Vote Labour and we'll carry on

Britain's Labour Party and its leader Ed Miliband seem to be making themselves into a replica of the party they wish to defeat in the next election, writes Mark Steel.

Labour Party leader Ed MilibandLabour Party leader Ed Miliband

AT LAST, the Labour Party leaders are revealing their election strategy with a vote coming by May 2015. They've announced they'll stick to the current Conservative-led government's spending plans, and the current government's welfare cap.

Next week, Ed Miliband will announce: "The British people are sick and tired of the way this government runs the country, and that's why we promise to do everything exactly the same. There are so many things they've ruined, which is why I assure you categorically we will keep ruining the same things. THAT is the exciting prospect we will be putting to the British people in 2015."

As the election draws near, Labour will become more specific, until Miliband says: "To show how responsible we have become, we promise that if we win the election, for the first two years, we'll let the Tories carry on as the government. We'll even go on holiday so as not to get in their way, on a cruise round the fjords so we won't even be able to get back quickly if we get the urge. THAT is how much you can trust us with the economy."

Many great inspiring speeches in the past have used this technique. That's why so many people were moved by Martin Luther King Jr., when he said: "I have a dream, to keep everything pretty much as it is. I have looked into the valley, brothers and sisters, and seen a world in which we don't bother trying to change any of the laws as they're all in place now, and you don't want to get a reputation for making a fuss. Will you join me in that struggle, my people, will you join me?"

The peculiar side of Labour's announcements is that bits of them do challenge the ideas of the Coalition government. For example, the part about housing benefit did suggest that landlords are at least partly responsible for the levels of rent that are set by landlords.

But these were buried underneath the sections such as sticking to the Coalition's welfare cap, which were designed to make the headlines. It's daft enough that there are Conservatives in this country who are still scared of a Labour government, but even more baffling is that Labour is scared of itself.

So Ed Miliband had to include in his speech an insistence that he wouldn't tolerate "worklessness passed from generation to generation," probably in response to Iain Duncan Smith's complaint about families in which "three generations have never worked."

But according to a survey by the Rowntree Foundation, only 0.1 percent of households have two generations that have never worked, and they couldn't find a single one, anywhere, in which three generations have never worked.

So the government and opposition are arguing about who's most able to defeat a problem that doesn't exist. Maybe Ed can insist on looking just as tough on other non-existent problems. He can announce at the Labour conference: "I assure the hard-working families of Britain that I will not allow, under any circumstances, one single area of Dorset to be overrun by pumas. I know some people will say 'surely it won't matter if a few of them swarm across Lyme Regis,' but I'M NOT HAVING IT, and, furthermore, no puma in the region under a Labour government will receive ONE penny of housing benefit."

Then he can assure us that there will be no public money spent on teaching kids Quidditch, or on local councils paying for Justin Bieber to sing the agenda at the start of parish meetings, and we'll know he's right hard on spending.

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YOU GET a sense of how frightened of themselves the Labour leaders are from the comments made by Mervyn King, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England. He said the public had "every right to be angry about bankers," and he was "surprised more people weren't angry sooner."

This is the chief banker, admitting that he was thinking, "Oh, come on, chuck something at us, how much provocation do you need, you wimps?" Similarly, a survey this week revealed a majority of senior bankers say there are still "excessive rewards" being paid to those running the banks.

Soon the bankers, and those responsible for the $38 billion lost each year through tax avoidance, will say: "Please someone stop us robbing you like this. We've taken so much now we want to be caught, so we can be treated. Don't keep blaming nonexistent three-generation-unemployed families, it's our fault." And Ed Balls will reply: "I know a way to cut spending. I assure everyone that for the first 12 years of a Labour government we will spend no money on wheelchairs. If anyone's desperate, they can build themselves a trolley out of Corn Flakes packets and a Tupperware dish."

The most tragic bit might be that the strategy is designed, in part, to soften the attacks on Labour by the press. But these announcements probably won't even do that. Labour could make a statement that they were spending absolutely nothing ever again, and local councils would be run by Tibetan monks who only ate fallen fruit and teachers would be made to forage for squirrels. And the same newspapers would scream that Labour were planning to steal your pension and take your floorboards as tax, and make your granny go on the game and give the money to a family that's lived in a two-mile wide plasma screen television since 45 BC.

A better strategy might be for Ed Miliband to hire a boxing trainer, and every time Ed gets up to speak, he can hear the trainer behind him saying: "Stand up for yourself, son. Go on, stand up for yourself."

First published at the Independent.