HOW ironic that Ed Miliband now recognises the need to eradicate Britain’s deficit by the end of the next Parliament after opposing every coalition spending the cut for the past four years. This, after all, is one of the two totemic issues – immigration being the other – that he omitted to mention in his disastrous party conference speech.
Yet, while the Labour leader’s new stance can be viewed as a vindication of George Osborne’s handling of the economy, Mr Miliband still has many credibility tests to pass before it can be said that he has truly embraced a new politics of realism.
First, the Doncaster North MP’s volte-face lacks detail – Labour is still likely to take longer to reduce the deficit than the Tories.
Second, Mr Miliband’s sounder intentions still need the approval of his party’s trade union paymasters, who do not appear to be in a mood for compromise following the coalition’s cuts.
Third, Labour’s commitment to ring-fence the NHS, schools and overseas aid budgets gives rise to the suggestion that further efficiencies cannot be accrued in these policy spheres. This is short-sighted – every area of expenditure needs to pass a “value for money” test. Just what does the opposition intend to cut?
Fourth, Labour’s complaints about the seriousness of the coalition’s cuts to town hall budgets – it says the £76m of savings being demanded of Leeds Council are “brutal” – contrasts with a desire to save more than £500m from expenditure on communities and local government. It cannot have it both ways.
And, fifth, there is Labour’s determination to raise taxes for the nation’s wealth-creators – the entrepreneurs who hold the key to restoring Britain’s fortunes. Is Labour on their side or not, or is the politics of envy still in play? That is the fundamental question Mr Miliband and his party still has to answer.
Striking a balance on charges
THE revelation that parking charges generated a £667m profit for local councils in the last financial year is unlikely to endear town hall bosses to those motorists who believe, with some justification, that they are being victimised.
Some context is required to the RAC Foundation’s study. Parking restrictions and controls are a necessary evil. If they did not exist, there would be a free-for-all which left city and town centres across Yorkshire even more congested.
However local authorities do now need to strike a more careful balance. While the latest tranche of spending cuts will see councils look to increase their revenue streams, they need to acknowledge the fact that higher charges will make it more difficult for struggling high streets to survive.
It will simply increase the likelihood of consumers opting to make purchases online – or driving to the large out-of-town shopping centres where there is an abundance of free parking. And who could blame them when the buses are perceived as being unreliable and the trains overcrowded on key routes across the county?
Before imposing another round of charges, it would be remiss of councillors not to consider the needs of individual town centres – and how they can become more accessible by car, train and bus. For unless there is a decisive change of direction on the part of policy-makers, it will be even more difficult for the traditional high street to withstand the economic forces of the retail revolution which is now under way – and which is being fuelled by short-sightedness when it comes to issues like parking charges.
The power of sport
Christmas Truce remembered
“THE ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it came
from their side... there was no... ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all.”
These words, spoken by Ernie Williams of the 6th Cheshire Regiment, have even more poignancy as commemorations take place in Belgium and
Britain to mark the centenary of the Christmas Truce when opposing soldiers ceased hostilities as impromptu games of football started along the Western Front.
Such accounts have even more resonance when put in the context of the bloody battles, and devastating loss of life, that was to follow over the next four years. It only serves to highlight the futility of war – and how football, despite its sundry controversies, does have the power to unite and act as a force for good.
It is a legacy that has far greater importance and significance than the cynical commercial exploits of one leading supermarket.