Having told Andrew Marr that "the era of New Labour has passed", Ed Miliband was surprisingly kind to the project when he addressed business leaders today. New Labour recognised the importance of economic efficiency as well as social justice, of wealth creation as well as the distribution of wealth, he told the CBI.
"Enterprise and job creation are fundamental to the good economy and good society, and I will lead a party that understands that at its core," he said. It would be pro-business (the CBI loved that, naturally) – but "in a different way".
I wonder if it will. Of course, when you talk to the employers' trade union you have to be nice about business and employers. But is there a real change under the skin of Labour? Is there even a real change under the skin of Ed Miliband?
His solutions sounded – well, distinctly Brownian. A bit of subsidy here, a little tax rebate there, a support somewhere else, and firmer regulation all over.
And, of course, a Miliband administration would seek to "create jobs in the industries of the future". Whatever they are. If you or I could predict what the industries of the future were, we'd be billionaires. I'm not quite sure how Miliband proposes to identify them.
Indeed, it all took me back to the Wilson government's attempts at "picking winners". That economic "strategy" was based on the absurd idea that a few distant government politicians and officials knew what we should be investing in better than the millions of specialists, entrepreneurs and financiers whose careers and livelihoods depended on betting correctly on the future.
All the more surprising that Miliband thinks he can identify "the industries of the future" when he believes his predecessors got it wrong. They engineered, he told the CBI, an over-reliance on the financial services sector, which left us painfully exposed when the whole thing fell in ruins. Manufacturing, he argued, deserved more emphasis, and "government needs to step in". And Britain should be going for the high-skill jobs, not the grunt work. (I thought that pitching us more towards high-end skills and away from metal-bashing was what Blair and Brown had in mind when they boosted the financial sector. This version sounds rather like "the white heat of the technological revolution" all over again.)
So a Miliband government would "step in" to force the banks to lend to small businesses, and so on and so on. There's no obvious end to it.
But if I ran a manufacturing business and government offered to "step in", I'd run a mile. I'd remember the scores of little schemes and incentives and tax allowances that Gordon Brown extended to business, hoping to push it where he thought it should go, and all the distortion and confusion and form-filling that they produced. But here is Miliband promising more of the same – new schemes for job training, encouraging employers to raise the skills base, and so on. Re-skilling Britain may be a worthy objective, but it's more likely to be achieved by officials and politicians butting out, cutting the burden of regulation and taxation, and letting business people get on with the wealth-creation job that they know far better than any government ever will.
Published in Guardian Comment is Free here.