Fourteen weeks until May's general election and the brouhaha at Prime Minister's question time in the House of Commons Wednesday revolved around Cameron pressing opposition leader Ed Miliband to confirm or deny if he had said he intended to 'weaponise the NHS' during the election campaign.
But Miliband obfuscated and squirmed and neither confirmed nor denied he had used the W word. Quite why the leader of the opposition would feel any disgrace in admitting that he had used a nifty bit of slang to describe his party's policy of attacking on a vital issue on which the coalition is perceived as failing massively is anyone's guess.
Had Miliband simply 'fessed to the use of the word he might have found a few eyebrows raised in respect, especially had he added, 'And you're a bit of a weapon yourself, Dave'. Yet the mystifying rules of political engagement determining what is acceptable – it is okay to spend millions on discrediting your opponents via the billboards and the negative campaigning which is just about to erupt across the nation, but it is not okay to use an inoffensive slang word in a closed room – dictate that Miliband felt the need to side-step the issue. A thing which in my opinion is not what he should be doing.
Now first I'll confess to actually preferring a politician devoid of sociopathic slickness, a politician who stumbles like some bookish Ewok through whatever public test is presented to them. And I'll also confess to preferring mumbly Ed to his shiny brother David, with all his Blairite triangulations and sketchy voting record. But despite those qualifications, Ed needs to get on the front foot.
He doesn't just need to weaponise the NHS. He also needs to start weaponising the standard of living. Because the Tories statistical sophistry would have us believe that austerity has worked, that we have benefited from our prolonged sub-dom fiscal session. Inflation is down and under control, they say. Unemployment is down too. We took George's Marvellous Medicine and now we are seeing the benefits. That's the gathering narrative. And Miliband needs to start puncturing this perception before it takes hold.
Because what contradicts the Tory fairy-tale is the deficit - forecast to stand at £91 billion, a mere £54 billion above where Osborne claimed it would be – but also how the majority feel. Most people don't feel they are sharing in this recovery. They feel under austerity that economic sleight of hand managed to transfer wealth away from the poor and over to the rich. They feel that the jobs that have been created are plastic jobs, that rents are too high, and that food banks are real things whose reality is uncomfortably close. That's what Miliband needs to weaponise, because if he doesn't then the political narrative will slip lazily back into its clichéd old grooves with the Tories being trustworthy with the economy and Labour being feckless spenders, and Osborne's selective stats will start to override the real feeling on the ground about what austerity has actually done to the cost of living. So come on Ed, weaponise that.
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