23 Sep 2014

Ed Miliband: ‘We will do it together’

The next government will face some very tough measures. Deficit reduction is only about half done. Whether it’s leaning more on cuts or taxes there will be great pain ahead.

That wasn’t mentioned in Ed Miliband’s speech to his conference presumably to contrast a Tory deficit reduction plan with a Labour plan he suggested had a bigger vision and a broader reach.

Maybe this was the planned speech delivered in its entirety, but I wonder if the “look, no notes” delivery style led him accidentally to drop a few sections that might have given it more weight. As it was, even party members could be seen giving each other raised eyebrows as Mr Miliband name-checked yet another member of the public he’d bumped into and then quoted their wisdom.

The idea behind the speech and the conference was to make this election a battle of the plans. The Tories relentlessly refer to their “long-term economic plan” and believe its credibility with the electorate underpins any chances they have of being the largest party at the next election. Labour thinks it has discovered a great weakness at the heart of that wheeze.

Read more: Miliband puts NHS centre stage in election campaign

The voters can see reports about economic recovery, but polls suggest more than 70 per cent of them think it is having no effect on them. Their income is stagnant and their cost of living is going up. Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove’s former special adviser, wrote that after conducting a few focus groups, he thought the killer slogan for Labour should be “We can’t afford your plan, Mr Cameron.” Labour seems to have come to a similar conclusion. Mr Miliband used a very similar phrase in his speech.

He said the Scottish 45 per cent vote to leave the country was a cry of pain, the country was not in good health. He tried to tap into the despair that inspired some of that vote saying that in reality the referendum question and the election question were the same: is anyone going to make my life better?

Engaging a little with David Cameron’s implied rebuke that Labour doesn’t “get” England, he praised “Englishness” but characterised it in a way that would give the Daily Mail a coronary: the virtues of the international aid budget and the Ford workers at Dagenham.

Video: Miliband pledges NHS ‘with time to care’

The central message was solidarity or “the spirit of together”. The central proof of that was meant to be the NHS message – Labour wants you to believe it’ll put more money into the NHS than the Tories. It has highlighted its association with the NHS cause at a time when Labour’s convinced its salience is growing in the public mind. And maybe the six-point, 10-year plan will enter into the consciousness of the nation the way the Tony Blair pledge card did in 1997.

Mr Miliband said he faced an eight-month job interview with the British voters. In that time he’s got an immense challenge convincing voters he can deliver big change and be trusted on the economic challenges he chose not to focus on today.

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