Today, Ed Miliband gave his best speech yet as Labour leader – and having seen dozens of them, that’s not something I say lightly.
It was a powerful intervention on an issue that threatens to dominate the political summer in the way that phone hacking scandal dominated last summer. Like then, he has followed the now famous Rahm Emmanuel maxim to the letter – never let a crisis go to waste. Instead use it to make the major changes in society that are necessary but not always politically or presentationally possible.
Calling for an indepedent enquiry into the banking sector, criminal charges for those who have done wrong and greater competition to the big four banks not only resonated in the room but pushes the agenda forward. And it feels like Miliband is now delivering a speech – not reading it – because he feels it.
As I left the hall, someone said to me that they couldn’t imagine any other frontline politician giving that speech. That echoes what Tom Watson has said about Miliband’s intervention on phone hacking – even though Watson backed Ed Balls for leader. These kind of reactive speeches bring out the wry best in the Labour leader, and although some might (unfairly) lambast them as opportunist, they reveal a thoughtful politician with a finely attuned sense of what he believes is right.
Those of us who sometimes worry that he is indecisive can take much heart from that.
What is all the more impressive about this speech – like the one he delivered on Thursday at the Unite conference – is that it was pulled together in a matter of hours. Miliband and his team only started working on this speech last night. It was peppered with the sort of language that resonates with people on the doorstep – attacking criminal behaviour in banks and “Bollinger bankers”, lambasting lying and fiddling in finance and asking why shoplifters go straight to jail, whilst those who aide untold damage to the economy walk away with a slap on the wrist.
It is a powerful kind of moral populism.
Right now Miliband has the bit between his teeth. He’s looks like he’s going somewhere with this. He is once again driving the agenda and putting Cameron on the back foot. Another u-turn beckons – unless Cameron wishes to look like the Prime Minister for corrupt financiers.
The next three years will be no doubt be tough, but if he has the heart and the guts which he suggested he has today, Downing Street may have moved a little closer.
Overly optimistic? Of course. But today – I can hope.