What should you expect from Ed Miliband’s speech today?

2nd October, 2012 10:30 am

There are all sorts of stories buzzing around today about Ed Miliband’s speech. Some of those are rumours and some are certain as they’ve been briefed out by the party. So this morning, I’m going to try and sort fact from fiction…

No notes: Ed Miliband’s reputation was built, in part, on a conference speech he once made without notes. It’s easier when you’re not leader of course, but he’s got form. Someone close to Ed who I spoke to last night told me he has a “photographic memory” – but even if that’s not true, the speech was finished weeks ago, so he’s had plenty of time to memorise it. I was dubious about this at first, but several reliable sources have said this is the case. I’m fairly sure it’ll happen – as I reported on our live blog last night.

A deeply personal speech: Ed has written this speech himself, I’m led to believe (unlike the jigsaw puzzle of competing authors that was last year’s speech). We certainly know that Miliband will talk about his education at Haverstock Comp, and his background too. I’m a little concerned about the “personal speech”/”this is me” approach. I think Ed has tried that two years in a row, and it hasn’t worked. So why now? Further proof if needed though comes in the form of tomorrow night’s Labour PPB – nicknamed Ed the movie. I saw some of it briefly yesterday, which includes – for example – an old school friend. It’s a fairly transparent Ed is a nice guy/like you/understands your concerns approach. It may boost his positives but I’m not sure it’ll fix negative perceptions of him.

Big policy ideas? – The most widely pre-briefed section of the speech is that on plans for more technical and vocational qualifications for the “other 50%” (actually its far more than that) who don’t go to University. Laudable stuff. Concrete policy. And about getting people back into work too. It’s coherent and should prove popular. Stephen Twigg was certainly quick to defend it against Gove this morning. That said, it doesn’t – for me – meet the essential criteria for this speech in policy terms. It’s not a big doorstep idea, and I think it’s still only just beginning to reach the sheer scale of thinking we need to tackle the three great crises in the country – youth unemployment, social care and housing. But perhaps there will be a rabbit pulled from a hat. That’s certainly been mooted – I wait with baited breath.

Verdict: for a conference that much of the media thinks is irrelevant, doing a speech with no notes, from memory, that you’ve written yourself and with a major – technical – policy initiative is a high risk strategy. Whether of not you think it’s a good idea probably depends on whether or not you think he can pull it off…

I’m actually quite confident that a more relaxed style suits Ed better than standing rigidly behind a lectern. He’s better when he’s making eye contact with people and engaging with a room. But I also think that telling his life story isn’t going to make people think of him as a potential future Prime Minister. That’s what this speech needs to do.

We’ll be liveblogging/tweeting the speech this afternoon, and bringing you analysis of the speech soon afterwards.


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  • I very much agree he’s a better speaker in Q&A/without notes vs having the autocue and a podium. It’s like two different people. The stiff awkwardness seems to disappear and his (like Darling before him) little-appreciated dry wit comes through. I think it’s worth the accusations that will come his way that he’s apeing Cameron’s 2005 speech if it suits his discursive style best to deliver his remarks in this way.

  • PaulHalsall

    If he attacks welfare he can say goodbye to my vote.

    • That role was left to Byrne on Radio 4 this morning*. Of course, Byrne could have opted for a less divisive approach and objected to limitless hand-outs for landlords (housing benefit) but that wouldn’t have played well with the tabloids, so it’s business as usual – keep the least well-off in the cross-hairs. 


    • That role was left to Byrne on Radio 4 this morning*. Of course, Byrne could have opted for a less divisive approach and objected to limitless hand-outs for landlords (housing benefit) but that wouldn’t have played well with the tabloids, so it’s business as usual – keep the least well-off in the cross-hairs. 


      • AlanGiles

         Frankly it makes Labour look very mealy mouthed and two faced keeping Byrne at DWP. Last week for example, when he was whining about young Scots unemployed – a genuine and serious problem, as we all know, in opposition Byrne regards them as victims – in office they were to blame, or complicit, in being unemployed, and if Labour return to power with Byrne ladling out his poision they will become villans again.

        I wouldn’t wish the good people of Birmingham harm, but there are times I wish this oily heap of self-aggrandisment would go off and be a Mayor

      • aracataca

        Actually what he said was the focus will be on trying to help people to find work rather than hitting the unemployed with a big stick a la the current government. He also reiterated his opposition to the £26k limit. Tell the whole story of what he said Dave not just bits.

        • AlanGiles

           I know they say third time lucky, but why not choose a fourth screen name, Bill?

          How about Pollyanna 🙂

        • It’s just a matter of emphasis – Byrne’s in favour of a variable cap from region to region, why can’t he describe this as being in favour of a cap on hand-outs to landords? Hardly anyone in the country would disagree. But because it’s fashionable for politicians and the media to bash the poor, Byrne wants to jump on the bandwagon, apparently unaware that this is an ideologically motivated trend.

          And then Byrne decisively avoids policy by suggesting the matter is should be handed over to a “panel of wise experts” who will ensure “no matter where you live, you are better off in work.”

          Why don’t we just cut out the middle-person and elect wise experts to start with?

        • Serbitar

          Byrne’s opposition to the £26k cap is mostly because he thinks it is TOO HIGH for poorer areas of the country, e.g., the North, which should have a LOWER cap set in respect to benefit levels.

  • I don’t see anything special about not using notes. If you are a public speaker, notes are an irrelevance anyway. Using notes really shows a lack of experience.

    He can talk about his background, but that won’t connect him with anyone else but the policy wonks that inhabit conference. He had a privileged background, just like most other politicians, cosseted and insulated from the rest of the country. His school may have nominally been a comprehensive, but then so are many public schools. 

    He might say what he believes in, with no spin, but I doubt it. It’s not fashionable to be a conviction politician these days. He’s more likely to state, in vague unmeasurable terms, what he’s against (Tories mainly, with some LibDem thrown in), and talk about “The squeezed middle” or similar with references to predistribution thrown in. 

    Many of us in struggling companies will be worried about the proposed large hike in NMW, as we are very aware that it would put our companies out of business. Similarly, we know that there aren’t enough rich to tax them enough to make a difference. 

    He could flesh out some ideas about what government is actually for, and what it should do for the people, but that would be too Tory for most.

  • rekrab

    Ain’t conference a strange place? the leadership elevated in a high place, almost an ivory tower placement with the MP’s huddled together in a safe zone, it’s entire structure is divisive.Jeez! I’ll get the popcorn ready for the leaders speech as the show goes on.   

  • AlanGiles

    I think Ed will make a very big mistake, if, as has been  reported, he intends to paint himself as a humble man of the people, and going on about his comprehensive school – given that he then went on to Oxford and Harvard. Contrasting bis comprehensive school with Cameron’s Eton might, to some people, sound like envy (I wouldn’t have wanted to go to Oxford or Eton personally), or an attempt to stir up “class war” – it will merely make him look rather paltry and silly.

    Labour these days cannot pretend there is much difference in background (or outlook, frankly)  between some of them and the Conservatives.

    • aracataca

      Doesn’t matter what he says you’ll slag it off.

      • AlanGiles

         If you say so, Bill – you seem to think you have the gifts of Mystic Meg.

        By contrast, if Miliband announced this afternoon the policy of slaughter of the first born, and making his horse Emperor, you would be first on your feet to lead the applause because he will be wearing the right colour rosette.

    • Chilbaldi

      You are right about the school bit, Alan.

      Attacking the Tories on their private educations is foolish in the extreme. Anyone remember the Crewe and Nantwich by election where we deployed a similar strategy and were humiliated?

      Fact is, for better or for worse, many in this country aspire to earn enough to send their children to these schools. They look at them as marks of excellence. We wont get anywhere by attacking them, and the people who went to them.

      More sensible option – just lay out concrete plans on how state schooling is going to brought up to the level of private schools.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    We will hear the speech very shortly and then we will actually know what is said.

    Once we hear what is said, then we will know if it is inspiring or not.  I believe myself to be level headed, and so I will listen with no preconceptions. In spite of doubts I have expressed about EM, I am really hoping that the speech is a good one, and that we will hear some good ideas, if no specific policies then a clear general direction. Something like a road map of where we are going, would be excellent.

    As a loyal Labour member, I wait hoping that it will be a good speech that goes down well and chimes in with a good number of the electorate.

    The flip side of the negative stuff about Ed is that with this governemnt so unpopular, if Ed could do it and could turn around the Hamlet image (the Alan Giles called it) then we would rocket forwards in the polls.

    Good luck Ed I wish you well.

  • Dave Postles

    Perhaps  it’s overshadowed by the death of Eric Hobsbawm yesterday.  I hope some tributes are paid.

  • rekrab

    I’m even more confused. One nation paternalism? where those overlooking from their ivory tower throw the scraps to those on ground zero.What about good old Atleeism, where we all have the right to reach for the sky’s.  

  • brianbarder

    I thought the speech was a slightly uneasy mixture of a declaration of personal ‘faith’ (worrying echoes of TB there) with not many announcements of specific policy intentions, certainly nothing like enough to satisfy the growing demand for more clarity.  Two apparent contradictions struck me, and will probably strike EM’s critics. First, it’s odd to put so much emphasis on the idea of One Nation — an idea originating and closely associated with the Tory party, by the way — while at the same time proposing an educational reform that would apparently divide the nation into the 50% of “academic” pupils who go on to university and the other 50% who will receive what sounds like a mainly vocational and technical education leading on to apprenticeships and a lot of work experience.  Uncomfortable reminders of the 11+ and educational apartheid (grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical colleges), and hard to reconcile with the comprehensive principle which EM claimed had made him what he is.  Secondly, it was difficult to accept the apparently impromptu style of the speech — look, no notes!, striding to and fro, lots of repetition, and so on — when advance copies of the speech had obviously been given to the media 24 hours or so previously, as a result of which the main points had been extensively trailed in the press and on the television and radio news bulletins. 

    But these niggles aside, there was plenty of good, rousing stuff in it and I guess, perhaps over-optimistically, that it will have gone some way to dissipate the wonkish academic image which gets in the way of EM looking and sounding like a normal human being, never mind a prime minister in waiting.

    Incidentally, constantly being addressed as “Friends” (and once as “Ladies and Gentlemen”) grated a bit, on me anyway.  This was a Labour party conference, after all: what’s wrong with “Comrades”, which would have nicely complemented the theme of national unity?


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