by Stephen Tall on September 28, 2010
It’s being billed as a huge speech for Ed Miliband, his first chance to place a personal stamp on the Labour party.
Begins with thanks for advice from all delegates, “some of it unsolicited”, followed by warm tribute to brother David Miliband. Ed dismisses idea he’s more left-wing; David, he says, threatened to nationalise his railway in revenge for Ed stealing his football. Next up on the tribute list is Harriet Harman.
Then there’s Alistair Darling, praised for “keeping his cool” during the financial crisis; and Jack Straw, for his, well, longevity. Then it’s straight onto the central theme: that Ed now represents the ‘New Generation’.
A very personal re-telling of how Ed’s family fled the Nazis to come to Britain to build a new life in freedom, has the conference hall in silence. Interestingly stresses that he was born into the Labour party, a counterpoint to Blair who made a point of saying he chose the party, was not born into it. “My values are my anchor” he says, and that he won’t be dragged (sounded like a fluffed line as it didn’t quite make sense).
Praises the Labour party for depriving the Tories of a majority, and for driving the BNP out. But “we had a bad result, a very bad result”, and asks the party to resolve to make the Coalition a one-term government — interesting that he’s not vowing to bring it down as early as possible. Then vows he will not be afraid to say unpopular things as elected leader.
Ed stresses the importance of challenging orthodoxy, and praises how New Labour did so, name-checking “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, all-women shortlists, and equality for LGBT communities.
A passage on the nation-states, hoping for good Labour results in Scotland and Wales, and stresses Tony Blair’s legacy of peace in Northern Ireland. Also praises Gordon Brown’s record in international aid.
So how come, asks Ed, that a party with such a proud record could lose 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010? Says Labour became out-of-touch — “I understand your anger” — and that Labour came “to look like a new establishment”. Slightly odd applause line: “If we are not this party, then no-one will be.” Er, yes.
Interesting: vows to make foreign policy “about values, not alliances” — yet David’s acclaimed speech was all about the value of multinational alliances. And now we’re onto the deficit, and Ed admits cuts would’ve happened under Labour, and that he will support painful cuts being brought forward by the Coalition. However, he attacks pace of cuts, saying it would be responsible to halve the deficit over one parliament; so nailing his colours to the Darling austerity plan — does that mean Ed (or Yvette) aren’t in line to become shadow chancellor?
Ed stakes the claim to the patriotic centre-ground: a “true patriot”, he argues, would want to ensure a society fit for children to grow up in. This means promoting growth and tackling inequality. (In parentheses, there have been quite a few verbal slips so far. He doesn’t look nervous, so must be unfamiliarity with the autocue.)
Now it’s immigration, and Ed says we must front-up on the issue, and “must challenge old orthodoxy that flexible labour markets are always the answer”; be interesting to know what this rhetoric means in policy terms.
“Red Ed” socks it to the unions, says he “will have no truck” with unions which call for irresponsible strikes. But says responsibility applies also to business. Now a full-frontal attack on inequality, invoking The Spirit Level’s argument that more equal societies are happier societies.
Very nuanced/bland line on welfare: benefits must be there for those who need them, but we must help back to work those who can. Nothing the Coalition (or any mainstream party anywhere) can disagree with there. Calls on Labour to oppose post office cuts, oppose cheap supermarket booze which undermines pubs.
Praises role of families: through them that we learn right or wrong. Jarring line about how he feels this especially keenly since the birth of his son. “Government can in itself become a vested interest,” admits Ed — first speaker this Labour conference I’ve heard admit this.
A very welcome section: Ed wants the Labour party to reclaim the mantle of civil liberties. Please do, Ed: it was a lonely fight for “the Liberals” (yes, he’s succombed to the Labour party’s puerile feigned inability to recall our party’s name) in the last parliament. There’s only lukewarm applause in the hall.
The Iraq war was wrong, says Ed: this is tomorrow’s headline, I suspect. Again, interestingly half-hearted applause from the audience: either they’re conflicted or bored (or both).
“I support changing our voting system, and will vote ‘Yes’ on AV. And yes we should have an elected House of Lords after taking about it for a hundred years. And yes we need more local democracy.” It’s a good job Labour got booted out, and the Lib Dems were able to get these policies in government then, isn’t it, Ed?
“I will be a responsible leader of the opposition” — calls for much better, more grown-up public debate. Dismisses the ‘Red Ed’ tag (“Come off it”), and declares he will lead an optimistic party, a “new generation” that will change the face of Britain.
What did Voice readers make of Ed’s speech?