Miliband's speech was ok on argument, good on delivery, and bad on Labour's atonement

The party leader was surprisingly funny and confident in Manchester. But predictably enough he addressed the party faithful rather than the country at large

Related Topics

Ed Miliband’s tasks this afternoon were threefold: first, to argue rationally that come 2015, it will be time for a change in Britain; second, to explain in an emotionally engaging way that he is capable of embodying that change; third, and related, to show that Labour has understood its failures when last in power. How did he fare? In order: ok, quite well, and not very well.

On the first, he was hobbled by timing. Two and a half years ahead of a General Election, it wasn’t plausible for him to list a bunch of policy positions. And as Steve Richards argued in this morning’s Independent, we do in any case know quite a lot about what Miliband and Ed Balls would do. Still, the speech was strikingly short of detail: too short, in fact.

We thought we might hear some specifics about a living wage or taxes on wealth – a mansion tax, for instance – but there was none of that. Instead we got a moderately effective critique of the Coalition’s failings – particularly on the economy, where the government will borrow an extra £465bn between 2009-10 and 2014-15, as against New Labour’s extra £319bn between 1996-7 and 2009-10 – and a reasonable denunciation of its u-turns, botched Budgets, and complete mismanagement of the NHS.

On the second, his delivery seemed vastly and surprisingly improved. There were some good jokes about David Cameron’s tax status and new Cabinet appointments, and minimal stumbling. It was confidently done, and the much-vaunted trumpeting of his comprehensive education wasn’t laid on too thick. There was plenty of this is where I come from, this is what I believe, I might be an atheist of Jewish heritage but that’s ok because this is modern Britain and that’s how we roll. His invocation of Benjamin Disraeli's One Nation Conservatism is a reasonable but highly unoriginal gambit. The 0.1 per cent of Britain, or less, who watched the whole thing would have had their feeling that he’s a nice guy confirmed; for everyone else, they’ll probably be marginally less inclined to describe him as a weirdo. Not bad.

On the third, there wasn’t enough. All party conferences induce leaders to address the party faithful instead of the country. Tony Blair was exceptional in defying that trend. Today too, Miliband could have done much more to recognise public anger over Labour’s profligate spending, liberal immigration, and big welfare bill. He did briefly mention the fact that some of the Coalition’s cuts will be retained, that we’ll all have to work for longer, that Labour didn’t care enough for public concern over immigration, and that those who can work, should work. But a confrontation with the failings of the past this was not.

It’s always silly to pretend these speeches matter very much. Nobody cares about them outside of those who pore over every word. But when Miliband gets his few minutes on the news this evening, he and his advisers will reflect with mild satisfaction on the decent gags, hyper-confident delivery and tolerable lack of detail that make this his best conference speech yet. I’d give him 5/10, if 1 is your average PMQs performance, and 10 is Lincoln at Gettysburg. There’s a compliment in that.

Read Oliver Wright's verdict on the speech here.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Coordinator / Office Support Administrator

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This London Bridge based estate...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Advisor - Print

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based just north of York, this ...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The message displayed on the monitor of a Piraeus Bank ATM in Athens. The Bank of Greece has recommended imposing restrictions on bank withdrawals  

Get off your high horses, lefties – Big Government, not 'austerity', has brought Greece to its knees

Kristian Niemietz
A church in South Carolina burns after a fire breaks out on June 30, 2015  

America knows who has been burning black churches, but it refuses to say

Robert Lee Mitchell III
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map