He's been compared to Kinnock, to Duncan Smith. But what about Thatcher?

Today Miliband must explain why his vision of a fairer country does not mark him out as a wild communist, but places him on the political centre ground
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The election of a new leader can generate a sense of outward looking optimism in a party or introspective anxiety. So far Labour's weird and subdued conference looks inward.

Questions rage about the two brothers, the future of David and the suitability of Ed to meet the titanic demands ahead of him. Today in his first big speech as leader Miliband has the chance to guide his bewildered troops towards the wider electorate, voters that seek more from a party than the staging of another bizarre and sad psychodrama. One of the great clichés in political journalism is to suggest that a leader's conference speech is the most important in his or her life. In the case of Miliband today the cliché applies.

Some of the questions asked of the younger Miliband are absurd and easily addressed. Sneering Blairites and their allies in the media wonder whether Ed is Neil Kinnock who failed to win an election. Others suggest he is Labour's Iain Duncan Smith who did not even contest an election. Miliband will not be like either of them. In an otherwise unpredictable situation that is certain. He acquires the crown in a very different and more benevolent context.

Neil Kinnock had never experienced power when he became Labour leader. Government was a distant land, one he feared he would never reach. Already Miliband has more experience of power than most of the current cabinet, having been part of the Treasury team after 1997 that formed an alternative government to Blair's. He has been a cabinet minister. Power is not seen as impossibly elusive to those who have tasted it. Nor is Miliband the equivalent of a Tory leader after 1997 seeking to make a pitch against a landslide government. He leads in a hung parliament. The last Leader of the Opposition in a hung parliament was Margaret Thatcher. She won the 1979 election that followed.

Obviously a shared context does not mean that Miliband will make the same stratospheric electoral leaps. Labour's new leader faces his own unique challenges. In particular he must escape as a matter of urgency the fraternal psychodrama, a family soap opera with an easily overlooked ideological edge. David made a good speech at the conference yesterday without notes, showing humour, dignity and more of his authentic voice than is sometimes on public display. That is often the case when a candidate is defeated. He or she discovers a compelling public voice.

Some of the more militant Blairites urge him to stay on, take the post of shadow chancellor and seize control of the domestic agenda. Militant Blairites, worse losers than the old Brownites, tell him that he was the real winner of the contest and must save the party from itself. If heeded, such advice will lead to a fatal political crisis for Labour within a year. If David remains in the Shadow Cabinet on the assumption that he was the real winner and that his new role is to keep his party as Blairite as possible, and to be available if Ed fails, Labour will have a Blair/Brown situation on its hands as well as renewed fraternal rivalry. David should stand for the Shadow Cabinet only if he wants to do so as part of a team under his younger brother and without any ambition to lead. If he does so on any other basis the tensions will be unsustainable. Even if he acts on such a noble basis the media will not allow the duo to escape from the soap opera, as Alastair Campbell observed wisely yesterday.

The decision is David's, but as a leader the younger brother must decide what he wants to do with leadership, in the end a much bigger call. If Ed spends the next six months manically trying to appease hostile newspapers and fuming Blairites he will lose his distinct voice and will not be leader by the time of the next election. He has caused family hell by his decision to stand. Now he is leader there is no point trying to be anything other than what he is.

He has no need to lose his real voice. One of the more positive elements of this strange conference is the degree to which the younger MPs and activists enthuse about their new leader. The brightest of Labour's new intake of MPs were keen supporters in the contest. Their youthful enthusiasm will be mirrored in the country, at least for now, as first-time voters contrast a coalition following an outdated economic policy with Labour's new leader. Who is more extreme: George Osborne rushing to cut quickly and deeply or the mild-mannered Ed who accepts cuts are necessary but not at such a manic pace? Red Ed is a moderate pragmatist compared with the Coalition's inflexible dogmatism in relation to wiping out the deficit in this parliament.

It is just possible that voters are in a different place from Tory/Blairite orthodoxy that argues for a small state, lightly regulated markets and pretends that choice in public services is feasible with low US levels of taxation. For advocates of the orthodoxy any challengers are revolutionary Marxists. But what if most voters challenge the orthodoxy too?

Today Miliband must explain why his vision of a fairer country does not mark him out as a wild communist, but places him on the political centre ground. Affluent voters must want him to prevail as much as the so -called core vote.

A few years ago Miliband spoke of appealing to voters' "selfish altruism", a useful phrase for future navigation even if it is not one that will be spoken around the land. In explaining the phrase he argued that so-called middle England benefits directly if they live in a country where those on low incomes are in decent houses and have access to good schools and training. There will be less crime, more people in work paying taxes and better public services. Somewhere in all of this lurks a populist argument to counter the view that the state is sinister or useless and that public spending is a waste.

Miliband has an audience today that extends well beyond the so-called Westminster village. His party is restless. Parts of the media stir. But he has far more space on which to make a mark than many new leaders embarking on the second most difficult job in British politics. We will soon know whether he has the strength of character to make the most of it.

Which side is he on? Issues that will define new leader

Political reform

Ed Miliband's party is split over the forthcoming referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote, but he has supported it. He has an important decision to make on whether or not to campaign on the issue. He included Lords reform in Labour's manifesto, but has to work out how to convince the public why Labour, and not the Coalition, is more committed to political reform.


Tough action on bankers and bank profits was a hallmark of his campaign. And during Labour's manifesto negotiations, he wanted to go further than Gordon Brown in hitting the banks. But he now needs to flesh out the specifics of a plan, which will include tougher regime for City regulation.

Law and order

While he has backed Kenneth Clarke's aim of cutting Britain's prison population, he has been vague on how he will reform the penal system, and he will come under pressure from the right of the party not to abandon New Labour's pledge to be tough on crime. Cutting prison places may be an acceptable form of budget cuts that placates left-wingers.

Graduate tax

Won support from student groups for opposing a rise in tuition fees and he has hinted that a tax of between 0.3 and 2 per cent on graduates would be a "fairer" system for solving higher education's funding black hole. But senior party figures such as Alan Johnson have already said a graduate tax would be madness. He will be lobbied hard not to proceed with the policy.

Foreign policy

Apart from rediscovering his opposition to the Iraq war during the leadership campaign, he has said little about his future approach to Britain's role in world affairs. He has not called for a rapid end to the Afghanistan conflict, as some on the left demand. He was happy to leave the speeches on foreign policy to his brother at leadership hustings.

Spending cuts

He has described the last Government's plan to reduce the deficit as a "starting-point". But he is yet to set out the centre-piece of his own economic policy. How quickly, and where, should the axe fall? What should the balance be between cuts and tax increases? Alistair Darling suggested a 2:1 ratio; Mr Miliband is likely to advocate a more even split.

Renewal of Trident

A crucial decision for the new leader. Mr Blair and Mr Brown were wedded to like-to-like replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent. Ed Miliband is known privately to fear that Trident is a Cold War weapon ill-suited to the 21st century. He might steer Labour to a sceptical attitude.

Civil liberties

Many Labour activists are dismayed by the last Government's enthusiasm for ID cards, CCTV and databases, aghast that the Coalition can portray itself as a defender of civil liberties. Ed Miliband has distanced himself from ID cards and CCTV, but said little on the issue.

In the bunker: Ed Miliband's speech-writing team

Greg Beales

Essex born and bred, former management consultant who became a Downing Street health and welfare adviser under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Boyfriend of Katie Myler, Ed Miliband's media spokeswoman, who is a former political adviser to Andy Burnham and Jacqui Smith, and the daughter of the News of the World editor Colin Myler.

Ayesha Hazarika

Late addition to the speech-writing team. Well qualified to inject the last-minute jokes because she is a stand-up comedian. Was Harriet Harman's special adviser in the last government and again this summer while Harman was acting Labour leader.

James Morris

A 30-year-old pollster who honed Ed Miliband's campaign message. Former student comedian so handy with the jokes. He is setting up a London office with Stan Greenberg, the veteran Democratic Party pollster whose marginal seats survey led to Gordon Brown's decision to call off the "non-election" in 2007.

Stewart Wood

A former Oxford academic and expert on international development, he worked for Gordon Brown after he became Prime Minister in 2007 and became a key member of his inner circle. Joined Ed Miliband's leadership campaign at the outset in May and headed its communications team.

Phil Taylor

Former special adviser to Peter Hain, the shadow Welsh Secretary and ex-Cabinet minister. Formerly at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank.