Five years ago, with poor poll ratings, and facing the prospect of fighting an election against a popular incumbent David Cameron took to the podium at the Tory party conference in Blackpool.
Without notes or an autocue he outlined his personal vision of what a Conservative Government under his leadership would look like. “Today I want to make a speech about why I want to lead our country,” he said. “I am afraid I haven't got an autocue and I haven't got a script, I've just got a few notes so it might be a bit messy; but it will be me.”
With hindsight that speech changed the political weather. Gordon Brown bottled his plan to call an early election; Cameron was given breathing space to redefine the Tories and Labour lost power after 13 years While the parallels are not exact Ed Miliband’s speech in Manchester today may just have pulled off a similar trick. Miliband was unrecognisable from the awkward, stiff and slightly odd figure who addressed the Labour conference last year.
Without notes or an autocue Miliband was in turns confident, funny and impassioned. The speech had a clear ideological theme running through it - but its language was accessible and surprisingly passionate. When he stated that “inequality matters” you knew he meant it and you knew what he meant. Stealing the rhetoric, if not the ideology, of ‘one nation Conservatism’ Miliband set out what a future Labour Britain might look like – if not the exact policies Labour proposes to get there.
He promised to create a ‘one nation’ economy where, he said, “those with the broadest shoulders would carry the greatest burden”. He said he would promote a one nation business model where companies would be discouraged by law and regulation from putting short term profits ahead of employee rights and long term growth. And he promised a one nation education policy - subtly shifting Labour’s position from promoting universities to help those who don’t go to university at all.
Labour, and in particular Mr Miliband, still have an electoral mountain to climb if they are to win outright in 2015 – despite the current polls. But there was a sense today, for the first time, that Mr Miliband now has a coherent ideological strategy to get there – onto which policies can be added later. And, like David Cameron in 2007, he succeeded in fusing a picture of who he was with vision of the kind of Britain he wanted to create.
It was a powerful message, well delivered, which may in future be seen as the moment when Labour gave people something to vote for - rather than just against.
Read Amol Rajan's verdict on the speech here.