Ed Miliband's One Nation Economy speech this morning was interesting and welcome. Interesting because it puts clear political water between Labour, the Conservatives and their LibDem mini-mes. And welcome because we are starting to catch a glimpse of what a Labour government under EdM could look like.
Let's start with the headline grabber - the 10p Tax. When the last Labour government scrapped it, the fall out was positively radioactive. In the popular imagination it underlined how far the party had drifted from its roots and it took a deserving punching at the polls. So it is good to see the idea resurrected in a speech which, despite being clothed in the wonky garb of the 'squeezed middle', addressed itself to the systematic erosion of living standards. Even better, this tax cut is to be funded by the introduction of a mansion tax. It might not be "squeezing the rich until the pips squeak" but it is a welcome corrective to the weak-kneed relationship New Labour had to affluence.
As you might expect, there's been some LibDem crowing that this is not too dissimilar to their policy. True, but there are two crucial differences. Labour won't be lowering the income tax threshold to bring more people into a new 10p tax bracket. Rather, tax will likely *start* at the level it inherits in 2015 - assuming the polls hold good and we are returned to power. The second point is Labour will actually be able to deliver a mansions tax, something the LibDems have singly failed to do in nearly three years of government.
The speech trailed a few other welcome-sounding suggestions that could well find their way into the next manifesto. They're not quite the storming of the Winter Palace, but the temporary VAT cut, caps on train fares, curbing bank charges, and taking action on rip off payday loans will put money in people's pockets. If you want to tackle a standard-of-living crisis, this is one way of doing it.
EdM's other comments about supporting small businesses hammered by business rates, helping young people into work through subsidised training places, emphasising skills and overcoming the comparatively low productivity of the British economy all point toward the sort of industrial strategy that belatedly got an airing in the dying days of Brown's premiership. Of course, there is much policy meat to be put on the bare bones - particularly Labour has to understand that vocational training (and its jobs guarantee) cannot come at the expense of the terms and conditions of existing workers. But the One Nation idea that is fitfully emerging is obviously social democratic, and is infinitely preferable to the nightmarish dog-eat-dog society the Tories and LibDems are bringing into being.