Monday, 26 September 2011

Labour's search for credibility

What Labour really needs out of its conference is the development of a view among voters that it is a credible alternative government. Of course, the first obstacle there is Ed Miliband. Voters do not see him as a credible prime minister in waiting. They think he lacks that indefinable but essential quality, charisma.

The answer of the Labour image makers is to portray Ed Miliband as 'one of us', cue photo opportunities with his children. Apart from the fact that the photos were rather trumped by one of Villa supporting Dave Cameron at the match at Loftus Road with his son, voters do not want prime ministers to be 'one of us'.

They expect them to have an understanding of their problems, but they also expect the prime minister to have qualities that separate him or her from the crowd, a sense of command and authority. Dave Cameron's confidence can shade into the appearance of arrogance and complacency, but he does look as if he is in charge.

When it comes to policy, there is something of a vacuum, reflecting Labour's overly complex policy review. Unfortunately, the first major announcement, capping student fees at £6,000 does not stand up to close scrutinty.

First, it is not clear what its status is. Certainly it is not a manifesto commitment (and what happened to the graduate tax anyway?) Apparently that is still on the agenda.

Second, the cut will only be of benefit to those who earn enough to repay their loans. So better off graduates could find their fees cut. Graduates earning more than £65k a year would have to pay a higher rate of interest on their loans, but in order to raise the required amount, these rates of interest would have to be prohibitively high.

This might seem to be a way of enticing students disllusioned with the Liberal Democrats, but students (and their parents) are going to look at this proposal long and hard.

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