Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Ed Miliband makes hard work of building his case in speech to business leaders


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As this summer’s other advertised attractions at the Science Museum’s IMAX cinema go, it was relatively low key. Not even the most ardent Labour supporter would describe Ed Miliband’s speech to business people today as an “extraordinary journey into the birthplace of the stars and beyond”.

Anyone expecting a full-on catfight between caricature capitalists and the man some suspect of being less pro-business than his two immediate predecessors would have been disappointed.

The speech was not so much boring as tiring. All those “challenges” – Miliband identified five of them but used the word 14 times. Reversing half a century’s failure to create a skilled workforce. Devising an industrial policy which fosters science, rebuilds infrastructure and ends “decades” of decentralisation. Ensuring long-termism in business. Reforming markets “in the public interest”. And stopping Britain “turning inwards”. They made you feel exhausted just to think about.

So it was just as well that Lord Adonis had already summarised some of this in a five-minute speech which made it all sound doable – while invoking the Victorians who had built the Science Museum out of the profits generated by the 1851 Great Exhibition.

One plus was that though Miliband adopted his free-wheeling stance with no visible notes, he was in fact teleprompted. This is good news. His tours de force at the party conference are one thing. But a party leader has better things to do with time than learn every “keynote” speech off by heart.

Another plus was that the passage declaring that he was not going “to follow others” by committing “to spending the next three years focusing on an EU referendum in 2017” drew three rounds of applause.

There is a nice irony here, which is that Unite leader Len McCluskey agrees with the Prime Minister about an EU referendum. And was praised for it in The Sun’s editorial. 

Which means that Miliband can now boast more convincingly if he chooses to (as he didn’t today) that big Len will not call all the policy tunes.