Not quite red Ed

Labour Leader Ed Miliband MP Speaks At Progress Conference In London. by mass419

(c) mass419

Tom McGuire

When Ed Miliband took his place on the (curiously almost exclusively blue) platform to make his speech to the conference, there was a mutual understanding that it was time he delivered. A year on from his dramatic victory over his brother Ed Miliband is yet to convince the country that he is a Prime Minister in waiting. Nick Robinson was busy reminding BBC viewers that Margaret Thatcher took a long time to convince her party faithful, and indeed the country, before she seized the initiative so dramatically and speculating outlandishly that we could be about to see one of those moments.

It was a speech light on specific policy but strong on a cohesive driving message which he will have to repeat many, many times if he is to convince the public that it is a message worth listening to. Miliband promised the country that he would foster a new culture of ‘something for something’, a culture of responsibility, in what he called ‘The New Bargain’.

Ed Miliband is not a smooth, charismatic orator in the mould of Tony Blair, or to a lesser extent David Cameron; but the speech started with a personable run of jokes, touching on his marriage, his sons (‘a new generation of Miliband brothers’) and his nose job. A touch awkward they may have been but they were well delivered and well received enough to break the ice.

Next the central issue: Ed establishing himself. Predictably, and deservedly, he made reference to his widely admired action on Rupert Murdoch, and then more controversially he announced ‘I’m no Tony Blair.’ Significantly he made no attempt to suppress the delegates that booed at this point. Ed said, as much for the country’s benefit as the party’s, ‘I am my own man and I am going to do things my own way.’ This bold renouncement of the Labour party’s most successful leader was probably the most important part of a speech that was about a personal message rather than specific policy.

What followed were some interesting ideas which expanded, developed and fleshed out over the coming months and years may be successful in striking accord with the public; the pronouncement of Britain as a ‘country for the insiders’, and the portrayal of the Tories as out of touch in their simplistic view of the economy and how it is affecting people (subtly different to Labour’s recent habit of just shouting the word growth repeatedly upon any mention of the economy).

There were also attacks on both sides of the coalition government. Cheap shots at Clegg – who incidentally he had echoed the views of on numerous issues including the riots, inequality in society and the unfairness of the education system – portraying him as a Tory and accusing him of breaking promises: standard, unimaginative stuff. More substantial and effective were the attacks on Cameron. Miliband scored good points on the effect of cuts on real people’s lives and on the NHS whilst introducing a new line of attack that doubtless will come to dominate Labour rhetoric towards the Tories: the depiction of Cameron as the ‘last gasp of the old set of rules.’ If this line of attack can be made to stick it could be a hugely successful one for Labour, the difficulty will be showing how Labour are different.

Cameron will not be overly worried yet. The problem for Miliband will be that he has been bold enough to tantalise supporters on the left of the party and the unions, without really satisfying them with any specific plans; simultaneously he has alienated the Blairites and the New Labour centrists who thought Labour had left behind the outdated and unpopular dreams of socialism. Miliband is reluctant to accept the mantle of a left-wing leader and prefers to claim that the centre ground of politics has moved to the left post financial crisis, hacking scandal and riots but in taking this position he has staked a great deal on his own ability, and his party’s ability to explain successfully his beliefs and what plans he has to deliver on his promise of ‘the new bargain’.

It was a speech that showed leadership. Miliband did succeed in getting his message across in part, and mustered a level of passion rarely seen from him previously. The problem is the extent to which the sharp edge this speech should have had – his speech and his message -had been blunted by his advisors and his own self-awareness. The speech was a refreshing start but he needs to move beyond this if Labour is truly to become his party, something that must happen for them to move forwards under his leadership.

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