Week 27: Prat – Ed Miliband

by Jackie_South on July 6, 2014

Labour_PratThis week, the Labour leader picks up our award for being the biggest prat of the last seven days

Ed Miliband has been a little lucky to avoid this award for the last ten months: there have been several occasions when his name came up for consideration by our panel. In truth, as the token Labour loyalist on the board, I have been reluctant for us to join the mob of braying Tories and Blairites queuing up to mock him.

But that patience has been tested beyond its breaking point this week. Miliband gave in to the Blairite whisperers who have been urging him to be more “pro-business” and came up with a stupid compromise on the public provision of rail services that reeked of the old Third Way Fudge. That Fudge, you may recall was something Blair was a master of: given the choice between taking a left and right position on an issue, he would attempt to ‘triangulate’ by doing something that at first glance seemed to be a halfway compromise between them, which on closer inspection ended up being a lot closer to the more right-wing one.

And so it has come to pass with rail. Most of the public want to see rail franchises brought back under public control. The Coalition Parties have no real argument to the contrary. It is even a policy that doesn’t need a lot of money, as all it needs is not to re-tender the franchises when the current contracts come to an end. This one is a clear no-brainer for a party of the left.

But of course the No Brainer faction have been out on manoeuvres: Mandelson’s recent performance on Newsnight calling for Miliband to be seen as more pro-business being but one example. And so on Thursday news emerged that Labour planned to significantly water down the idea. Instead of just taking back control of lines as their franchises ended one by one, the tenders will all be re-let, only with the state being able to bid along with private companies.

Given that a bid costs in the region of £5m each for current private sector competitors, that is a potential bill of £35m for the seven franchises due to come up during the 2015-20 administration. That’s £35m that would not have to be paid at all if the original concept had been kept, with no guarantee that any would be successful. It also creates a problem where any unsuccessful company could cry foul (and run off to the courts), claiming that it was unfair for government to both pitch for a franchise and take the decision on awarding it.

So, we look like having a policy that manages to be simultaneously less popular, less left-wing, more expensive and more prone to legal challenge. Way to go, Ed.

No wonder so many in the party are up in arms.

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