Ed Miliband's speech was the political moment when New Labour gave way to One Nation Labour

Stunningly artful in positioning and projection, this speech by the Labour leader will resonate with many of the Liberal Democrats in government

Share
Related Topics

Navigating his party from New Labour to One Nation Labour, Ed Miliband has delivered one of the cleverest and most significant party conference speeches in recent years, one that will make a difference to the way he and his party are perceived.

Already much attention has been given to the deft delivery, speaking without notes for more than an hour and managing a Blair-like tonal variety as he did so. The style was important, making it harder for his Tory and media opponents to portray him as a weird, detached geek. No geek can  grip a hall with an informal style that managed to be humorously conversational while rising at times to an oratorical flourish. The fact that he spoke with such apparent ease cements his relationship with his party and gives him the chance to engage with the wider electorate, too.

But the substance was far more important than the manner of the delivery. Miliband has seized a rare opportunity, claiming for his party the One Nation label associated with the Conservatives when they were an election-winning machine in the last century.

George Osborne’s Budget with the tax cut for high earners, the wider sense that a group of “posh boys” from David Cameron downwards lead a “two nation” country, the “pleb” jibe from Andrew Mitchell, the support of Nick Clegg for the some of the radical right-wing policies unveiled like bullets in the autumn of 2010 – all of these things make it at least feasible for a Labour leader to suggest he can speak for the wider electorate currently disillusioned and frightened by what is happening.

One Nation

In a way that was hardly noticed, the local elections last May gave some greater credence to his narrative when Labour was the only party to secure a decent level of representation across most of the UK.

Seizing the label is easy and has been tried before. What Miliband did with his “one nation” theme was the key to the speech. Some saw the move as an imitation of Tony Blair. But it was subtler and more ambitious than that. Having claimed the consensual middle ground, he hinted at the radical policies that the one nation would expect, explicitly moving on from both old and new Labour. Indeed, he led a third way between the two, insisting that he would not neglect the private sector as old Labour was perceived to have done and yet was not relaxed about the few at the top getting richer without scrutiny as New Labour was.

Instead of falling into the trap of outlining precise policies, which is daft two-and-a-half years before an election, Miliband gave the outlines of his radical course, challenging cartels, overhauling the banks, limiting price rises of the private monopolies, revising the Coalition’s expensively chaotic reforms of the NHS.

Speaking for more than an hour he made no spending pledges. As key figures in Labour’s 1997 election campaign, he and Ed Balls are too experienced to fall into “tax and spend” traps this time.

Yet the speech can only be a beginning. Miliband faces 1,000 thorny issues that were not addressed. He has attacked the “Tory tax cut for millionaires” but does not say whether he will raise taxes for high earners at the election. He still has not gone into very much detail about how he plans to reduce the costs of train fares, energy bills and petrol that he rightly detects are becoming a potent political theme.

More widely, his vision of a more responsible capitalism remains more or less as ill defined as last year when he first raised it. He and Balls still have some very big decisions to take on public spending, although as I wrote yesterday, they have taken one of them. Like New Labour in 1997 there will be few spending commitments in their manifesto.

Projection

In advance of the other big, contentious decisions, Miliband used the space for positioning and personal projection, the relatively easy stages of the long sequence.

Still, the positioning and projection were stunningly artful. Cameron and Osborne, a duo that persistently misread the political scene, have been telling friends they had a winning trump card in the form of Miliband’s leadership. They will not make the assertion with the same swaggering confidence for the time being.

Read the diaries of Labour cabinet ministers from the 1970s and they were all delighted when the Conservatives elected Margaret Thatcher, assuming that she could not win an election. Political leaders are terrible judges of their opponents.

Miliband still has a huge amount of work to do and big decisions to make. He cannot next year deliver another almost policy-free speech.

But I suspect that quite a lot of Liberal Democrats were more enthused by Miliband’s speech yesterday than they were by Clegg’s last week and all Conservatives will be worried about it.

As for Labour, the party faces many daunting tests before the election but it is more at ease with its leader than the other two are with theirs. Few thought that would be the case when Miliband was elected two years ago.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A sculpture illustrating the WW1 Christmas Truce football match in Liverpool  

It's been 100 years since the Christmas Truce, but football is still changing the world

Jim Murphy and Dan Jarvis
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there