Analysis: Ed Miliband exorcises New Labour ghosts

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Indy Politics

Ed Miliband delivered his first Labour conference speech as leader today, saying he wanted to be free of the "ghosts of the past" - and spent much of his time exorcising them.

He did what was needed in both nodding to New Labour and burying it; in absolving himself from his union backing by decrying low wages and yet saying he would oppose irresponsible strikes; and in paying tribute to the armed forces while saying the Iraq war was wrong.

His ambitious pitch to usher in "a new generation now leading Labour" won predictable applause from the conference floor in Manchester, but some among the audience who wondered if they really had elected the correct Miliband might just have had their opinion changed.

They could have got the right answer, after all.

Mr Miliband was correct to remind both the party and the country of his refugee ancestry, since few outside the Westminster village have a clue who he is, just as they knew little or nothing about Tony Blair, David Cameron or Nick Clegg.

His personal narrative was informative without becoming mawkish, and allowed him to build a story of someone whose own politics were bound up in both tribal Labour stories and the Blair-Brown era, but now recognised the limitations of the last 13 years.

And in a deliberately stark message to the unions, he warned the party must learn the lessons of history, avoiding "waves of irresponsible strikes" while still standing up for the unreasonably low-paid.

Thus he signed up to the classic compromise of recent Labour leaders that he would support the unions, unless and until they took strike action that would appear unpopular.

Mr Miliband also made his obligatory nod to the parliamentary expenses scandal, acknowledging that people had lost faith in both politicians and politics.

And he ended with - although he may not have realised it - precisely the same appeal that David Cameron once made: to look on the bright side of life.

Or as Mr Cameron said in his first conference speech as leader: "Let the sunshine win the day."

The much-trailed humility about the past was certainly present, as was optimism for Labour's and the country's future.

Mr Miliband borrowed Tony Blair's phrase of "a journey" for his party, from opposition back to power.

Whether its new leader will end up down a cul-de-sac remains to be seen.