been polite and nothing like the order requiring everyone to go to Newark the Sunday after Easter or else report to Grant Shapps with a copy of the Beano tucked firmly down the back of our trousers.
Somehow I have managed not to meet Douglas Carswell, but I have read quite a lot of his material including The Plan, the proposals he and Dan Hannan put forward just before the last election to increase localism and to re-invigorate political participation. I have generally agreed with him and so his defection to UKIP is particularly galling. It is also inevitably going to be an unwanted distraction from the campaign for the 2015 general election. Journalists at the party conference later this month will be looking to write stories about the by-election and the impact of the result there rather than focussing on the announcements that we would expect to be made about where the party will be going if we manage to secure a majority at Westminster next year.
Like Carswell, I want a referendum on UK membership of the EU in 2017. As things stand I expect to be campaigning alongside Carswell for the UK to leave. But the more votes UKIP takes from the Conservatives next year the less likely it is that there will be a referendum as a Labour government will not allow one. Joining UKIP is an odd choice for a serious Eurosceptic to make.
He has been praised in some quarters for his decision to resign his seat and ask for re-election as a UKIP member. But there is a general election in 8 months’ time: why not resign the Conservative whip now and fight as a UKIPper next year? As things stand his decision to force a by-election will cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in admin costs. Is he going to pay for this himself? Or is the taxpayer, of whose interests he portrays himself as a doughty champion, going to have to foot the bill in order for Douglas Carswell to clear his conscience?