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I was very struck by the image of Ed Miliband last night on the BBC news speaking alongside the slogan: "Labour: your voice in tough times". It seems to sum up well the current strategy of positioning Labour as a staunch campaigner on behalf of the "squeezed middle" and anyone else who feels hurt by cuts, high prices or job loss. 

This approach though raises the pretty fundamental question of whether this is what Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is for.

I'm not at all sure that the opposition party is doing its best for public debate - or maybe the wider public interest - by acting, strangely enough, simply as an opposition - as a megaphone for disgruntlement.  No-one expects an Opposition to come up with excessively detailed plans for government but surely its main role is to present a realistic option to the public of another way of doing government not simply to chuck bricks. 

 There may also be a misunderstanding occurring here about what the public expects of an Opposition. Mainstream parties are fundamentally part of the establishment - hence that label HM Loyal Opposition. They are not street protest movements nor campaign groups and are unlikely ever to be accepted as such by the great majority of the country. There is a risk of trying to be something an Opposition never can be and in this failing to actually do the more prosaic job that the public rightly expects and wants.

 This is a problem that tends to afflict the left more than the right because of its pride in, and maybe nostalgia for, its history as a genuine grassroots movement. It is a problem I experienced almost every day when I worked at the TUC - where the dominant view amongst the current trade union leadership is that trade unions remain some type of working class movement for radical change. I was never really convinced they are that much more than a well-established civil society institution with a specific role to play in workplace improvement and protection.

 But maybe this is an issue of time. Moving from government to opposition literally overnight when you have been parking your bum on the back seats of ministerial limousines for well over a decade is always going to take some adjusting.  Labour may well have to try on a few different outfits before it finds the one that really fits its new and important role.


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