Lost in a blue haze

September 28, 2011 2:59 pm

ed conferenceBy Anthony Painter /@anthonypainter

What on earth happened there? It is difficult to find a way of analysing Ed Miliband’s speech without ending up in a state of utter bewilderment. Lots of commentators are commending Ed’s bravery this morning. Uh-oh.

Let me put the speech as an attempt at communication to one side or I’ll be writing all day. Post-match re-communication – it wasn’t at all clear at the time – of what he was trying to say seems to suggest it was something along the following lines:

The British have had enough of irresponsibility and demand an economy and society that is run along different moral lines. Labour shares that outlook and gives voice to the quiet scream of moral angst. It will use government to bring this to life: intervening, arbitrating, changing the rules, and punishing non morally good behaviour and encouraging the good. In so doing the good and virtuous society will be within reach and it’s the moral state that will make it happen.

Such is the ‘new bargain’ which isn’t the Autumn sales but is in fact Ed Miliband’s political slogan of choice. The argument is Compass combined with blue Labour. Labour is now ruled by a troika: Neal Lawson, Maurice Glasman, and Ed Miliband. The strategy, the language, and the conviction is theirs.

This strategy and these arguments result in this sort of speech. It’s a mist, a fog, smoke on the water, a deep blue haze. When the haze clears what’s left is left. And that’s why Labour, having once accommodated itself to capitalism, now seems to stand opposed once again. One firm at a time we will apply the predator versus producer test and judgement day will arrive.

Conventional political analysis would suggest that this strategy is disastrous. But what does conventional politics know? The rules have changed and so has the world. Get with it. Or maybe not.

The tragedy of the speech is that there was a way of making the argument for a different type of economy designed for the benefit of people. There is a plethora of institutions and interventions that are needed with the objective of a more balanced economy. And, what is more, had the time been taken to engage business in this discussion, there may have been an interested response. Instead, this morning, business thinks that Labour is passing judgement on it and has returned to another era – one of political hostility. No amount of counter-briefing will change that fact. The moral haze can easily become a toxic cloud.

It is not clear where things go from here. The centreground has been vacated – Cameron punishes the anxious middle; Miliband has now vacated the space. British politics as a whole is becoming a democratic failure. For Miliband, there is now a need for some deep reflection. Does he feel comfortable with a party that insouciantly discards its electorally most successful leader? Can he now see that this empty moralising does nothing for him? Can he understand that his friends don’t appear to take him to where he needs to be? Is he now going to sort out his operation – one that fell very short on the quality control front?

These are tough questions. Fail to come up with convincing answers and Ed’s leadership will be in a very difficult place. Despite the gorgeous Liverpool sunshine a blue haze hangs over this conference. Where next?

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment Was the referendum result good for the union, but bad for Labour?

    Was the referendum result good for the union, but bad for Labour?

    Was this the high water mark of secessionist sentiment in Scotland? At first it may seem an outlandish idea. Scottish Nationalism has been a riding tide for over thirty years – from fringe cause, to Westminster representation, to a Scottish parliament, minority government and then majority government. But something also broke in the movement this week. The SNP dominated Yes campaign ran to a large extent on the idea that if Scotland voted for independence, the hated Tories would never […]

    Read more →
  • News Join us in the LabourList Marquee in Manchester this week

    Join us in the LabourList Marquee in Manchester this week

    Thousands of Labour activists are in Manchester for Labour conference already, and thousands more are on their way in the coming days. LabourList will be in Manchester from the start of conference until the very end, covering everything from conference floor speeches to fringe events, announcements and gossip. But in addition, we’re also holding what is by far the biggest set of conference fringe events we’ve ever organised – most of which will take place in our special conference marquee […]

    Read more →
  • News Gordon Brown rules out return to frontline politics

    Gordon Brown rules out return to frontline politics

    After his spectacular return to prominence in the final weeks of the referendum campaign – with many crediting his interventions as crucial in securing a final swing towards the No campaign – rumours began to circulate that Gordon Brown might make a more permanent return to frontline politics. His barnstorming speech on Wednesday in particular reminded many in the Labour Party of what they once admired so much in the former PM. Yet today – as he spoke publicly about […]

    Read more →
  • News Miliband outlines housebuilding plans – including “New Homes Corporations” and public sector housing

    Miliband outlines housebuilding plans – including “New Homes Corporations” and public sector housing

    Last year Ed Miliband committed Labour to ensuring 200,000 homes are built each year by 2020. Whether or not that target is ambitious enough has been hotly contested over the past year, but as he arrived in Manchester for Labour conference today, Ed Miliband outlined how that target will be met – as the first of a series of “Labour’s plan for Britain’s Future” announcements. The proposals – the first to be revealed from an interim report of the party’s […]

    Read more →
  • Comment We should have high expectations of all fathers

    We should have high expectations of all fathers

    Three months ago, on Father’s Day, ICM released a poll showing that two out of three British adults think the role of fathers is undervalued. I find this deeply worrying, but sadly unsurprising. There is no doubt that some progress has been made in recent years: many fathers are spending more time with their children, while the ability to balance work and parenthood is an option for an increasing number of mothers. But, while of course welcome, these trends should […]

    Read more →