Ed Miliband has always been “the underdog”, even since he won the party’s protracted leadership contest at Conference in 2010. That Conference was also held in Manchester. People will necessarily be trying to work out what he has done since last year. The public are irate that their public services are being outsourced, being run incompetently, and key people seem relatively incompetent; the public disgust at A4e, ATOS and G4s, over various incidents, has been enormous. And yet when Ed Miliband talked about how it was simply insufficient that certain corporates make enormous profit without acting responsibly, nobody knew what Ed was talking about. And they still don’t know what Ed is talking about – but Ed knows he’s right, and, in a typically understated way, he just gets on with his business.
Ed Miliband is not unpopular, much to the chagrin of his opponents, and indeed Labour is relatively popular in the opinion polls currently. The media have worn themselves out with quasifeuds between David Miliband and Ed Miliband, and Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, because the media know that if they were take to the moral highground on actual feuds they would be obliged to analyse the highly dysfunction in Coalition dynamics in time-consuming detail.
Ed Miliband has in fact through his Policy Network speech put down a trap for the unwary. Whilst ‘pre-distribution’ is not a new concept, it has a lot of people who will warm to it. Unions will warm to it, because their members might feel valued more through a ‘national living wage’. People who criticise the lack of implementability of the ‘national living wage’ would be best advised to consider that the national minimum wage, under Tony Blair, has been successfully implemented.
It is also a direct attack on the primacy of the City of London. It is indeed interesting to see where this approach sits with members of the former ‘Blue Labour’ initiative. Whilst Chuka Umunna can validly fight for the rights of employers and workers in the workforce, including SMEs, not least because he is an experienced employment lawyer by training, there may be little to embrace so warmly the City, as the Brown/Blair governments had. The City have had their tax breaks, and awarded themselves cushy bonuses having been bailed out by the State which the Conservatives love to malign. The City is unpopular amongst the majority of UK voters, and any sense of wealth creation is negated by the amount of damage which they have done to this unbalanced economy. A small number of people have awarded themselves excessive pay, and these are obviously not the beneficiaries of ‘pre-distribution’. In ‘pre-distribution’, the government can decide to reward directly public sector workers (e.g. nurses, teachers) through a form of ‘working tax credits'; or else it could throw the ball into the courts of the all-powerful corporates, in encouraging them to introduce fairer pay such that people actually want to work for them.
Most significantly, ‘pre-distribution’ puts Society ahead of the market. This is an election-winning strategy, not least because there are millions of customers who feel that many private entities offer little in the way of choice or competition, offer their shareholders large dividends, and do not have the quality of their goods or services as a major goal. These market failures are seen, for example, in the banking, gas, electricity, water, and exam boards sectors, and the fact that the market is failing means that Society will be able to revolt.
Finally, and most significantly of all, pre-distribution is a direct attack on New Labour, as it places value as a much higher priority than simply price or cost. It is well validated by experienced economists, and is a popular ideology amongst the current US administration. New Labour did nothing to promote the value of the Unions, and the fact that the Unions warmly embrace this policy should give Ed Miliband promise. It will do a great many things within Labour, not least ‘give value for money in public services’, and ‘allow aspiration for individuals’, for example through better wages for their jobs and career progress. These ironically were New Labour goals as well, but the problem with New Labour is that it threw the baby out-with-the-bathwater, for the sake of winning elections.