Ed Miliband is stuck in his comfort zone. He began his week in Brighton saying that he wanted to bring back socialism. He ended it with a 1970s-style pledge to freeze fuel bills for 20 months. No wonder Neil Kinnock said he loved the Labour leader’s speech and capped that by hugging his latest successor.
Other measures – forcing companies to take on apprentices if they hire a foreign worker, an end to the so-called “bedroom tax”, more cash for childcare and working mothers, promises of 200,000 more houses a year, tax cuts for small firms paid for by tax rises for big firms – all have a distinctly retro feel.
Ed is playing to the core vote (all 35 per cent of them). The enthusiastic response to his speech in the hall from his activists and his union foot-soldiers tells you one thing – his bizarre pledge to restore socialism was not entirely a slip of the tongue. But Middle England won’t be dancing in the streets of Reigate tonight.
As I pointed out the other day, there is method in Ed’s politics of envy. If he can score 35 per cent of the vote at the next election, with the Liberals in meltdown and the Right split between the Tories and UKIP, Ed can sneak over the winning line.
And if he can pull off the breathtaking stunt of transforming a debate about growth and recovery into one about living standards, he will deserve a gold medal for sheer cheek.
A few caveats. The ‘buy a foreign worker, pay for an apprentice’ package is already unravelling. Business has condemned it. And it falls foul of European law unless the apprenticeships are offered right across the EU.
The energy pledge also looks pretty tenuous. Surely, the threat of a price freeze from an incoming Labour government in 2015 to 2017 means price rises now as energy companies seek to pre-empt the Miliband terror?
Ed’s true legacy may be to rack them up even before he faces the electorate. And what happens after January 2017 when the price cap comes off? Mayhem, most likely.
He might also like to reflect on his own role in pushing up gas and electricity prices when, as Energy Secretary, he was zealous in pursuing the so-called green agenda. Scrapping pointless carbon targets would be a far better way of cutting bills for customers.
More generally, the Labour leader is struggling against three big negatives. First, the public rate David Cameron far higher as a national leader. Second, as the McBride book has shown, Miliband is a prisoner of the past, both in terms of personalities and in terms of the electorally toxic legacy of the financial crash of 2008. Third, how does a party of the Left grub for votes when there is no money in the kitty?
Banker bashing (funding the extra childcare hours out of a higher bank levy) has its limits. Clobbering energy firms is a relatively new departure (it is 16 years since Gordon Brown’s £5 billion windfall tax on the privatised ultilities ) but even if it works, it cannot amount to much of an electoral bribe. One last hope is the £50 billion credit card also known as HS2. Ed Balls clearly has that in his sights. But where else is the cash coming from for the ballot box sweeteners that are Labour’s stock in trade?
Ed is holed up with a sizeable and loyal bunch of Tory-hating supporters with no where else to go. But will they prove enough to give him victory?