Donald Macintyre's Sketch: It was like watching a freaky identity swap movie - a non-Blairite in a Blairite body

There was the steely resolve, the trademark dilemma-speak and, above all, the glottal stop

How long it will last, no one can be sure. But the “massive” (his word, several times) changes to the Labour-union relationship announced by Ed Miliband proved the catalyst for a wholly unexpected all-round rapprochement with Tony Blair.

Blair praised Miliband. Miliband proudly referred to Blair, saying: “If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for everyone else.” And then Blair’s warm words about Miliband were described as “spot on” by, of all people, Len McCluskey.

Since the Unite leader has not only been in mano a mano combat with the present Labour leader in recent days, but is on a wing of the Labour Party that has hitherto regarded the party’s most successful election winner with about as much enthusiasm as it retains for the memory of Margaret Thatcher, this was a lot to take in in one short day. Peace had broken out in the People’s Party.

And Miliband began talking like Blair. Not all the time, but at several points during the announcement the Labour leader’s speech tunes were spookily reminiscent of his predecessor as in one of those identity-swapping movies, Vice Versa perhaps. A non-Blairite in a Blairite body!

There were the frequent sentences starting with “Look…” There was the steely resolve: “I’m absolutely determined that we are going to get these changes.” There was the trademark dilemma-speak: “You can deal with the individual issue [Falkirk and the row over candidate selection] and hope it all goes away or you can seize the moment and I’ve seized the moment.” And, above all, the glottal stop (coupled with the swallowed “I” which comes out as something like “er”) – as in “affilia-e” and “Look, er think this is qui-e a big change we’re talking about.” (Well, OK, you had to be there).

Overall, he did seem to have skilfully turned a crisis into an opportunity – another adage from the Blair playbook. No, he was at pains to say, he wanted to do more, not less, to involve trade union members in the party “the three million shopworkers, nurses, engineers, bus drivers, construction workers..." not to mention (and he didn’t) the teachers and professional/white collar types who seem to be an increasing proportion of trade unionists, not all of them fanatical Labour supporters.

What would happen, asked one of “our friends from the journalistic community” as Miliband a little archly described us to the young activists crowding the hall, if the unions refuse to allow their members to choose whether to contribute to Labour? Well – and this is a wild paraphrase – they could stuff their money. Where the funds will then come from is a question for another day.

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