Regular contributors to LabourList give their instant verdicts to Ed Miliband’s leader’s speech:
Mark Ferguson – Blue, not New and country not party
Ed needed the speech of his life we were told. He didn’t give it, so it’s a good job that’s not what he needed. What he did was by and large what he needed to do – at least in terms of content. He spoke to the country rather than the party (with a few exceptions at the start and end of the speech. the constant repetition of “you” was very much for the benefit of the public too.
And the content? It might even be the most Blue Labour speech has ever given. I’ll resist the temptation to suggest that this was written by Maurice Glasman, but at the very least it was inspired by him. The setting contained a prominent flag, the Labour rose was Blue tinged and family (yours and Eds) was a major theme of the speech.But in reality this (slightly bitty speech) clearly had many authors.
It was great to hear a Labour leader speak about work and working life – a little less so to hear him praise the Thatcherite social reforms of the 1980s. But this speech wasn’t for me. I was meant to be left happy enough. the party was meant to think this was B+. And that’s what I’d give him. He didn’t need an A, he just needed to avoid a C. He’s crossed the hurdle.
Let’s move on – we won’t remember that speech when the next election comes.
Owen Jones -A little cheer, and a little disappointment
There’s always a slight sense of dread for a Labour left-winger when listening to the Conference speech of a modern Labour leader. I half expected to spend the speech in a grump with my arms crossed, but in truth there were things to cheer. He spoke of standing against the “consensus”. A truly radical Labour Government would take on Thatcher’s consensus as she took on Attlee’s. He spoke of the sense that companies that were so big and powerful they could get away with anything. Calling for workers representatives on renumeration boards is a step in the right direction.
He slammed the Tories’ onslaught on the NHS. I admit I whooped when he said: “Conference, I am not Tony Blair.” But sadly Blair’s ghost loomed large. He was rightly met with stony silence when he applauded Thatcherism for slashing taxes on the wealthy and taking on union rights.
I was furious at his call for unemployed people to be effectively discriminated against at a time when hundreds of thousands have been thrown out of work through no fault of their own, and when there’s a massive social housing shortage (in large part the fault of New Labour). He promised a future Labour Government wouldn’t spend beyond its means, hinting the myth that the deficit was caused by spending too much, rather than a collapse of tax revenues and increased welfare spending because unemployment went up.He made it clear many of the cuts won’t be reversed: a challenge to the labour movement to make a future Labour Government do just that. Those looking to a coherent alternative to the age of austerity – like myself – will be disappointed.
Emma Burnell – A little red meat and a little red flag
This was a speech addressed straight at the British Public. The you in the speech was not the delegates in the hall, but the people watching the news.
Stylistically it was quite Blair-like, peppered with staccato descriptive sentences packed with punchy adjectives and verbs with little room for those pesky conjunctions! Nose job or not, he’s picked it up a notch and was a lot more comfortable at the podium this year. Last year’s questions are behind him. In his words: it’s 2011 – get over it!
Thematically, I’m rather pleased someone in Ed’s team seems to be reading my work. Key themes around ambition and Labour being the party that understands the value of work were there. They’re important themes and allow Ed the freedom to develop an alternative all in it together narrative.
The defining “new bargain” was a key theme. Defining good and bad business practises allows a sense of Labour supporting growth, not growing inequality.
There were some tough messages for the Party – on fees, welfare and strikes – but some love too. Interesting the strongest applause line (apart from the obvious NHS one) was on Southern Cross – not Murdoch. A key area for Ed’s new responsibility agenda.
Good messages, better delivery and a few promises. Ed’s improved rapidly and that was a confident speech which proved it.
Alex Smith – Ed Miliband is beginning to tell the country what he’s all about
It was a long time coming, and it was quite a long time going too. Ed Miliband’s second leader’s speech was nearly 6,000 words long. It took an hour to deliver. Expectations ran high that this would be the definitive Miliband speech: bold, honest, a vision for a future economy and a compassionate society – a social democratic speech.
Given that, Miliband appeared relaxed and happy in his own skin. Some lines were for the hall, others for the nation. There were some nifty phrases (“I’m my own man and I’ll do things my way”; “my top demand is ambition”; “you’ve got to be willing to break the consensus”), and some clunkier (“new bargain” and “something for something”, anyone?).
Focusing on the economy, there was also a smattering of policy announcements. A Labour government will eliminate the deficit during the next parliament if the Tories are unable to now. A Labour government will require private sector firms to have an apprenticeship scheme in place if they are to successfully bid for government contracts. A Labour government will re-levy a bank bonus tax to put young people into work. Shares in bailed out banks will be used to pay down the national debt. New fiscal rules will bind Labour government to financial prudence.
So that blank sheet of paper is starting to fill, if not with a radical programme for government then at least with a coherent and cohesive package of offers that the public can support. That’s vital for Labour. The most sustained applause was reserved for the old classic, though: you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS. It was a line accompanied by rapture in the hall and it will resonate with the public.
Miliband will be confident that he said what he wanted to say, that he’s had a decent day at the office. But whether that excitement will be reflected nationally is still far from assured. Commentators will revel in the misfortune of a live television feed cutting mid-way through the Labour Party’s set piece event, sending Miliband into near total media darkness. The cruel will observe that it is emblematic of Ed’s leadership generally: unnoticed.
And yet, with each speech, Ed Miliband is beginning to tell the country what he’s all about. The strategy has a long way to go, but it is gaining sharpness. Of course, the real test is in maintaining that message over the coming months – and years.
Conor Pope – A bad luck speech
I’ve never been in a main hall at Party Conference. It just doesn’t appeal to me. Looks like a lot of queueing and sitting around for me. And God, all that clapping. I’d feel like a seal trying to catch an imaginary ball.
So, as my girlfriend went to see our beloved leader deliver his keynote speech, I headed to the nearest pub outside the secure zone. Here, I could observe what the normal, non-pass holding public at large felt about Ed Miliband. I’m sure the more astute amongst you will have noticed a flaw in this plan: the public at large tend not to spend Tuesday afternoons in a pub on Albert Dock. Still, more normal than the people sat 500 yards away in the conference hall, so it’s a start.
At the bar, I asked the lady serving me what she’d thought of the conference so far.
“It’s been boring really. Yeah, dead boring.” Ah. OK, but was she going to be paying attention to Ed’s speech?
Frankly, it wasn’t overwhelming. We learnt that he wasn’t Tony Blair and that that is enough for some people, but you can bet it won’t be enough to win votes. Often, rather than taking in what Miliband was saying, I was trying to work out if it was David Baddiel that Sky News kept cutting to. It was, I decided.
It was overall, a bad luck speech. It cut out at “My message to Britain is…” and coverage returned five minutes later with “…we are not people.” Then it cut to a picture of a dog, asleep. People’s biggest worry about Ed is that he doesn’t seem like a prime minister. Personally, I don’t think that’s an insurmountable problem, but it’s a problem that won’t have been alleviated today.
When he finished, it seemed to take people a minute to realise; it certainly did in the pub. It left us in the pub confused, as Ed left to the sound of Florence singing “Things go wrong, no matter what I do.”