Andy McSmith: Suddenly Miliband sounds different from Cameron. It may work

The Labour leader did not sound like the PM – but then neither did the man himself

Related Topics

Politicians all sound the same, it is sometimes said. But yesterday the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition took very different positions as they delivered their respective thoughts on last week's riots. Ed Miliband did not sound at all like David Cameron. Come to that, David Cameron did not sound much like himself.

The Conservative leader is the man who rescued his party from its "nasty" image by avoiding hardline talk on law and order, of the "prison works" type, which the party faithful love to hear.

He made a much misquoted speech on youth crime five years ago, pleading "let's try and understand what has gone wrong in these children's lives." It was the "hug a hoodie"speech, lampooned by Labour.

The Prime Minister was not hugging hoodies yesterday. The word 'understanding' did feature in his long speech in Oxfordshire, but other phrases rang out. "Right and wrong", "moral neutrality", "bad behaviour", "irresponsibility", "selfishness", "a concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture", "where are the parents?", "held back by bureaucracy", and "if you do the wrong thing you'll be disciplined" were all there, along with a passing mention of that old Tory cure for undisciplined youth, National Service.

This was Cameron's answer to those who think because he talked about understanding, he is not tough enough to deal with disorders on last week's scale. As he put it: "I want to make something very clear – I get it. This stuff matters."

In political terms, the strategy adopted by Ed Miliband has more risks. Older hands like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Blunkett, Jack Straw or John Reid would never have let themselves be outflanked on crime by the Conservatives, because of long memories of how Labour almost self-destructed in the early 1980s. With eyes open, Ed Miliband has walked into political territory where no Labour leader has dared tread since he was a pupil at Haverstock Comprehensive school, the place where he gave yesterday's speech.

A call for understanding – the word Cameron was careful not to utter – was the centrepiece. He was deliberately agnostic about the underlying cause of the riots, even resisting the temptation to blame Tory cuts in the police budget. Criminality pure and simple, family breakdown, parents who fail to teach children right from wrong, and lack of opportunity all featured in his speech, but only Miliband denied that any one of them was a complete explanation for last week's events. He wants a commission to uncover the truth.

By taking this line, the Labour leader risks being accused of making excuses for rioting and looting. His answer to the charge is that choosing a 'simplistic' answer to a complex question is "not strength but an absolute abdication of responsibility." To buttress his case, he quoted words by a previous opposition leader who believed "there are connections between circumstances and behaviour" – David Cameron. Even if the Labour leader's strategy fails, Miliband can draw comfort from the fact that at last he is getting a hearing. The debate over the riots features Cameron versus Miliband, not Cameron versus Clegg, or the Tory right. If it works, Miliband will cast himself as the voice of reason who kept calm in a crisis, and will show up David Cameron as a man who said one thing when the going was easy and another in tough times. It is risky strategy, but it may work.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The old 1,000 Greek drachma notes and current 20 euros  

Greece debt crisis: History shows 'new drachma' is nothing to fear

Ben Chu
David Cameron leaves Number 10 to speak at Parliament  

Tunisia attack: To prevent more bloodshed we must accept that containment has not worked

Patrick Cockburn
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
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue