Reading between the lines of Ed Miliband's speech at Labour conference: this is what he really said

The Independent on Sunday's Chief Political Commentator has seen a few party conferences in his time. Here he reads between the lines of today's speech

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In italics below are quotes from Miliband; and in [square brackets], our writer's take.

"Thank you. It is great to be in Labour Manchester. Two years ago I was elected leader of this party. I am older - I feel a lot older - I am wiser, I am prouder than ever to be the leader of the Labour Party. You get called some names. Mitt Romney came to this country and called me Mr Leader. Half way to North Korea.

I always look forward to conference. The leader’s speech can be a bit of a trial. A few days ago I thought I get away from it all. I thought I’d go for a walk with my three-year-old son Daniel. “Daddy I can help you with your speech.” I thought, “Not you as well.” “Daddy you can’t do it on your own.” “What do you want in my speech?” I asked him. “I want dinosaurs. Flying dinosaurs. That eat people.” “No, Daniel, we tried predators last year.”

[His first joke, about Mitt Romney calling him Mr Leader, which Ed Miliband commented in an aside sounded as if it were “half-way to North Korea”, did not work, partly because he rushed the timing. But this reference to his “predators and producers” speech was nicely done.]

"The Milibands haven’t sat under the same oak tree for the last 500 years."

[Now he was into the memorised chunks of the speech itself. This bit had been pre-released to the newspapers the day before, and still made no sense when he said it.]

"I am a person of faith. Not a religious faith but a faith nonetheless. One that most people of faith would recognise. So here is my faith. Leave the world a better place than we found it."

"[A bold attempt, in the passage following his account of the murder of Ruth First, an anti-apartheid activist whom he knew as a child, to turn his atheism to something inclusive.]

"My late father would have loved the idea of Red Ed. He would have been disappointed that it’s not true."

[A way of taking on the fact that his father was a Marxist professor without disowning him.]

"A country of one nation we can rebuild together."

[After about 25 minutes, having a go at the “cosy cartels and powerful interests” that he failed to control when he was in government, that would have been quite a good place to stop. But no, there were large sections of prefabricated memorised speech that had not been lifted into place yet.]

"I understand why you voted for David Cameron. I understand why you turned away from the last Labour government. Why you gave David Cameron the benefit of the doubt. But we have had long enough now to make a judgement."

[A brave and right passage in between the Punch-and-Judy attacks on the wicked Tories.]

"This tax cut wouldn’t be happening without Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. The party that implemented the People’s Budget of 1909 is supporting the Millionaire’s Budget of 2012."

[One of the very few mentions of the Liberal Democrats, cleverly appealing to the historical tradition of Liberalism.]

"You can’t be a one nation Prime Minister if you divide the country, if you divide the country between north and south, between those in work and out. And you can’t be a one nation Prime Minister if your chief whip insults the great police officers of this country by calling them plebs."

[We could see the “plebs” word coming a week ago, but we might not have expected it to work with a “one nation” theme first used, on the Labour side of politics, by Tony Blair.]

"The one thing that you might expect the Conservatives to be good at. Competence. Competence? Have you ever seen such an incompetent, hopeless, out of touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, back-of-envelope writing, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, miserable shower than this Prime Minister and this government."

[A good bit of manfuactured, made-in-Britain, pile on the adjectives passion, which brought delegates to their feet for the first of two mid-speech standing ovations.]

"They’re not going to build One Nation. So it’s up to us. One Nation is not a way of avoiding the difficult decisions, it’s a way of taking the difficult decisions."

[The pantomime speech technique. The audience thinks, “This One Nation stuff sounds all right but it doesn’t mean very much does it?” Oh, yes it does!]

"Here’s the difference between a one nation government led by me and the current government. Those with the broadest shoulders would bear the greatest burden. I would never let the gap between rich and poor grow wider. In my faith, inequality matters."

[He had just slipped in a tough message about people having to work for longer before collecting their pensions, but the tax cut for the rich in this year’s Budget let him claim the mantle of “fairness” that Nick Clegg tried to claim last week.]

"New Labour was too silent about the responsibilities of those at the top and too silent about the accountability of those with power. No interest from Rupert Murdoch to the banks is too powerful to be held to account."

[The unpleasant duty of distancing himself from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, without whom he would not be on that stage, was despatched without a trace of guilt.]

"A one-nation banking system as part of a one-nation economy. An economy that draws on the talents of all the people. I remember when I was at Haverstock school. My comprehensive."

[A clever link back into another section of prepared memorisation. Oh, and it was a comprehensive, by the way, in case you missed it the first time.]

"At my school there were kids who were good at exams and went on to university. For whom the world would open up, like it did for me. But there were others, who had different talents and abilities, but to whom school didn’t offer very much. It was true 25 years ago, and it is even more true today…"

[Slightly spookily, this section was almost word-for-word what had been issued to the press the day before. Any memory tricks David Cameron  can do, I can do too.]

"It’s time now to focus on those who don’t go to university. The young people who are too often the forgotten 50 per cent who do not go to university. English and maths, because rigour in the curriculum matters, culminating at 18 in a gold standard exam, a new technical baccalaureate, a qualification to be proud of. We’ve got to change the culture of this country, friends. It has got to be as valuable to a young person as a university degree. We need to make it so."

[Saying so does not make it so, but they all clapped happily. People have been talking about “parity of esteem” between academic and vocational qualifications since the dinosaurs, but it is not going to happen by magic.]

"That old adage is truer now than it ever was. You just can’t trust the Tories on the NHS."

[A dreadful example of that old cliche, “It may be a cliche but …” It may be an old adage, but it got them to their feet for another standing ovation.]

"So friends. This is where I stand. This is who I am. This is what I believe. This is my faith. I was talking to my mum this morning. … Rebuilding Britain after the second world war. The question is asked again, who in Britain can rebuild Britain? It’s not some impossible dream. That is my faith. One nation. A Britain we rebuild together. Thank you very much."

[Almost literally motherhood and apple pie: motherhood and faith. With a rushed, Michael-Macintyre “thankyouverymuch” to tell everyone that it was, at last, over.]

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