For most of this parliament, Labour have been pursuing what they refer to behind the scenes as the “35% strategy”. The logic of it is that Labour only needs that percentage of the vote or thereabouts to win a majority. The theory is faulty in many respects, not least of which is that it doesn’t matter what percentage of the vote you get in the British electoral system so much as where you get it. I have complained about its lack of wisdom so many places I’m not going to bother linking you to any of them. I wouldn’t know which one to pick for reference.
But given this is Labour’s strategy, yesterday’s Bloomberg speech by Ed Miliband at least makes sense within its context. The worst thing about the 35% strategy is that Labour have constantly gone against the very logic of the strategy itself. It has consistently failed to offer things up to ex-Lib Dems/Lib Dem waverers, as a crucial for instance.
The reason for Miliband’s speech was to launch Labour’s business manifesto. It had a lot in it about Europe; specifically the importance of Britain’s continued presence in the EU and how Cameron’s very own Bloomberg pledge to hold an In/Out referendum is a “recipe for chaos”. This is, at long last, some intelligent positioning by Labour, taking the upside for previous positioning at the same time.
In 2013, I recall the lead up to Miliband’s speech at Labour conference in Brighton was all about whether or not Ed was going to pledge to hold an In/Out referendum himself. A lot of people seemed convinced this was what Ed was going to do, and most of the Labour people I spoke to thought it was something he had to do. But he didn’t then (and everyone forgot all about Europe after Ed’s energy price freeze pledge) and never subsequently did. This was a very smart move, and is paying dividends now. Within the 35% strategy, playing the pro-EU card is very Lib Dem wooing friendly. It also has the advantages of both being pro-business – something Labour desperately needs a bit of – and attacking Cameron on his weakest front, i.e. that if he becomes Prime Minister he could unintentionally wreak havoc on the country by taking us out of most of our key trade agreements. Particularly as Cameron’s “renegotiation” seems more and more ephemeral.
The timing of the speech is also, for once, perfect. After that four point YouGov lead presented over the weekend, the business community is going to have to start taking the Miliband as PM idea seriously. By presenting them with the biggest upside from their perspective – no EU referendum to have to fund/weather the market through – Miliband may have helped his cause with them immeasurably. They’ll still be wishing for a Tory led government again – just – but being presented with a rather large upside to a Labour led government can only help quell the “Labour are anti-business” rhetoric of the Conservatives.
For once, I can say the following: nice move, Ed.