Andy McSmith's Labour Conference Diary: Ed Miliband co-opts Gareth, Xiomara, Josephine (and a few others)


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Indy Politics

Politicians love to flavour their big speeches with tales of how they met and spoke to actual members of the public – but even by contemporary standards, Ed Miliband’s conference speech was unusually well stocked with cameo appearances by what they call “real people.”

There was Josephine, a cleaner, whose “company was decent but the wages were rubbish”. There was Xiomara, who could not afford higher education but has worked her way up to be a chef. There were two unnamed young women who spotted Ed in the park, one of whom told him: “My generation is falling into a black hole.”

Then along came Gareth, who is well paid but cannot afford a home for his family. He popped up on three separate occasions during the long speech. The Labour leader is working, as my colleague Donald Macintyre reports, on a “route map for people such as Gareth”. By the time Ed Miliband had finished speaking, Gareth was trending on Twitter. He was subsequently identified as Gareth Edwards, a technical consultant with a firm called Softwire. Just as cynics in the audience were wondering if any of these people actually existed, the Labour leader got on to Elizabeth, an auto-electrician apprentice – and proved that she was real by pointing her out in the audience and having her stand up, to hearty applause.

Finally, there was “an amazing man called Colin” who met Ed in hospital, but then sadly died. I am told that all the named characters received a call from Ed Miliband’s office to check that they did not object to being mentioned – except, obviously, Colin, whose daughter was contacted instead. She said her father would have been “very honoured”.

The numbers game

Before the big speech, word went around that it was to be 80 minutes long, so there was some relief when it came to an end after a mere 67 minutes, during which Ed Miliband spoke without notes or teleprompter. Meanwhile, a clever bod from the New Statesman has counted the number of words in the speeches from other Shadow Cabinet members, and noted that the three shortest – at less than 850 words each – were from the young rising stars Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, and the shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander. This has led to speculation that they may have been ordered to keep it short. Ed Miliband’s office says that is not true.

Cheers for the name many refused to utter

I mentioned yesterday the extraordinary reluctance of the main speakers to utter the name “Gordon Brown”. He was not pleased, I hear. However, Ed Miliband made amends in today’s speech when he listed the heroes and heroines of the referendum campaign, and put Gordon Brown’s name first. It is years since the former Prime Minister has received a cheer as loud as the one they gave him today.