28 Sep 2010

Ed Miliband: time for Labour’s new generation

Labour’s new leader, Ed Miliband, pledges to lead a “new generation” which will “relish” the chance to take on David Cameron. Political editor Gary Gibbon says the speech did not sink – or fly.

In his speech to the party conference in Manchester, Mr Miliband said that – despite his similarity in age with Prime Minister David Cameron – he represented a new, optimistic political generation.

“A few days ago our contest came to an end and now the real contest has begun. I relish the chance to take on David Cameron,” he said.

“We may be of a similar age but in my values and ideals I am of a different and new generation. The new generation is not simply defined by age but by attitude and ideals, and there is a definite difference between us and David Cameron. And that is optimism…

“We are the optimists in politics today, so let’s be humble about the past, understand the need to change, inspire people with the vision of a good society. Let the message go out – a new generation has taken charge of Labour which is optimistic about our country, optimistic about our world, optimistic about the power of politics. We are optimistic and together we will change Britain.”

‘Why are you clapping?’

He used the hour-long speech – coming just three days after he beat his brother to become the Labour leader – to distance himself from some of the policies of his party when in government – most notably declaring that the invasion of Iraq was “wrong”.

The criticism caused some consternation in the conference hall.

In a moment captured by ITN cameras, Harriet Harman clapped Ed Miliband’s criticism of the war, his brother David Miliband asked her: “You voted for it. Why are you clapping?”

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon said: “David Miliband’s hands stayed firmly apart. His face tenses as Ed Miliband says the words then he looks down at Harriet Harman’s hands and then says the words. Harriet Harman’s remarks back to David Miliband aren’t audible on the tape. But his words are. He doesn’t look like a man who is going to hang around in the Shadow Cabinet to me.”

Tonight the elder Miliband brother left Manchester to head back to London, further fuelling speculation that he would not throw his hat into the ring for the Shadow Cabinet elections before nominations close tomorrow.

Channel 4 News FactCheck probes Ed Miliband’s speech: how did he do?

He didn't sink, he didn't fly 
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, writes Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

But given that most of the peope 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.

Read more from Gary Gibbon's blog on Ed Miliband's speech

Cheers for future

Ed Miliband won cheers when he pledged to pursue a living wage, but fewer when he said he supported voting reform and would vote “yes” in the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

He condemned the Coalition government’s approach to cutting the deficit, but said he would not oppose the Coalition for the sake of it. He said he was prepared to take difficult decisions as Labour leader.

“When I disagree with the government, as on the deficit, I will say so loud clear and take the argument to them,” he said.

“But when Ken Clarke says he will look at short sentences, I will not say he is soft on crime. When Theresa May says she will review stop and search, I will not say she is soft on terrorism. Our generation must find a new way of conducting politics.”

Warning shot to trade unions

He also fired a warning shot to the trade unions whose votes propelled him to victory in the leadership contest, saying he would have “no truck” with irresponsible strikes.

But Len McCluskey – the man tipped as the next leader of the Unite union, which backed Ed Miliband in the leadership contest – was caught on camera mouthing “rubbish” at this comment.

He said his aim as leader was to make the Coalition a “one-term government”.

“This will require strong leadership and it won’t always be easy, you won’t always like what I have got to say, but you have elected me leader and lead I will,” he said.

His speech – which began with tributes to the former Labour leaders, his family, and his brother – also tackled the “Red Ed’ moniker he has attracted since his election.

“Come off it,” he said, to cheers from the conference hall. “Let’s start to have a grown up debate in this country about who we are, what we believe and what kind of country we want to build.”

Read our special report on the Labour leadership contest in full.

At best half an answer on what kind of leader Ed Miliband will be
Ed Miliband made a confident start to his leadership here in Manchester but those who wonder quite what kind of leader he's going to turn out to be got at best half an answer, former Labour party communications director Lance Price writes for Channel 4 News.

It will be remembered as the optimism speech, one that offered confidence and faith promises in a better future. For now he has given little detail about how that future would look if he ever became prime minister but there is time for that. He made a lot of use of the "new generation" – too much in my view. Not just because a lot of voters may feel excluded from it but because it suggests he can do without the wisdom of more experienced heads.

He didn't take many risks in what he said, although it was the first speech from a Labour leader in a very long time to praise "the workers".

Read more from former Labour party communications director Lance Price on Ed Miliband's speech