Ed Miliband has attempted to kickstart his political fightback with a major speech in which he has tried to silence the increasingly vocal criticism of his leadership.
With six months to go until the next general election, Mr Miliband has been stung by recent polls which revealed just 13 per cent of the public think he is ready to be PM. The same poll also gave him the lowest satisfaction rating for all four party leaders.
Admitting last night that he has gone through a “tough few days”, the speech has been seen as a make-or-break moment in which he tries to win over an increasingly jittery Labour Party – as well as convince voters he can be the next PM.
Here are seven passages from the speech that show how he will go down fighting:
1. "You know there is a saying that goes: 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' Being Leader of the Opposition, particularly in the last few days, I know what it means. You need resilience in this job. You need thick skin. But above all, you need belief in what you are doing. Not belief based on a longing to have a picture on the wall in Downing Street. Not belief driven by a sense of entitlement, that it is somehow Labour’s turn. Instead, belief driven by how we must change the country."
That’s his pitch. Even his worst enemies accept that he is resilient. He has two positive character traits. One is that he is seen as more “in touch” with the people than David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The other is that he is still standing. He hasn’t showed the strain, unpleasant and difficult though it obviously is. That may be enough to earn him a hearing, but it is the next bit that is important: How his “belief” is going to change the country.
2. "We’re in a fight not because our opponents think we’re destined to lose the election. But because they fear we can win. And between now and the election they are going to use every tactic to try to destabilise, distract us and throw us off course. Our task, the task for every person in this party, is simple: To focus our eyes on the prize of changing this country."
3. "Now I have heard some people say they don’t know what we stand for. So let me take the opportunity today to spell it out in the simplest of terms ... This country is too unequal. And we need to change it … So it starts with one core belief. Our country only works for the privileged few today, not for most people."
This is the nod-along bit of the speech. Most people would probably agree with it, although it just sounds odd to me, because there are lots of people who are not rich who think this country is a good place to live and don’t really recognise his picture of country divided between fat cats and face-ground poor. Luckily, he was coming to that bit...
4. "It is about...people making a decent living but who can’t afford to buy a home of their own.
People who worry that one of the foundation stones of their security – the NHS – is under threat. People asking why they are on zero hours contracts while some of those at the top get away with paying zero tax."
This is where the nodding stops. Yes, these are problems, but how can anyone fix them with mere rhetoric? People know that there is no money left. The more fair-minded may not blame the last Labour government particularly, but they know you can’t just order house prices to be lower or the NHS to be more efficient. And they know all politicians promise to tackle tax avoidance: it is what they do.
5. "This inequality is not some accident. It is driven by beliefs about how you run countries and how we should run Britain. Wrong beliefs. Beliefs that have had their time. The belief that insecurity is the way you make working people work harder. The view that low pay is the only way we can compete in the world. The idea that markets will always get the right outcome, even if that means powerful interests have all the power."
Hang on. The speech has gone off course. We want to know what a Labour government would do. Not a ridiculous caricature of this government. These are not just wrong beliefs. They are beliefs that no one holds. David Cameron and George Osborne are unpopular, mainly because they haven’t yet delivered a return to rising real earnings, but not because anyone thinks they “believe” in low pay and insecurity. Fortunately, Miliband now said: “So what do we replace these failed ideas with?”
6. "Here’s what I believe. … Security. Hard work rewarded. Vested interests made to work in the public interest. Public services there when you need them. And a country succeeding together, not ripped apart. Labour values. The values of the British people. The values that will win us the general election."
Labour values are indeed popular. And the Labour Party has a leader who is resilient under attack, but that tells us nothing about how he would run the economy better. Anyone hoping for details gets slogans, rhetoric and guff followed by lists of micro-policies, such as freezing energy prices, that raise the question, “How?”
7. "The Tories have no answers to the discontent people feel. Ukip have wildly wrong answers to that discontent. And who knows what one can say about the Liberal Democrats? Friends, I say we can take this lot apart and it is time we did."
This was the bit that got the best applause. “Take this lot apart” is a direct quotation from Tony Blair’s farewell speech to Labour conference in 2006. And yet the comparison is so unflattering to Miliband that I am beginning to feel sorry for him.
Today’s speech was a re-run of his conference speech, remembering to mention the deficit and immigration. If that was an exam he had to pass to become prime minister, this was the re-sit. He may have managed to raise his grade by one. He’s quite good at reading from autocue, and sounding passionate about changing the country, even if no one has any idea how the changes might be brought about.
But if that is the best he can do, all it means is that he might lose with a bit of dignity.Reuse content