Matthew Norman: It really doesn't matter what Ed said

For all the triangulating between baddies rich and poor, Miliband will never be the Bill Clinton of Hampstead

Share
Related Topics

Three minutes and 45 seconds into Ed Miliband's speech yesterday, my mind wandered off to a fantasy world in which some mischievous sprite had spiked his larynx-lubricating Evian with a truth serum.

"Conference," intoned Little Ed in the escapist grotto of my mind, "you'll have read that this is the most important speech of my life. Cobblers. It couldn't matter less. Outside this hall and a few newsrooms, think-tanks and blogger's bedrooms, not a soul is listening to a word I say.

"I know you're fascinated because you, like me and the media, are political hypernerds who live in a cocoon of self-importance to protect us from any sense of our own irrelevance.

"Yet irrelevance is what defines any Leader of the Opposition so early in the life of a government the public has clearly decided to give a fair chance. That same public has also decided that it can no more picture me grinning triumphantly outside No 10 than Robert Mugabe, Tulisa or that late, great champion greyhound Mick The Miller.

"Look, though I say so myself, I had a brilliant summer. I killed on phone-hacking, and struck a nuanced tone on the riots. And what good did that do me? Bugger all. My defining summer moment was coming round from the septum surgery with the same nasal whine you hear today.

"I wish it were otherwise, but I still look and sound like I'm auditioning for the forthcoming ITV1 series Adrian Mole's Mid-life Crisis, and that's something the electorate can't seem to get beyond. Less than a quarter see me as a potential PM, and plenty couldn't pick me out in an identity parade if the other seven were Peruvian mountain llamas. For Christ's sake, Harriet Harman referred to me on Sunday as 'David'.

"Now, I could ignore all that reality, and lay a big line on you about the 'quiet crisis' in British families, but the 29 TV viewers would only snort to themselves about the not-so-quiet crisis in mine. I could reduce the complexities of business to Predators vs Producers, as if it were a tag team match in wrestling, and bang on about persecuting the jobless over social housing to introduce a reward ethos into welfare. Well, fair has nothing to do with anything. What's fair about my lot?

"I'm shackled to a shadow Chancellor who patronises me while overtly seeking my job either for himself or his ice-pixie missus, and the only saving grace about Ed Balls is that the punters really hate him where they are merely indifferent to me. The rest of my front bench, as Lord Prescott has graciously pointed out, is a bone-idle shadow government of none of the talents.

"Expediency forces me to pick a fight with the union leaders who put me here, the bastards, and God help me if the public sector strikes go ahead. Even as things stand, I no longer have even an obviously soft poll lead over the Tories. And to inherit this radioactive pile of pus, I broke my poor old mum's heart.

"Anyway, conference, here's the deal. I'm not quitting when no one, least of all that crybaby David, could do this frankly impossible job any better. But I stay with this understanding: unless the financial crisis becomes an apocalypse necessitating a government of national unity, my purpose remains the same as William Hague's after he inherited a loathed and discredited party in 1997.

"I am here to prevent a civil war, and ensure that Labour survives for the next leader, or two, or even three, to take us back to power a decade or more from today. Thank you for listening, and please don't embarrass me or yourselves by getting up."

Back in the real world of the speech he did give ... but what the hell am I saying? The imaginary post truth-drug address transcribed above is the real world. The speech he actually gave was built upon the fantasy, colluded in by delegates and media in a mass collective act of madness, that anything Ed Miliband says could make an iota of difference to anything.

It was, for what it's worth, a perfectly adequate speech. It started well, with some mildly amusing gags. The delivery, despite the reliance on over-emphatic dramatic repetition that defines the unnatural orator, was fine. Yet when a power surge cut transmission at the very moment he said, "My message to the public is simple ...", the metaphor spoke for itself. The screen went blank, and literally no one outside the chamber was paying any attention to the core of his message.

When the broadcast resumed, he was wittering on harmlessly about his "New Bargain", albeit without offering detail about how the world will be recalibrated to reward those with the right values. The "something for something" society isn't to my taste if that involves punishing the unemployed by relegating them down council house waiting lists in favour of those in work who can better afford commercial rents. But as irksome conference sloganising goes, "something for something" went well enough.

For all the triangulating between baddies rich and poor, he will never be the Bill Clinton of Hampstead. Empathy, passion and bedazzling rhetoric are not the forensic calling cards of the faintly weird policy wonk. Yet without locating the audience's G spot, he found enough of its erogenous buttons – a neat pastiche of Cameron's "We're all in this together"; "I am not Tony Blair"; love the NHS, hate Sir Fred Goodwin – to enflame them a little. His decency and intelligence were plain, and all in all he didn't do badly.

But then by no means is the Younger Milibandroid a bad leader. He has performed so well in the year since delivering the last "most important speech of his life" (remember much of that career-changer? Me neither. Not a dickie bird) that it's hard to conceive how he might have done better given the failure to resonate with the public, the personnel at his command, and the enduring toxicity of his brand. The finely balanced electoral maths do not disguise the historic fact that detoxification takes an age for ruling parties routed at the polls.

It took Labour 13 years to recover after 1951, and 17 after 1979, the Tories a baker's dozen after 1997. None won under the first leader they elected in opposition, and while he will comfortably survive to fight an election, nothing Ed Miliband said yesterday offered a clue as to how he will buck that trend. But then nothing could have done that. No one was listening.

React Now

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

Y4 Teacher - Leicester

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: We are currently recruiting ...

VMware Infrastructure Engineer - (VCP, VMware) - £45k, London

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Infrastructure Engineer, VMware (VCP, NetApp,...

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor