28 Sep 2010

Ed Miliband prepares for party speech

As Ed Miliband prepares for the biggest speech of his political career one communications expert tells Channel 4 News the new leader needs to reach out beyond the conference walls.

Party activists are waiting; the press is waiting; the public is waiting.

It is only three days since Ed Miliband beat his brother to became Labour leader.

Now the younger Miliband sibling is preparing for the biggest speech of his political career.

Party conferences can leave a lasting legacy for party leaders: in 1985 Neil Kinnock famously attacked the militant movement’s influence on the Labour party; in 2003 Tony Blair told activists “I’ve not got a reverse gear”.

So what makes a successful party conference speech? How long does it take to prepare? How many people will be involved?

Lance Price is a former director of communications for the Labour party. He told Channel 4 News Ed Miliband’s team faces a tough task: “It normally takes weeks, if not months, to prepare a leader’s speech for conference.

“Of course they’ve really only had a few days although they’d have given it a bit of thought before hand.

“They have to do an awful lot of work in a very short space of time to write a speech that doesn’t really talk to the party, they’ve spent the leadership election doing that, but talks to the country as a whole and helps to define who Ed Miliband is, what he wants to do with the country, what he wants to do with his party and how to take it forward.

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The former Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, said: “I hope to see clear words on the deficit and a programme for growth and jobs. It needs a sense of a fresh start, and I want to see a mixture of realism and inspiration.”

One delegate, Andy Bagnall from Croydon, said he wanted a “barnstorming speech”, while Laurie Chester, a councillor for Stevenage, said she was “expecting him to talk about uniting women, and getting more women in the cabinet.”

Angela Gunning from Guildford said she hoped for “something really, really firm about banking, taxation and control of tax dodgers and social housing – that’s very important”.

Like any new Leader of the Opposition taking over after their party has suffered an election defeat, Ed Miliband has several challenges to meet in his first main speech in charge, writes Nigel Fletcher, founder and Director of the Centre for Opposition Studies.

He has to inspire his party in the hall and in the country; he has to influence the narrative being written by the Westminster press corps;
and he has to talk over the heads of both those audiences to make a positive impression on the uncommitted or disillusioned voters watching the sound bites on the early evening news.

These are familiar factors with which his predecessors of whichever party have wrestled in the past. But he also has some particular
issues to contend with in addressing them.

First is the issue of legitimacy - he will be painfully aware that he is not the choice of the party membership or his colleagues in
Parliament, and will have to work hard to win them over.

Secondly, he has to shape his distinct message, whilst having the disadvantage of not knowing who will be elected to serve in his Shadow
Cabinet, and having no direct control over their selection.

This feature of Labour's constitution puts him in a worse position than Tory Leaders, who are free to shape their team and balance different wings of the party.

Finally, he has the unprecedented problem of his defeated brother. The family drama has already defined this conference, but in the context of today's speech Ed Miliband's job has become much harder since David gave his very well-received address yesterday morning. The bar has now been set very high, and in the expectations game, this is a serious challenge.

Today's speech is important above all because of the role it will have in defining Ed Miliband's public profile. Opposition Leaders soon find
they struggle to get the attention of the media and public, and first impressions can be almost impossible to change. Once the lights go out in Manchester the new Leader will find it hard to be seen or heard on his own terms from the shadows of opposition.

David Miliband addressed delegates in Manchester yesterday.

The man, who for years has been tipped to be the next Labour leader, told the conference it was a time to come together: “I have been incredibly honoured and humbled by the support you’ve given me but we have a great new leader and we all have to get behind him.”

David Miliband is still to decide if he will take a position in his younger brother’s shadow cabinet.

He said he was “incredibly proud” of Ed, adding: “Ed is a special person to me. Now he is a special person to you and our job is to make him a special person for all the British people.”

All the best political speeches are the ones that don’t necessarily worry about tickling the tummies and pleasing the people who are there in the hall. Lance Price

Ed Miliband has already faced criticism for his reliance on trade union votes to secure the leadership ahead of his brother.

But Lance Price does not think it is a point the new Labour leader should dwell on: “The concerns of the trade union movement and their influence on the party are not what people are talking about at home or in the pub or in the coffee shops.

“That’s very internal Labour party stuff. He’s got to be reaching out.”

So what should the key themes of Ed Miliband’s first speech be?

According to Lance Price he has to focus on the public rather than the party: “All the best political speeches are the ones that don’t necessarily worry about tickling the tummies and pleasing the people who are there in the hall and making them feel good, but that do actually reach out to people beyond the conference hall.

“Now he’s only been leader for a couple of days but even now, even right at the beginning he has to be ready to do that.”