Game on! Meet Ed the Contender

One nation? Britain gives Miliband another look

Ed Miliband emerged from lunch with the Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in London three months ago – and had his epiphany. It was what his aides describe as a "Borgen moment", after the hit TV drama about a female Prime Minister running a coalition in Denmark.

On a post-prandial walk around St James's Park, he told a shadow cabinet colleague he was going to make a bold "One Nation" pitch, stealing the Tories' clothes for Labour. The MP realised then it was a game-changing moment: last Tuesday, Labour delegates and the nation were impressed by its boldness.

Hours before his speech, another colleague said the leader had to be "listened to" before he could be respected or liked. "Being liked is a bonus, but to get into No 10 you need to win respect," he explained. Mr Miliband, perhaps against the odds, has cleared the first hurdle, earning the right to an audience. Now he needs to win the voters' respect.

Mr Miliband has been widely derided during his first two years in the job, an accidental leader who possessed neither the charisma, the strength or the strategy to return his discredited party to power. Allies maintain that, behind the scenes, he has displayed a degree of steel and passion that rarely makes it into the public domain. The relative absence of the epidemic of senior Labour figures briefing against each other that marred the traumatic Blair-Brown years is put down to the leader's refusal to tolerate disloyalty.

More tellingly, he has retained the confidence of MPs, first gathered more than two years ago during a bitter leadership campaign against his own brother.

"Ed got MPs to back him by sitting in Parliament and asking them to tell him 'their story' and how they'd got there," one supporter of the David Miliband campaign conceded last week. "He'd tell them they were what we need in the Labour Party and that they should come on the journey with him. That was Ed's first act; David's was to go to a marginal to find out why Labour had lost."

In private, at least, the younger Miliband had convinced the Labour electorate that he had potential. In public, he has struggled to get his message across – or even to convince that he has a message to deliver.

Last year, Mr Miliband and senior colleagues spent much of conference apologising for Labour's failures in government. His eagerness to talk about the "squeezed middle" and the failings of the coalition was cooled by a recognition that the public still wanted to punish Labour for its mistakes on the economy and issues such as immigration and welfare.

Twelve months on, fortified by a long-running – and widening – opinion poll lead, Labour is ready to move beyond self-flagellation. The basic requirement for progress was what one of the party's most senior strategists described as "building a framework for policies to fit into".

Labour advisers had argued since 2010 that the political reconfiguration that created the coalition offered Labour an opportunity to follow the New Labour path to revival. "There is a centre ground that has been vacated by Tories and even Lib Dems," one former cabinet minister explained. "We need to occupy that."

This summer, Mr Miliband took two weeks off for a family holiday in Greece. The more momentous development, his aides insist, was the leader's decision to change his mobile phone – number and all. "That's when he got really serious," one ally said. "We told him he shouldn't be answering calls from all and sundry when he should be concentrating on being leader."

Mr Miliband returned from holiday refreshed, and with an almost fully formed concept to present to the nation as his "big idea". His conference speech was completed almost immediately, and covered a dozen separate sections, including "my story", "Olympic spirit" and, crucially, "One Nation". Marc Stears, a friend from university, now professor of political theory at Oxford, helped, but aides insist it was written by the leader himself, at his black dining room table, with sons Daniel and Sam playing at his feet.

The speech, received warmly by activists and critics alike, was essentially a Labour riposte to David Cameron's flagging insistence that "we're all in this together". The Tory MP Dominic Raab slated the lack of substance, but conceded that: "This was a very stylistic speech."

It was, also, in its pledge of fairness and shared effort, an adequate framework on which to start building an electoral platform. Despite the implicit hostility towards the private sector and lower taxes for the rich, the Miliband camp insists: "Ed hasn't disavowed New Labour; he's just taken the best bits." One David supporter claimed the former foreign secretary could have delivered the same tour de force. But, in the wider sphere, Ed Miliband's performance put to rest any questions that his brother could do the job better.

And Mr Miliband did allow his party to show some ankle last week – but shadow ministers were told that new policies had to begin with an explanation of where the money required would come from, rather than simply how it would be spent.

Two conferences away from a general election, and with most shadow ministers maintaining that the party should not present concrete policies for at least a year, Mr Miliband does not have a programme. But he has a direction of travel. Labour is just beginning to look like a party with a plan of its own, one that goes beyond simply waiting to take over when the Government fails.

For the moment, the strategy is reinforced by polling returns that show Labour ahead not simply on voting intentions. An Ipsos Mori survey last week gave Labour a 14-point lead over the Conservatives as the party "most likely to understand the problems facing Britain", and Labour is already more trusted than anyone else in "heartland" areas, including health and education.

The strategy remains a risky one, however. Labour can spend the next two years successfully convincing the public that it is the party to trust across the entire policy spectrum, but Mr Miliband may still find himself in opposition after polling day.

The last election was fought almost exclusively on the economy, and 2015 is expected to be no different. Despite all their problems in recent months, the Tories still hold an advantage on the question of fitness to govern the country – and economic competence.

Miliband advisers accept that Labour's lead owes much to the coalition's faltering command of the nation's finances – and that any sign, however small, of a return to economic growth could be enough to return them to Downing Street.

One Labour strategist said yesterday: "The Tories will fight the next election using a combination of their campaign 1992 – talking about Labour's 'tax bombshell' – and Labour's campaign of 2001, which asked for more time to change the country.

"A return to growth would be difficult to argue against. What we have to do is bury Tory economic credibility so deep they will not be able to claim any credit for an upturn."

Bake offs & brothers: Labour's week


Joan al-Assam, the Iraqi refugee who, when praising her west London academy school from the Manchester stage, held her own when heckled by a comprehensive-supporting delegate.


Ed Balls. He may have helped the Labour XI to a 3-0 victory over journalists by scoring two goals, but his dive inside the box was worthy of Luis Suarez's worst on-field gymnastics.

Quote of the week

"What most women want is not a man who ties you to the bed, but one who unstacks the dishwasher while you watch The Great British Bake-Off." – Harriet Harman, who admitted she has read the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

Weasel words of the week

David Miliband, who said of his brother: "I'm determined to do everything I can by supporting him" – before leaving Manchester for New York hours before the leader's game-changing speech.

Surprising moment of the week

Tuesday, 4.50pm, lobby of the Midland Hotel: Ed Miliband and his wife Justine emerge from a side door to a two-minute standing ovation by delegates – many of whom are lobbyists – who thought they were popping in for a drink.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit