Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Ed Miliband can do anything – even bring peace to the Middle East


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Indy Politics

Here’s the thing, friends. Some people think of Ed Miliband as an ivory-tower intellectual, stuck up there in Dartmouth Park; nice guy, but lacking the common touch. Surrounded by wonks. Not a man of the people.

This is rubbish. Which is just the word used about politics by Xiomara, whom he met in a pub “near where I live” (because Ed does go down the pub, you know,), who’s worked her way up to being a chef but still can’t afford to go to college. And Xiomara is not alone. Because everywhere he goes he seems to bump into a regular punter who obligingly says something that will help with his conference speech.

Let’s talk about Gareth, for example (which the Labour leader did a lot today). Gareth, “high up at a software company”, who has a five-year-old daughter whose future he worries about and who “can’t afford to buy a home… for his family” and ”thinks that unless you’re one of the privileged few in Britain, the country is not going to work for you…” Which is why, as Ed put it (this was a strictly first names only speech, after all), Labour’s new 10-year plan was nothing short of a “route map for Gareth.”

And there were two women who were delighted to meet someone famous (him) but confessed that they’d have been happier if it was Benedict Cumberbatch. One of them said “something which really stuck with me. She said: ‘My generation is falling into a black hole…’ Now she was speaking for millions of people… who have lost faith in the future.”

It was a break that someone crazed to meet Benedict Cumberbatch would come up with a perfectly honed soundbite like that. And Ed didn’t name her. We journalists understand that. She probably said: “Look, strictly off the record Ed, but my generation is falling into a black hole. I think you’ll find I’m speaking for millions.”

But he did name “an amazing man called Colin in his 80s” who he met in a Watford hospital and “sadly died a few weeks later”. Colin had been alive before Labour’s formation of the NHS “and I remember him saying to me: ‘Ed, the problem then was you were on your own.’”

Which was jolly convenient of Colin because one of Ed’s Big Themes was that Labour stood for “Together” and the Tories stood for “You’re on Your Own.” That’s for the many and not the few, of course. Because “if you are a millionaire who wants a tax cut… you’re not going to be on your own.”

Ed’s borderline TV evangelist style – he used “friends” at least 30 times and his new catchphrase, “Here’s the thing”, six times – may not be to everyone’s taste. And some of his promises – like solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “a very, very, important task of the next Labour government, friends” – seemed a mite ambitious. But the pledge for extra NHS funding, the attack on Cameron – “he said he was a compassionate Conservative before the election and imposed the bedroom tax after the election” – went down a storm. And unlike on Monday, he recalled Gordon Brown’s role in the Scottish referendum campaign.

Likewise when he pointed out how he had stood up to Rupert Murdoch over hacking, the utilities over prices, and the Daily Mail for saying “my dad hated Britain, when I knew he loved Britain.” They stood and cheered. What’s more, Miliband is now a man with a plan. A  10-year plan, friends. “A route map for the country”. A route map for Gareth.