Considering the BBC's problems at the moment, it wasn't the best idea for the new Newsnight editor to "accidentally" tweet how boring Rachel Reeves was on the programme last night. That no one who actually saw the segment featuring the Labour shadow treasury spokesman could possibly disagree doesn't matter when this was quite obviously bias in its most latent form, and the party richly deserved the apology it quickly received. Little things like objectivity simply don't enter into such proceedings. True, the fault doesn't so much lie with the person as it does with Katz and his underlings: Reeves has never been anything other than stultifingly dull; expecting her to have suddenly become devastatingly witty and incisive in analysis was asking a bit much.
The problem for Labour is that Reeves is the rule rather than the exception. For all the silliness of the summer and whispering against Ed, the party appears listless. If it wasn't for Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Chris Bryant, all of whom, love them or loathe, can make an impact, things would be even worse. With the party having to drop the investigation into what did or didn't happen in Falkirk after those accusing Unite of skulduggery withdrew their evidence, it looks increasingly like the response from the party had been drawn up for just such an eventuality. Unable to back down without giving yet more ammunition to the Tories, having pretty much put a "kick me" sign on their own backs already, the media were clearly hoping Miliband was going to be received at the TUC much like a bank note campaigner at a police station.
Predictably enough, the brothers didn't oblige. Not that this was down to Miliband winning over his audience with the sheer force of his argument, as err, he didn't bother to make one. Listening to Ed you wouldn't think this was about the breaking of the historic link with the unions, the very organisations that created the party in the first place; no, this was about a "change", an "exciting idea" that would lead not to 200,000 Labour members but 500,000, a genuine, living breathing movement! Who could disagree with that? How the "change" would work in practice, whether it would mean a funding shortfall for Labour or a loss of influence on either side wasn't up for discussion.
Instead Ed delivered what has become his standard speech. Yes, the opening was lively enough, with a fairly spirited attack on Cameron for something he might have said, as frankly I can't recall Dave describing the trade union movement as a "threat to our economy", at least in those exact terms, but then it just descended into the One Nation mush that has become the Labour's leader boilerplate message. We still of course don't know what a One Nation Labour party is, as it looks unbelievably similar to the one we had prior to Ed deciding appropriating the old Tory mantle was a good wheeze. After all, the policies are the same, the ministers are the same, and the message is the same. Ed could have delivered his speech today at any point this year or last, and yet the closing section seems like something approaching the sort of pitch Miliband will have to make prior to the election. It doesn't just come across as that word, weak, it's completely and utterly lacking.
As George Osborne tried to set out yesterday, however risibly, the coalition now has that horrible thing, a narrative. The recovery is real, Labour wanted us to change course, they can't be trusted. It might yet become a bit more subtle, and it seems likely there's going to be some movement on living standards, whether through alterations to the minimum wage or otherwise, but that's essentially going to be the message over the next year and a half as long as the economy keeps growing. It's still going to be an uphill struggle for the Tories to win a majority when the odds are stacked against them, yet stranger things have surely happened. Miliband could be the next prime minister, but he's starting to leave it late on why he deserves to be and how his party would govern better than the current shower. A good place to start would be sacking his current speech writer. And letting Reeves loose on the TV sparingly.
Labels: BBC, Ed Miliband, Ian Katz, Labour, Len McCluskey, New Labour, Newsnight, politics, Rachel Reeves, trade unions, TUC, Unite