Is Ed Miliband getting ‘redder’ or does he know what’s popular?
Tory press is coming down on rent controls and rail renationalisation – but Labour has public on side
ED MILIBAND is being tagged ‘Red Ed’ again by the Conservative-supporting media after calling for action to protect ‘Generation Rent’ from exploitative landlords and refusing to rule out the partial re-nationalisation of the railways. But what the headlines don’t tell you is that Miliband’s policies are popular: indeed, if focus group research wasn’t showing a demand for such measures, he wouldn’t be proposing them.
Grant Shapps, the Tory party chairman, set the ball rolling last week when he claimed Miliband’s call for measures to make private sector rented housing more affordable – capping rent rises and making three-year tenancies the norm - echoed the late barmy lefty South American president Hugo Chavez. Shapps accused Miliband of adopting “Venezualan-style rent controls”.
On Saturday, the Daily Mail’s Simon Heffer piled in. Under the headline ‘How Ed’s getting redder by the minute’, he accused Miliband of being no more than a student union politician who, if he is elected in 2015, promises a return to “the wretched days of Seventies statism”.
Heffer won’t be the last commentator to remind us that when Miliband was asked by a man in the street last year when he would bring back socialism, he replied: “That is what we are doing, sir.”
His article was accompanied by a photograph of Miliband in a Cold War-style Russian fur hat with a badge on the front. At least that was better than the mock-up of Ed in a Gary Glitter outfit (back to the 1970s, geddit?) offered the next day by the Mail on Sunday alongside an article asking: ‘Why is Ed determined to drag us all back to the 1970s?’
Not to be outdone, the Daily Express had Leo McKinstry writing yesterday: “Born in 1969 he [Miliband] is literally a child of the 1970s and seems never to have escaped the disastrous Left-wing ideology of that era. He does not try to disguise his doctrinaire convictions…” McKinstry concludes lamely: “Not for nothing has Miliband long been known as ‘Red Ed’.”
The Downing Street spin-doctors are no doubt rubbing their hands in glee at how well this is all going: as well as paving the was for the 2015 election it could even kill two birds with one stone and scare off some voters in this month’s EU and local elections.
But how long will it be before those self-same spin-doctors are having to find a way to sell the public the Tory solution to ever-rising private sector rents?
The fact is Labour is responding to research that shows not only that rent controls are popular – 56 per cent back them, according to a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times – but that Miliband’s proposals persuade could swing voters in Tory marginal seats to back Labour.
Opinion polling for the campaign organisation Generation Rent by ComRes shows that scores of Tory MPs in marginal seats are vulnerable to private tenants withdrawing their support. Among such tenants, ComRes has Labour on 46 per cent, Conservatives 23, Lib Dems 12 and Ukip 11.
But the key finding was that around a third of renters identified themselves as potential swing voters. Generation Rent came up with a list of 86 constituencies where the private renter swing vote is greater than the parliamentary majority. Of these, 56 Tory-held seats would be lost on swings of only four per cent.
Which is why David Cameron cannot write off the issue of exorbitant rents.
As Andrew Rawnsley wrote in The Observer on Sunday: “On past form – you may recall the response when the Labour leader came up with his freeze on energy bills – the following will happen. We will have a few days of Tories echoing their party chairman by denouncing Mr Miliband as a crazed red who cribs his policies from Hugo Chavez, then a few days of panic at Number 10 when his pollsters inform David Cameron that the Labour promise is rather popular with their focus groups, and then the coalition will play me-too catch-up and try to scrabble together its own offer.”
As for the railways, when Miliband got a chance to get in a word in - on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday – he refused to rule out the re-nationalisation of the train operating companies (TOCs) – but he made it clear Labour was considering only a partial return to state control. (Veteran lefty Lord Prescott believes it could be done gradually without legislation to renationalise the railways, simply by not renewing the train operating companies’ franchises.)
The signing of a letter to The Observer 31 Labour candidates calling for TOCs to be taken back by the state might suggest that this is Ed getting red again, as the Mail would have it. But, again, look at the polling.
A YouGov survey conducted last November when Miliband’s promise of an energy prize freeze was topping the headlines showed that 66 per cent of voters support the state taking control of the railways again. Even among Conservative voters a majority – 52 per cent – backed re-nationalisation.
Is it Miliband who’s getting redder? Or is it the electorate calling for a fairer way forward?