Thursday, July 31, 2014

There is no such thing as a singular, homogenous "British culture" any more

 "Not a single institution has spoken clearly about the values that Britain expects of its citizens. " So says Graeme Archer on the"ConHome" website today. 

That is because the whole idea of "British Values" is preposterous nonsense. What is expected of British Citizens ( and indeed from non British residents and visitors) is compliance with the Law, no more and no less. If you find a cultural practice "unwelcome" that is your affair because unless that practice is illegal you do not have a case. 

Of course you may, like the bigots of UKIP, have an objection to multiculturalism. You may hanker after the Britain that I grew up in in the immediate post war years. Predominantly white, Christian and deferential. But it's gone and it isn't coming back. That parts of a city like (say) Bradford are unrecognisable from how they looked 50 years ago is true as is the fact that the "values" of the present day citizens are quite different from the values of 50 years ago (and, indeed, of yours and mine today). But providing those values as applied are legal that's the end of the matter. Take FGM. It's abhorrent to human values and yet it is practiced widely by some Muslims. In a Britain it is, rightly, illegal. We oppose it and legislate against it not because it is in conflict with some spurious set of "British Values". We do so because it is wrong. Or take the veil that covers the face and is adopted here by a minority of Muslims. In my opinion that practice should be banned in Britain - it also offends against human values and we should join the French in taking a lead against it.

The thing about the values of Britons today compared with half a century ago is that they are greatly more diverse. They always were quite diverse - we've had Jewish butchers for centuries, now we have Halal ones as well. But we have more mosques, more Hindu and Sikh temples, and more cafés where you can smoke a hookah. We have greater varieties of dress, and you hear more languages spoken. The cinemas offer Bollywood as well as Western movies. And the range and choice of restaurants is almost infinite. There is no such thing as a singular, homogenous "British culture" any more (if there ever was). And when it comes to "values" frankly anything goes so long as it is within the law. You better get used to it. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gaza - can the cycle of violence be broken ?

Unless you're a psychopath you don't do wicked things without a reason. The 9/11 terrorists and Osama bin Laden were not psychopaths. They had a reason for what they did. That 99% of the world's population would think that reason offensive and unsupportable doesn't mean it was not a reason, it means that we view that reason as wrong. 

Israel's attack on Gaza is not without reason, nor are Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel.  I suspect that most of us would deplore both but, of course, see that they are linked in a spiral of violence. The more rockets are fired, the stronger the Israeli response. And the stronger the response the more rockets will be fired. In the short term Israel's overwhelming power may neutralise the rocket launchers. But come the grim dawn Hamas will regroup and the rockets will begin to fall on innocent Israelis again. And the cycle will begin again.

The war in Vietnam told us that you cannot beat a determined, skilful, flexible enemy with overwhelming force. Since then around the world big armies have tried to beat irritating insurgencies - and usually failed. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya... the Middle East bears witness to the futility of thinking that the big battalions always win. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is a big battalion. Hamas, well backed and financed though it is, is an insurgency. 

The only permanent solution to the problem of Palestine is a "Two State" solution. A self governing Palestine and, of course, a free and independent Israel. They may never coexist in absolute harmony - but a workable model can surely be agreed. If you believe, as I do, that such an outcome would be just and more important that it would have support from ordinary Israelis and Palestinians alike why not? 

No good can come of the current Gaza horrors - no good at all. But when the killing stops can people of principle and decency on both sides of the divide work towards a negotiated solution that includes fairness for all ? That's the human challenge. We must not duck it. Never again.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Commonwealth - a bad idea whose time never came.

The Commonwealth stretches back to 1948 - the year Britain finally gave up that Jewel in the Imperial Crown - India. I doubt that there was ever much point to the Commonwealth even then.  It was a device to soften the blow of the loss of Empire and in part to reduce the guilt that Britain rightly felt for its Imperial past. If, the logic perhaps went, once colonies can voluntarily gather together in a "Commonwealth of Nations" then the British Empire can morph into this new construct so proving that the Empire had a valuable unifying value even across disparate nations. But the only thing that held the Empire's countries together was sovereignty - the British Monarch was the titular head of state of all of them. Take that away, and the logic breaks down. True a few Commonwealth countries still have The Queen as head of state - a preposterous anachronism that will surely go with her passing. But that aside there is nothing holding the Commonwealth nations together except pomp and waffle.

Were the Commonwealth to have some logic over and above pomp and sentiment then maybe a case could be made. If, for example, membership required Nations to adhere to agreed minimum Human Rights standards then that would be something. But many of the current members still have the Death Penalty and others criminalise homosexuality. Democracy is absent in some Commonwealth countries and shaky in others. It is not even an economic club, nor could it ever become one. The idea of "Commonwealth Preference" rightly withered on the vine. There are plenty of transnational bodies around which have logic and purpose. Starting with the United Nations and, of course, including all the increasingly important regional economic partnerships. 

The test of anything is how non members see it. Would an American, or a Brazilian or a Chinese praise the Commonwealth? I doubt that most of them would even have heard of it. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Judging Michael Gove.

The most puzzling aspect of Britain's (mainly England's) educational system to foreigners must be its diversity. Whereas in most developed countries schools are broadly consistent in their construct and activities here there is virtually no consistency at all. We have Independent Schools, Grammar Schools, Comprehensives, Academies, Free Schools, Faith Schools and a host of minor variants of almost every conceivable type (and probably some you couldn't conceive of at all).

The education a child receives is directly proportional to the wealth of his or her family. Richer kids get better education than poorer kids. They are either in the 7% in the Independent where Daddy pays, or their parents can afford to buy a house in a good area with good State schools. It's a postcode lottery, but one that is fixed. You can buy your way in.

If you are old-fashioned enough to be a supporter of the long-replaced Grammar schools do not despair. Move to Kent where they still exist! If you want a religious experience daily for you good little Catholic, or Jewish or Muslim child - no problem. There will be a Madrassa (or equivalent) somewhere for her. Prayers seven times a day and nuanced teaching - even creationism. You'll find it if you want it.

This has to be "all good" doesn't it? Freedom of choice. Little Jimmy or Jane can get the education that is right for them. But of course it isn't good at all. Little Mohammed won't get a proper education at all - he'll get one with a hefty dose of indoctrination thrown in. And Tracey in Sunderland will get a totally different, and less good, education to Emma in Ewell. Tarquin will go to Daddy's posh school and come away with exam results that will guarantee Oxbridge entry. And will have played sport on playing fields that his State school equivalent will have sold off long ago. The "culture" of Tarquin's school won't guarantee success - but look at the results. They deliver, at a price.

And that's the real test of Gove, did he change all the above in a positive direction at all? Under his longish jurisdiction did equality of opportunity shift? Did he make any move towards creating a fairer education system? Not by levelling down, but by levelling up? We have great schools across the board in Britain, and some truly appalling ones as well. "Give me a child to the age of seven" say the Jesuits. Build on that another ten years or so of education and I'll give you the man. The better the school, the better the prospects, the better the life. Education. Education. Education. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ken Clarke - principled and right on Europe.

Writing a tribute to Ken Clarke in the Daily Telegraph today  Iain Martin says "...he was wrong about European integration and the EU, on an epic scale."

This is the reverse of the truth. Ken Clarke has been the voice of sanity on Europe throughout his career. Where all too many Tories live in some phoney golden past in which Britain stands alone again, Ken has seen it and told it as it really is. The modern world is interdependent and you either build firm alliances or you sink. No European country eschews cooperation and only the uniquely rich Switzerland and Norway can afford to. Britain is bigger than these two States put together - and some - and central to the building of a modern cooperative Europe. 

The supreme folly of those who peddle the Europhobic line has challenged Ken for decades and he has fought them with style. He has always had right on his side and his Eurorealism has been consistent and admirable. It was the Conservative Party, especially under Heath, who pushed for Britain as a member of the EU (and its predecessors). Ken Clarke has been the inheritor of their vision. I hope that he will continue to fly the European flag - and his Party would do well to listen to him not to scorn. Britain's new Foreign Secretary is on record as wanting to leave the EU. Whether Hammond is playing internal Party politics in his Eurosceptism I don't know - he is seen as a possible leadership contender so he probably is. That alone shows the difference between the world of the Hammonds and the world of Ken.

Ken Clarke has not been wholly unpragmatic in politics - he wouldn't have succeeded as much as he has if he had been. But when it comes to what he truly believes in - especially over Europe - he has been consistent and honourable. There are not many in politics today with beliefs and values that are true and not created for personal advantage. We will miss the man who at times stood alone surrounded by colleagues always ready to stab him in the back. Well they've got their man at last - and the Government is much morally weaker for Ken's departure. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Alastair Cook could learn from Mike Denness

Sport can be brutally cruel at times. It is the flip side of the joy of the winner - the grief of the loser. The penalty miss in the shoot out. The broken gearbox in a GrandPrix. And the depression of the batsman when he gets out - again - for a low score in a Test match. For cricket is so exposed. The long walk to the crease and the even longer walk back. In front of 15,000 people with the dressing room full of your mates who will look down when you enter and avoid eye contact because they are embarrassed for you. And that is where Alastair Cook is, and has been for what seems a long time.

Cook failed again at Trent Bridge. On a flat batter's wicket he contrived to find another way to get out, bowled off his thigh pad. When a sportsman of quality loses form we tend to grab at the cliché that "Form is temporary, Class is permanent" - and of course that is true. But that doesn't explain the loss of form - it just acknowledges the hope that it won't last. Well sometimes it can last a very long time! Take the Tottenham Hotspur and Spain striker Roberto Soldado. At top Spanish Club Valencia over three seasons he scored a goal in 50% of his games. At Tottenham last season he made 28 appearances and scored only six times - solid from the penalty spot, hopeless from open play. The number of times he got the ball in a scoring position and blasted it over the bar became almost comical (not if you're a fan it didn't of course!). 

As fans we don't want sportsman to fail, and in that, I think, lies part of the problem. When Cook came out to bat yesterday there was not one England fan at Trent Bridge who wished him anything but well - and therein lies the rub. We were tense, it was tangible, and it must have communicated itself to Cook. And he was tense. He knew the truth - he was only opening for England in this Test match because he was captain. Any other player in his sort of trough of performance would have been dropped - ask Nick Compton about that! It's an unforgiving world. 

Beyond the fact that he is captain Alastair Cook is the shining white hope for the recovery of England cricket from the disaster of The Ashes. When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) decided to sack Kevin Pietersen this s what they said:

"The England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other."

This is not an equivocal statement. Cook was to be the hero, and KP the discarded villain. The ECB was choosing to "invest" in Alastair Cook who would create a "culture" of support. It doesn't actually mention winning matches, just being a jolly bunch. It is presumed, I assume, that winning will result if the team is happy. Well England has now gone nine Test matches without a win (including the one underway which will be at best a draw). This is some way behind the woeful 18 matches under Mike Gatting from January 1987 to August 1988 but it's halfway there. The discarding of Pietersen may have improved dressing room morale (has it?) but we are yet to see that in results, though it's early days in the new era to be fair.

Another sporting cliché that is being aired at the moment is that winning is addictive. Winning teams are more likely to win their next match than losing teams. If you think you will win you probably will. The reverse also applies - at team level but absolutely at the level of the individual. Soldado must have felt that his goal scoring touch had deserted him last season. And he expected not to score. So he didn't. Even when a one-legged striker would have. Alastair Cook won't admit it, he's too proud too, but he expects to fail. So he does. In calendar year 2014 he has played seven Test innings scoring 97 runs at an average of 13.8. His confidence is shot. You can see it in his body language. And what sort of "culture" does the captain's continued failure create in the dressing room. Supportive, no doubt, but I don't think rallying round a failing batsmen who continues to fail was what the ECB had in mind.

Back in 1974/5 the estimable Mike Denness dropped himself for one match after a short run of failed performances when captain of England. He returned and scored a match-winning 188 in his comeback match. It was a gutsy thing to do and a classic, and rewarded, action by that most decent of men. Cook is a decent man as well but my guess is that the ECB hierarchy would do everything in their considerable power to stop him from taking a break. Not because he is not the best man to open for Enflsnd at the moment (he self-evidently isn't) but because they have openly "invested" in him as the main thrust of their strategy for the future. And because they (the ECB suits) would lose so much face if Cook walked away - even temporarily.

Sport is cruel and Alastair Cook is suffering at the moment. It is sad to watch. Maybe all will come right in England's second innings at Trent Bridge. But if it doesn't there is a strong case for Cook immediately to take a breather from international cricket. He IS a classy player - his overall record is beyond dispute. But he needs time away from the spotlight to recover his self-confidence and his form. Mike Denness showed him the way.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Pensions at least public sector employees don't have much to complain about.

I have no doubt that some Public Sector employees have legitimate grievances about their lot under this Government but Pensions is not one of them. Yes the Pensions deal, post Hutton, is less advatageous then hitherto. Pensions will be based on "career average" earnings rather than final salary and workers will work longer and contribute more towards their pensions. But compared with the Private sector Public Sector employees are in a still enviable position. Crucially in the run up to retirement   employees will know very accurately what their Pension will be. This is because their schemes remain Defined Benefit (DB) schemes which provide for a precisely forecastable Pension which will not be subject to the visicitudes of financial markets or to unpredictable annuity costs.

In the private sector DB schemes stll exist of course but most are closed to new entrants. For some time now the only offer to a new employee has been a so-called "Defined Contribtion" "Pension". In reaility these are not, and never have been, pension schemes at all - certainly when compared with what the Public Sector enjoys. What they are are workplace savings schemes with tax advantages. But what they produce in the way of an annual income on retirement is, compared with the DB alternative, completely unpredictable. The Chancellor acknowledged these facts when he removed the obligation to use a DC "pot" to buy an annuity in the Budget. 

To purchase an annuity producing an annual income of £20,000 a private sector employee saver aged 65 would have to have accumulated a pot of around £400,000. And yet there will be many public sector employees on such a Pension or more - guaranteed. And the contributions they will have made will be insignificant compared with the commitment necessary to save £400k - not that many will be able to do this of course. The average pot is likely to be less than a tenth of this.

The public sector rightly gets public support - we value our doctors, our nurses, our teachers and the rest. But when we look at how these workers are protected in retirement in a way that the private sector employees also used to be but no longer are?  Well in truth, in this area at least, the public sector doesn't have much to complain about does it? 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

How the Eurozone is quietly making the Euro doom merchants eat their words.

The remarkable thing about the Eurozone is how little dissent there is now about the process of stabilisation of the single currency. Roll back a couple of years and the doom merchants were in full flight. Greece would have to leave. Portugal would surely follow. The Euro was dead. And so on. In fact progress has been steady under the skilled management of the EU and, especially, Angela Merkel. The Euro, far from being dead, is attracting new nations to it. The process of greater macroeconomic coordination of Eurozone countries (always a likely requirement) is moving forward without too much bleating about lost sovereignty. Meanwhile Britain stands aloof from all this, failing to use its currency independence to boost the balance of trade (the reverse in fact as we let the pound strengthen so making our exports more expensive). 

Yes there is much still to do and a continued credit squeeze is regrettable. But come the dawn the Euro will surely emerge strong, as will the finances of the countries that use it. The most successful economic union of all time will be underpinned by a currency that will almost certainly replace the dollar as the transnational currency of choice. By then Britain will probably have reverted to Pounds, Shillings and Pence!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Publicly accountable railways and gas and electricity supply are essential. But its not about ideology.

The calls for the "Re-Nationalisation" of the railways are wrong. Wrong because the word "Nationalisation" is loaded and linked with bad memories of the old inefficient "Nationalised Industries". Wrong also because it suggests that it is something that is an ideologically good idea - shades of the Labour Party's now deleted Clause IV of its constitution: "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". We need a new language.

We live in a mixed Economy within which decisions are, or should be, taken rationally not ideologically. It is, as I have written before, a big "Public/Private partnership" with as its goal the outcome of maximising utility for all. In the main the Public sector should not be involved in manufacturing, commerce, trade etc - certainly in those sectors and businesses where competition is real. The Government should not own banks or financial services institutions though of course it should regulate them (better!). Transport is, however, another matter as is part of the Energy supply sector.

Any economy has to have a reliable transport and energy infrastructure and it is the duty of Government to provide it. In the United Kingdom Government builds and (mostly) maintains the road network. The same with Rail via "Network Rail" which had to be created after the disastrous private sector "Railtrack" failed so abysmally. The Airports may be privately run - but they are public assets, as are the ports.

The energy sector also has public assets in the electricity and gas networks (pipelines and transmission cable systems). Now there is nothing wrong with private sector companies using public assets if it is in the public interest. So a busy transport activity like buses on (say) the London/Oxford route has two operators who compete on services and price. The passenger is the beneficiary and there would be no credible case for taking these operators into public ownership and combining them. The railways, however, are different. As, in my view, is Gas and Electricity distribution to domestic users.

The rail network is publicly owned, but the train companies that use it are privately owned and operate franchises. In effect they are private sector monopolies. Unlike the London to Oxford buses there is little or no competition. You want to go to London from Manchester - Virgin Trains is your only serious choice. And in the busy and highly profitable London commuter zone there is also only one operator on any one route. No consumer choice at all.

The State is involved  in the railways not only as owner of the track network but also the stations - and as the provider of subsidies as high as £4billion per annum to operators in order to keep open "uneconomic" but judged useful routes. Meanwhile the private sector monopolies, like Virgin, pay shareholder dividends and of course make profits. These would be absent without subsidy! The myriad of operators have different names, different fare structures, different booking systems and there is no consistency of offer between them. Virgin from London to Manchester is different from East Coast London to Leeds. But that is not competition - if you want to go to Manchester it's irrelevant if there is a "better" service to Leeds (or vice versa!)

The case for the railways system being truly publicly accountable is overwhelming. Consistency of offer, integrated branding, cooperative route planning and above all a pricing system for tickets that makes sense. The income generated by this operation would not go to shareholders but be reinvested in the network and services. In this model whilst the track, stations and trains would be publicly owned it would not be a recreation of "British Rail". There would be plenty of room for public/private partnerships providing they could be shown to be in the public interest. If you start with that goal of "maximising utility" then you seek the most pragmatic way to achieve it. Not all the workers in this system would need to be employed by the public sector and there would be plenty of room for "contracting out". But at the macro level all the confusion that exists at the moment would be swept away and we would have, once again, a publicly accountable and substantially publicly owned railway system.

The Energy sector is different.  Here the issue is not that there is no competition but that it is artificial. The infrastructure that delivers Gas or Electricity to your home is, like the railway tracks and the stations, publicly owned. The physical gas or electricity that is input into these systems is a commodity and like all commodities there is a broadly comparable common price. No Gas or Electricity supplier has any strategic cost advantage over another. They pay the same supply costs and the same infrastructure use costs. So the price competition between them is only tactical. British Gas may offer you a price deal to encourage you to switch from, say, Eon but over time the price you pay will be the same. There is no real competition. Consumer prices would be lower if there was a single Gas or Electricity supplier to all domestic homes. There would be no duplication of facilities, no marketing costs and no dividends to pay. Again there would be some scope for public/private partnerships but the overriding test of everything would be consumer interest not profit.

If we eliminate ideology and start with the rail passenger or the domestic energy consumer and measure what is in their interests then the case for a properly accountable railway and energy system is overwhelming. Yes politicians would set the standards and decide priorities - but isn't that what we elect them for anyway?

Friday, July 04, 2014

Getting and spending – two sides of the same coin for Government

The whole idea that you can talk about spending and taxation separately is deeply flawed. Indeed the idea that you can decouple the public accounts from the economy as a whole makes little sense. The start point of everything has to be citizen welfare in its broadest sense. It has to be bottom up. What are the needs of the people and how best should the Economy satisfy them?

If we start from a “Grand Ideology” then we miss the point completely. This is equally true whether it is Free Market Conservatives or Public Ownership Socialists who are making the noise! The economy as a whole is a huge Public/Private partnership. There are some things which fall unequivocally on the Private side of the divide and some which can only be done by the State. In between is a huge raft of consumer needs where Government has to make judgment calls about how best to manage.

Public expenditure falls broadly into three categories.

(1) Necessary, but efficient, expenditure which only the State can make.

(2) Discretionary expenditure which the State chooses to make, but doesn’t have to.

(3) Necessary expenditure which is inefficient and where either economies need to be made or which could be better carried out by the private sector.

The easy hits are in the second category. So we get cuts to Arts Funding which is likely to destroy some regional theatres and make the future of many arts institutions in peril. This is crass and deeply to be regretted. A cut to the International Development Budget would be in the same category. To its credit the Government has not done this despite the strident voices from some on the Right urging it to do so.

It is in the third category that most of the action is! If some aspects of the Health Service would be more efficient and cost effective if contracted out to private enterprise then only the Socialist ideologue would object. But if the motivation is some “private sector first” Conservative ideology then it is a very bad idea indeed – not least if the private sector beneficiaries are Conservative Party donor companies! The subsidies paid by Government to keep some rail services afloat and the utter confusion across the “network” of operators, fares and service standards are scandalous. This was a privatisation that was botched and had made us a laughing stock. Nobody wants British Rail back – but a publicly accountable Rail network that is consumer not profit driven seems a necessity to me. It’s not a call for renationalisation exactly, but it is a call for a publicly accountable revolution!

So let’s get away from arguing about expenditure and cuts as if they were separate things – they are of course two sides of the same coin. And let’s start making decisions based not on ideology or political expediency but only on a clear understanding of consumer need. Start there and you might get somewhere.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The benefits of medical screening - a personal story

I haven't taken Fentanyl or Midazolam before - apparently they are recreational drugs as well as being pre-procedure medicines if you need to be sedated! So this blog could be more than usual rubbish if the effects haven't worn off. Bear with me!

A couple of weeks ago I was called to St George's Hospital, Tooting because a routine test had shown a small amount of blood in a stool sample. This can be a sign of bowel cancer although, overwhelmingly, mostly it isn't. The test and follow up is part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme now being conducted across the country. 

My further screening took two parts. I spent some time a few days ago with a nurse trained in colonoscopy - the exploration of the bowel by a Doctor using a minute camera which travels the whole length of the bowel looking for abnormalities. She explained the procedure to me and answered my questions. She was knowledgeable, engaging and comforting. She knew her stuff. It was my decision whether or not to go ahead but it was pretty much a no-brainer.

Today I had the colonoscopy and that's why the sedatives were administered. The Doctor was friendly, looked the part and as with the nurse he had time to engage with me. Nothing was rushed, I won't describe the procedure in detail other than to say I could follow the camera's view in full HD colour as it made its way to my appendix and back. The close ups were crystal clear and the Doc. commented as he piloted the camera on its journey. 

Any anxiety I had was alleviated as the Doc. and I saw with him what was mostly a very normal bowel. Three very small polyps showed up and they were removed - along with the camera a tiny device travels along which can cut off an polyps and extract them for laboratory analysis. I was also shown to have "Diverticular disease" which the Doctor described as an area of the bowel which looks like Swiss cheese - it has holes in it. It is not a source of concern but can cause abdominal pain from time to time - there is no treatment other than a high fibre diet.

This was NHS treatment at its best. Screening for serious disease is always a good idea and particularly for bowel cancer which responds well to treatment if there is early diagnosis. The Cost/Benefit Analysis is hugely positive. A cancer diagnosed early and treated saves the NHS thousands compared with late diagnosis and intensive emergency cars. And of course it saves lives.

The test I apply to the NHS for me personally is this - can I imagine that if I had "gone private" I would have had better care? The answer in this one instance is an emphatic "No". The facility at St George's is modern, comfortable and confidence-building. The timespan from the abnormal test to the colonoscopy was two weeks! The staff at all levels were skilled, kind and helpful. I was never someone on a conveyor belt but at all times I was treated like an individual. Of course one should avoid extrapolating from one good (or bad) experience and drawing general conclusions. But for me this was a most reassuring and brilliantly handled event. Thanks are due to all at the St George's Endoscopy Unit. Thank you all. 

(And now for something completely different - how will the residual Fentanyl  and Midazolam in my system react to a small glass of Guinness? I'll let you know!)

Excellent analysis of Ed Miliband by Peter Oborne - essential reading

In the Daily Telegraph this morning there is a wonderful article by Peter
Oborne on Ed Miliband which does him enormous credit. There is no doubt that the Conservatives principal election weapon will be personalised attacks on Miliband rather than his policies. What policy critique there will be will be at the facile "RedEd" level. Having met him and listened to him live I agree 100% with Oborne's analysis. He is far too intelligent a political thinker to believe that 2015 Britain requires 1945 solutions. 

The Welfare State is not dead in the water but aspects of it are increasingly unaffordable. So radical solutions are necessary - to cope with ever increasing longevity especially. And the balance between public and private sector needs urgent review. We need new models for gas, electricity, rail transport (etc.) which deliver better value and better consumer service. Not old-fashioned nationalised industries - but for these key sectors the current private sector profit driven basis (often with subsidy!) doesn't work - we do need far higher public accountability. Ed I think knows all this.

Can he create a modern Labour manifesto that is neither Blairite nor Brownite but brave and genuinely "One Nation". I'm sure he can. Can he then communicate the key messages coherently not to the Westminster Village or fellow policy wonks but to we the people? That's his real challenge.