The past few days have seen repeated probing and prodding at the detail (or otherwise) or Ed Miliband’s leader’s speech. In many ways this was Ed Miliband’s first “real” speech as leader at conference. Last year he gave two of course, but the first was a stumbling, emotionally charged affair, and the second was much improved, but clearly written as an expansion of his stump speech from the leadership contest.
But this time was for real. He is undisputedly the Labour leader. There are no challengers, coups or public squabbles on the horizon. He spoke to the public, not the party. That’s a good thing.
But next year, Ed shouldn’t give a speech at all – because he’s not great at them and they don’t suit him.
I’m clearly not alone in thinking so. At least one member of his team was briefing the Guardian before conference that Ed should abandon the set piece leader’s speech and do four key speeches around the country. That acknowledges that this kind of speech is seen as high risk for Miliband. But making four big speeches around the country would be foolhardy. The press – especially TV – are only interested in the big conference event. The risk of them ignoring Miliband’s roadshow as a vanity exercise is too great.
So that’s the problem in a nutshell – the media only care about the conference speech and Ed isn’t great at them. It seems Ed’s team are keen on referring to the infamous “let Bartlet be Bartlet” slogan from The West Wing. Apart from the fact that TWW is fiction, it also suggests that they weren’t watching it that closely. In real-life America Jed Bartlet wouldn’t have been elected dog catcher anywhere outside San Francisco or Vermont.
But if “let Miliband be Miliband” is the current thinking amongst the assembled staffers in Ed’s office, then they should be bold in it’s implementation. Next year, Ed should abandon the traditional speech format, and do what he’s good at. Being straight. Being natural. Interacting with the public. In that format he’s funny, engaging and likeable. None of those adjectives could be applied to his speech delivery. If he’s going to be a man of the people, and challenge the establishment, the very least he could do it stop looking and acting like the establishment. He should take the conference Q&A format (which he’s actually rather good at) and make that the foccal point of his conference, and the point at which the media are focussed. Ed’s best conference speech is widely believe to be this one, which he did without notes. Doing the same kind of thing as Labour leader – with the added risk of difficult questions from the floor – is a high wire act that a risk averse leader might avoid. Ed isn’t risk averse, and he’s gaining nothing from traditional speeches.
The really risky thing to do for Miliband would be to say he’s “anti-business as usual” and not act like it…