Miliband’s lack of substance

Policies count, not personalities

HAVING suffered the personal embarrassment of twice being forced to resign from Tony Blair’s government, David Blunkett is unlikely to feature in Ed Miliband’s front-bench shake-up as the embattled Labour leader strives to regain the initiative after a dismal summer.

That said, the former Home Secretary – a man of vast experience – makes a significant point when he questions the wisdom of Mr Miliband’s decision to leave the political “oldies” languishing on Parliament’s backbenches while he looks to blood younger MPs.

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These fresh-faced individuals may be more telegenic than the likes of the Sheffield MP, or Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, but they are invariably prototype career politicians who have little know-how of business – or life in the real world away from Westminster.

Political nous, rather than appearance, should be the determining factor when such appointments are made – especially as former Ministers will be able to utilise the benefit of hindsight when shaping future decisions.

That said, Mr Blunkett’s decision to compare the current Labour leader with Clement Attlee, the great post-war premier, was about as misjudged as John Prescott – another political warhorse from these parts – telling Ed Miliband that he is Labour’s “Alex Ferguson”.

Mr Attlee may not have been a natural TV performer, but this was still the age of deference towards politicians and he had the vision to launch the National Health Service.

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At least Mr Attlee knew how he wanted to rebuild Britain, even though the pace of change disappointed some. Contrast this with Mr Miliband, whose unease in front of the television and radio microphones is exacerbated by a lack of clarity about his vision for the country – and how he can implement Labour’s expensive wish list of policies at a time of financial austerity and limited economic growth.

If the Doncaster North MP had a properly costed plan, and was prepared to accept some responsibility for his role in the financially ruinous policies pusued by mentor Gordon Brown, the country maybe more willing to take him seriously as a potential premier.

In short, policies rather than personalities are still the key to reversing Ed Miliband’s growing poll problems.

Cold comfort

National interest must come first

ONLY one conclusion can be drawn from the Government’s reluctance to publish an official report on renewable energy – the effectiveness of wind turbines does not match past public statements by Ministers.

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If these wind farms were making a significant contribution to the nation’s energy supplies, they would be highlighting the conclusions as a vindication of their approach. The fact that Energy Secretary Ed Davey is blocking the report in a supposed era of transparency instead suggests the findings make embarrassing reading for those who believe wind power will keep Britain’s lights on.

Some political clarity is required, not least because the suppression of this report is unlikely to help those businessmen who are trying to persuade Siemens to build a massive hub in Hull which will manufacture offshore wind turbines.

As well as having the potential to transform Hull’s wider economy, it is important that lingering concerns about onshore wind – a key issue ahead of the next election – do not detract from the wider merits of offshore power.

With environmental protesters halting a key trial into the benefits of fracking, and a new report revealing a lack of interest in a key Government scheme to improve the energy efficiency of homes, these are testing times for Ministers as they try to get to grips with energy policy.

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Yet the need for leadership at the top is made more urgent by the Middle East crisis – and Britain’s requirement to become more self-sufficient. This will not happen if party politics is put before the national interest.

Call the midwife

Mothers do require personal care

PREGNANCY can be a 
joyful time, but it can also bring its worries. It is why 
the calm reassurance of a good midwife can prove priceless when it comes to ensuring the sort of happy and relatively stress-free labour that is in the best interests of both mother 
and baby.

It is therefore unsurprising that a study by Sheffield Hallam University has found that those women who receive continued care throughout pregnancy and childbirth from a small group of midwives are less likely to give birth prematurely than when care is shared between different obstetricians, GPs and midwives.

Yet a national shortage of midwives means many will be denied access to the expertise and experience they provide. Despite numbers increasing faster than births, the Royal 
College of Midwives estimates it will be at least another decade before we have enough.

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While the Government is working to address this shortfall, reports such as this only serve to reinforce the need for greater urgency.

The challenge for local NHS Trusts is to ensure that student midwives get jobs when they qualify. There should not be a 10-year 
wait for the high quality care and support that our maternity services should 
be providing.