4 Jun 2015

Royal Mail sell off: Ed Miliband is back

Freed of the Lib Dems, George Osborne has announced the sell-off of the last third of Royal Mail. It was something Tory ministers pushed for in the last parliament but Vince Cable and others held them off.

The Lib Dem view was that the long term future of the Royal Mail needed long-term investment from the private sector but long-term stability too.

The universal service obligation is written into law but some fear that could disappear over time if short-termist investors run down the service.

It was part of a speech in which Mr Osborne also brought forward £2.5b of the £13b efficiency savings planned for next year and the year after into this current year. Proof, the chancellor said, of his intent and his determination.

Government sources say it also allows them to smooth the graph lines on cuts and get Whitehall into the zone rather than coming cold to cuts in September.

Just after Mr Osborne spoke, Ed Miliband gave his first speech in nine years from the back benches.

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He was listened to with rapt attention – with the exception of occasional cheerful heckling by the SNP MP Angus O’Neill, supporting Mr Miliband’s attacks on inequality and at one point asking Mr Miliband to come and join the SNP. He politely declined the offer.

It was the former Labour leader serving notice that he is not going to hide and intends to remain at the forefront of the debate. He said he would hold David Cameron to the ‘one nation’ inclusive rhetoric he deploys.

I recommend if you haven’t read it Patrick Wintour’s piece on what happened behind the scenes in Mr Miliband’s failed bid for office.

Amongst other things it reveals why some think Mr Miliband forgot to read out the deficit section of his speech at the 2014 conference. One aide believes that memorising a late addition to the speech on Syria may have thrown Mr Miliband off balance.

I understand that behind the scenes the whole idea of giving a “look no notes” speech led to a significant fall-out with David Axelrod, subsequently repaired but really quite bad at the time.

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The US strategist wanted a traditional lecturn delivery but others, particularly Mark Steers, Mr Miliband’s old college friend, argued for a free-wheeling approach and a revival of the “memory man” routine.

Mr Axelrod, I’m told, felt he was the strategist and the old friend and speech writer wasn’t really qualified to make the call on something like this. Mr Miliband, of course, became so attached to his lecturn in later months that he even used it when speaking in a garden.

I don’t know whether Mr Axelrod was ever consulted about the Russell Brand interview conducted in the last days of the campaign, but I suspect not. Some around the Labour leader were pretty nervous about the whole idea and were even more uneasy when they turned up at Mr Brand’s home to check the place out just ahead of the on-camera chat.

It was explained to the Labour aides that Mr Brand wanted the conversation to be conducted on his bed, the two men leaning back against the bedstead, side by side, (not unlike the old Morecambe and Wise sketches). The aide I hear felt there were suggestions the bed had been recently occupied, I am told, and evidence that it had not been solitary.

Mr Miliband’s aides recoiled and the two men ended up chatting in Mr Brand’s kitchen.

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