Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Miliband enters the lions den and gets away with it - just about

 

True, there was no standing ovation. The TUC doesn’t do ecstatic. But in a speech sandwiched between debates on low paid youth - enlivened by the fact that the speakers were mostly young workers on low pay - and on rail privatisation, Miliband repeated that he was “absolutely determined” to reform the way union members donate to Labour. And survived.

Otherwise he dwelt heavily on the economic inequality preoccupying an audience so pragmatic that the biggest applause came when he declared that “we’ll say to any business: if you want a major government contract, you must provide apprenticeships to the next generation"

In places it was oddly pedagogic – confiding that “living standards have been falling for longer than at any time since 1870” and that "Britain is currently 159th in the international league table of investment.”

This may need a little amplification since to the ignorant it seems to put us in the same division as – say Somalia, North Korea, and, er, Greece.

And he took his passion for invoking 19th Century Conservative prime ministers even further yesterday with an unexpected eulogy of Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby. Derby (or “Red Ed” as Miliband fancifully referred to him in his one joke of the day) had been the “first man to legislate to allow trade unions in this country”. And had marvelled at the “almost perfect military discipline” of an 1867 union march (the sort, he didn’t say, that these days Miliband would be in big  trouble for joining).

Like the Labour leader’s favourite, Disraeli - and unlike David Cameron who “doesn’t just write you off but oozes contempt for you from every pore” - Lord Derby was a “one nation” Conservative. Does Miliband ever wonder if he isn’t overworking the “one nation” theme? Apparently not.

The 1945 Attlee government - the only mentionable Labour administration these days - was a “one nation” government. And the changes to the Labour link were needed to build - a bit of a tautology - “a one nation country".

Maybe having a woman TUC general secretary and president helped? Asking photographers not to obstruct delegates, the president, Lesley Mercer, added - in a kindly tone that might have eluded some of her male predecessors - “and I would ask delegates to tolerate the photographers who are union members doing their job".

The Q and A - during which Miliband’s tone was notably livelier and less monotonous than in the speech itself - was polite. Even if PCS president Janice Godrich was clearly disappointed by the answer to her blunt “are you for or against austerity?" which was roughly speaking: "against, but in practice we have to get the deficit down to be credible".

Worryingly for those wanting reductions in the unions’ block vote and say in electing leaders and parliamentary candidates - which Miliband did not mention - Unite leader Len McCluskey was quite nice about him.  But Unison’s Dave Prentis said all this talk about reforming the party link was “a turn-off”. So there was some traction after all.   

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high