28 Sep 2010

Ed Miliband speech: he didn’t sink, he didn’t fly

A lot of Labour sacred cows were led to slaughter in Ed Miliband’s speech and one Blairite former Cabinet minister I just met said that was “unwise.”

When Ed Miliband said the war in Iraq was wrong his brother David didn’t clap. Others Blairites will have had their own pet hates.

The attack on New Labour’s establishment feel, its deregulation of the City, its tuition fees policy, its proclamations that boom and bust had finished, its complacency and ignorance about voters’ worries about immigration, its indifference to people getting filthy rich, its casual disregard for civil liberties including 90 day detention and mis-use of anti-terrorist laws, its following of the US anti-terror policy without proper regard for our own values … that’ll do for now!

Ed Miliband couched it all with some polite references to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown but the biggest challenge to the orthodoxy of New Labour was in this line: we must “make Labour a force that takes on established thinking, doesn’t succumb to it, speaks for the majority and shapes the centre ground of politics.”

Note he says shape the centre ground not occupy the centre ground. He won’t be deserting pollsters and focus groups (if he can afford them) but he does think there was too much working out the centre of gravity in British politics under New Labour not enough trying to shift the thing.

There were some tick-box lists of policies he feared omitting, there was no rhetorical zest but that probably wouldn’t have worked with his more conversational style. The jokes weren’t terrific but weren’t awful either. He didn’t sink, he didn’t fly.

But given that most of the people in the hall didn’t vote for him and were gasping on Saturday as the results came up on the screen, he turned some opinion in the room. The country will have to watch and see what he really means to do (if anything) about top salaries being too high. He thinks the Coalition will last 5 years and he has time to explain … but first impressions can be powerful and hard to shift.

He’ll hope he’s done enough today to combat some attempts to paint him as an extremist and keep voters’ minds open.

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