The chemistry between Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at their joint Q &A today was the strongest I’ve seen it in a long time – they were slapping each other on the back, finishing the other’s sentences, making jokes together – a veritable bromance. They had ostensibly set up the event to talk about falling living standards and the news that the UK is now in a double-dip recession, although usual form with these things is that hacks use it as a chance to raise whatever issue they need a quote on that day, while the invited members of the public who haven’t been given a planted question to ask tend to heckle Miliband about Gordon Brown.
This one broke the mould, though. A wide range of surprisingly tough questions came from the audience, on subjects as diverse as Brown’s decision to scrap the 10p tax rate, a perceived “lack of documentation” for their policy announcements and accountability for train operators. As Miliband kept stressing (slightly smugly, it must be said), there wasn’t a planted question in sight.
However, the buoyant mood shared by the Balls-Miliband duo didn’t mean that they had any particularly showstopping answers to give. “If Cameron put as much effort into saving the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are under threat up and down the country as he is into saving Jeremy Hunt’s job, we might be in a better place,” declared Ed Balls. In fact, the only question about Hunt and BskyB came from a BBC journalist – members of the public really do care about the economy far more.
To time with this event, Labour announced that they will be producing an ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ next week, which will function as a counterpoint to the coalition’s legislative programme and detail what Labour would be doing, were they in power. Details of what might be in this oration weren’t forthcoming during the Q & A, although there are some details out here.
In response to a journalist’s question about why Ed Miliband’s personal poll ratings are so much lower than the Labour Party’s, Miliband was at his vaguest. “Polls go up and down, but you’ve got to keep doing the right thing. You’ve got to keep going.” He went on to raise the Bradford by-election, saying again that there were “lessons to be learned” from Labour’s loss. He didn’t go into detail as to what these lessons were, though.
It’s been noted before, but it’s still obvious that during these kind of events Ed Miliband devotes a lot of effort to trying to get across what kind of leader he is. Today, he broadened that out to include his party as well, saying that Labour "have got to be the people who under promise and over deliver, not over promise and under deliver".
An admirably pragmatic approach, but with one obvious flaw – how do you inspire people to vote for you again with ‘under-promising’? With local elections this week set to be a significant electoral test for Miliband’s party, it doesn’t seem like he’s quite worked that out yet.