Dear Ed…

Ed Miliband is in a spot of trouble. We all know it. He knows it. He might still win the next election but nobody seems to be sure what will happen at the moment. If you want Labour to win the next election, and I do, then you’d expect there to be a few more positive signs. The conservative strategy of appealing to a core vote, hoping people who voted Lib Dem last time will vote for you (perhaps return to you) this time, and the Tory vote will be hit by UKIP isn’t looking too promising if the aim is a reasonable majority.

 

The problem isn’t policy. Ed has lots of it, much more than either of the coalition parties when it comes to a manifesto for the next election, and despite the “Red Ed” tag his sensibilities seem to be more in line with the electorate than most of the press are prepared to give him credit for. I also think he’s got more right than wrong and made decisive and brave stands on key issues. Murdoch, phone hacking, the press — that doesn’t get mentioned much now, does it? There’s more talk about him being geeky, as evidenced by his alleged inability to eat a bacon sandwich in a way the press can endorse.

 

Ed isn’t going to turn the press round on whether he can pass the bacon sandwich test, which is pretty crucial when it comes to deciding if someone can make big decisions on foreign policy. What he needs is someway of turning what is an apparent disadvantage into a positive. Here’s my suggestion.

 

There was segment on Newsnight during the week about the parliament buildings (iplayer link). They’re basically falling down and it’s reached the point where something needs to be done. There are number of options on the table: build something new, restore it gradually so MPs can stay there while it’s done, restore it in one go but that would involve MPs having to decamp somewhere else among them. Restoring the building will be expensive; billions of pounds, in fact. It’s historically important so understandably you can’t just get any old person in to bodge it. A decision needs to be made but nobody will do anything until after the next election, largely because of the cost issue.

 

Tristram Hunt was involved in the segment. He’s often but not always reasonably sensible, though in this case he basically said “look, I bloody love my office and I want to stay there” then suggested MPs get to go on holiday around the country — including to York, a place I can recommend highly — for a month every year while the repairs are done. This got me thinking. Surely Ed can turn this latter idea into something more substantial? Here’s my suggestion.

 

Ed should refuse to let MPs kick this can down the road. What he should do is say we need to do something now. The building needs to be saved. That’s not an issue. What is an issue is whether MPs should stay in it and when. Ed should suggest MPs shouldn’t stay in the building and that parliament should be moved somewhere else permanently. Here’s the clever bit: parliament should be moved to somewhere else in the country. Anywhere but somewhere in the midlands or north like Manchester or Birmingham. Why? A massive issue at the moment is the disconnect between Westminster politics and pretty much everywhere outside the M25. It’s something UKIP are benefitting from. Ed should say he’d deal with this by moving parliament somewhere else. In the process, there’d be a multiplier effect. We’ve said we’d improve transport infrastructure in the rest of the country, says Ed. People are sceptical of that. Well, this is how serious we are about it: we’re going to move so things will definitely get better.

 

There would be further important benefits, of course. There’d be a welcome erosion of London’s power, in that politics would move somewhere else. And it’s something that would certainly go some distance to reconnecting politics with the world outside the capital. There’d also be an opportunity to redesign the parliament building, making it less adversarial and perhaps more cooperative via a horseshoe design. Ed could turn that to his advantage too, arguing that the pantomime politics of PMQs etc is putting people off. What we need is debate and discussion that doesn’t involve people throwing insults at each other and waving bits of paper, what we need is serious discussion that reflects a new multi-party world.

 

A new building somewhere else would probably be cheaper than restoring Westminster.

 

You’re welcome, Ed.

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