The Contradictions of Ed Miliband’s Speech

John Rentoul

em 300x207 The Contradictions of Ed Milibands SpeechMy “What he said/What he meant” is in The Independent today. I thought the speech’s argument incoherent, with the half I disagreed with coming across more strongly than the opposing half. Hence all the commentary this morning about a lurch to the Left.

One of those commentators, Benedict Brogan, rightly identified the strange noise in the hall when Ed Miliband said, “I am not Tony Blair”, as one of the important moments in Labour history. It was a mixture of “cheers and whoops” at the sentiment (Owen Jones) and of boos at the mere mention of the former leader’s name:

Time-stopping moments don’t come often in politics, but that was one. Imagine David Cameron standing powerless next week as the hall boos Margaret Thatcher, and you get an inkling of the monumental denial now gripping a party that used to be one of the most formidable election-winning machines since the war.

That was depressing, and the speech itself postulated the alternate universe that I predicted it would, in which capitalism is replaced by some other system, as yet unspecified, based on the values of not selling other people’s grandmothers.

Anyway, if you can bear it, here is a longer version of my textual analysis of The Speech.

The Labour Party lost trust on the economy. And under my leadership, we will regain that trust. I am determined to prove to you that the next Labour Government will only spend what it can afford. That we will live within our means. That we will manage your money properly.

But how can you “prove”, while you are in opposition, what the next Labour government will do when the last Labour government failed to do it? Well, by talking about “new fiscal rules” while looking straight at the camera.

I have a fundamental disagreement with the Government. They believe Britain can address our problems of debt without addressing our problems of growth. They are wrong. Think of how you pay off the credit card bill. You need to make savings in the household budget.But if you lose your job and the money stops coming in, you can’t pay off the bill.

It’s the Margaret Thatcher household budget fallacy all over again. National economies are not like households, so such analogies are usually a way of making a political rather than economic point.

So I’m going to tell it straight. That’s the lesson I have learnt about this job and myself over the last twelve months. To be true to myself. My instincts. My values. To take risks in the pursuit of that. And to stand up for what is right.

Politicians have always promised to tell it straight, but these days they also seem to be always learning lessons about themselves as well. Ed Miliband seems to regard being Leader of the Opposition as one of the on-the-job training schemes he wants to promote for apprentices.

I knew I was breaking rule number one of British politics. Don’t mess with Rupert Murdoch. I did it because it was right. That’s the lesson I have learned most clearly in the last year. The lesson that you’ve got to be willing to break the consensus, not succumb to it.

Funny, that. Just as he distances himself from Tony Blair’s permanent courtship of the Murdoch empire, he sounds most like the former prime minister, learning lessons about being a conviction politician and defying the consensus – although it must be said that this was a lesson Blair learnt after he knew he wouldn’t be facing the voters again.

Don’t believe this stuff about governments losing elections, rather than oppositions winning them. It sounds to me like a consolation prize for opposition leaders that have lost.

That was a point made by – yes – Tony Blair, in the foreword to the new edition of The Unfinished Revolution by Philip Gould, published last week.

So the task of leadership in this generation is no ordinary task. It is to chart a new course. And strike a new bargain in our country. That’s what I want to talk to you about today. Let’s be clear about one thing, right from the off.

From the off? He’s been talking for 20 minutes already. Still, at least he is going to be clear from now on.

As always in our history, we see the true British character in moments of crisis … I saw i’ in Manchester, people of all generations, who came out the next morning to get the city back on its feet.

A glottal stop! At this point we were brought up short by the most surprising thing about this speech so far, and we hadn’t even noticed. He’d gone 20 minutes without dropping a single “t”.

With such great people, how have we ended up with the problems we face? It’s because of the way we have chosen to run our country. Not just for a year or so but for decades.

Now this is where it goes odd. Things have been out of joint for decades, including 13 years of Labour government. He’s defining himself in opposition not just to David Cameron but to Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major and Margaret Thatcher. Crystal clear.

Now there are hard lessons here for my party which some won’t like. Some of what happened in the 1980s was right. It was right to let people buy their council houses. It was right to cut tax rates of 60, 70, 80 percent. And it was right to change the rules on the closed shop, on strikes before ballots.

Hang on. Things have gone wrong for decades. Except that some of the things that the Thatcher government did were right.

That’s where New Labour came in. The rebuilt schools, new hospitals, more police. The minimum wage, tax credits, the new deal. Half a million children lifted out of poverty … My party is proud of that record. And so am I.

So everything went wrong for decades, apart from the good things that Thatcher did and the “proud record” of New Labour. Wait, he’s coming the bad stuff.

Good times did not mean we had a good economic system. We changed the fabric of our country but we did not do enough to change the values of our economy. You believe rewards should be for hard work. But you’ve been told we have to tolerate the wealthiest taking what they can.

The more he talks of “values”, the more we remember how Gordon Brown used to pronounce that word.

And who’s been rewarded in this economy? Take Fred Goodwin, who ran the Royal Bank of Scotland. He was at the heart of the banking crisis.

The pantomime villain. Boo!

Compare him to Sir John Rose, former Chief Executive of Rolls Royce, a great British business leader. Creating wealth and keeping jobs in this country.

The dashing hero. Hurrah!

He is the true face of British business. The vast majority of our businesses that have the right values and do the right thing. Rooted in their communities. Committed to their workforce. And creating real, lasting value.

So, the “vast majority” of British business has the right “values” and this huge crisis of “values” that he wants to change is confined to a few easy targets in the City of London. This speech is making less sense the longer it grows.

Think of some of the kids at school today in my constituency, in Doncaster. Or in your town. Ask yourself, what are their chances, however bright, of getting into one of the top universities, competing against people with all the chances in life? Of having the network of connections that will set them up for their career? 21st century Britain: still a country for the insiders.

And I, Conference, am living proof of that. I am the ultimate insider’s politician. North London political class. Oxford University. Special adviser. Safe seat. I condemn myself unreservedly.

It’s my job, my Party’s mission to say no more.

He got the intonation wrong there: he sounded as if he had decided that the Labour Party was going to shut up shop and not say anything until at least 2014. Now that might have been worth while.

Britain’s future will be built not on credit default swaps but on creative industries.  Not low wages and high finance, but low carbon and high tech. Not financial engineering, but real engineering. Of course, the banks and financial services are important to Britain. They employ people right across the country. They will still be important to Britain in the future. But they must change so that they are part of the solution to our economic future, not part of the problem.

Bankers? Very, very bad. Financial sector that employs a lot of people and earns money for Britain? Very, very good. Contradiction resolved with a cliché. Job done.

Our energy companies have defied the laws of gravity for too long. Prices go up but they never seem to come down. I believe our environment and climate change is a crucial issue for our future. An essential part of the new bargain. Responsibility, commitment for the long term:  That’s what my kids will want from us on the environment when they grow up and ask whether we were the first generation to get it or the last generation not to. So over time there is going to be upward pressure on energy prices. But that makes it all the more important we get the best possible deal for customers.

Energy companies? Very, very bad. Keep putting up prices. Which have to go up to save the environment, obviously. But we’ll get them down. Contradiction? What contradiction? Whoever was Climate Change Secretary in the last Labour Government should have sorted it out.

Only David Cameron could believe that you make ordinary families work harder by making them poorer and you make the rich work harder by making them richer.

This is a very old line, but most of the Labour Party, including the leader, are under the age of 42, so they loved it, and it set up one of Miliband’s most effective clap-traps, delivered with an authentic sneer: “How dare they say we’re all in it together?”

Millions of public servants deliver a fantastic service every day of every week.

There is a “but”, isn’t there?

But we all know that sometimes powerful organisations can become unaccountable. Work not in the interests of those who need them but in their own interests. That’s what vested interests are.

Thought so. Back to Blairism.

You know what it’s like. You stand in the queue. You hang on the phone. You fill in the form. And then all you get? Computer says no.

The Little Britain section.

It will be a tough fight to change Britain. But I’m up for the fight. The fight for a new bargain. A new bargain in our economy so reward is linked to effort. A new bargain based on your values so we can pay our way in the world. A new bargain to ensure responsibility from top to bottom. And a new bargain to break open the closed circles, and break up vested interests, that hold our country back. I aspire to be your Prime Minister not for more of the same. But to write a new chapter in our country’s history. The promise of Britain lies in its people. The tragedy of Britain is that it is not being met. My mission. Our mission. To fulfil the promise of each so we fulfil the promise of Britain.

The peroration, for which he slipped at the last moment into a serious, theatrical peroration voice. It is all about the “new bargain”, apparently. In which the contradictions that ran through his speech would be resolved by clichés.

Photograph: Reuters

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  • trottitout

    The speech was excellent. Peter Oborne (!!!) of the Telegraph has the best article on it. Gordon Brown did not turn up. Yeah, I wouldn’t refer to my bairns as baby goats either. 

    I don’t think the delivery of the speech was brilliant. Nor was it as irritating and contrived as Smarmy Blair. It was adequate. He seems assured, but a bit blank at times.  His voice is ok, I don’t know what the bleeding fuss is there. Blair’s was girly and kinda metallic. 

    The point is that Miliband is asking questions about the direction our society should take and didn’t shy away from the redress of the multiplicity of the mistakes Blair allowed to flourish. You know, the Thatcherite greed promulgation led by him and Mandy smarming up to the rich. The bending of the rules for the rich. The enabling of the Murdoch Empire. The encouragement of the opacity and casino morality that allowed so many greedy and ignorant fool so many other greedy and ignorant. The Bankers Folly that they were so rewarded for. Blair’s Empire is being dismantled by the more intelligent, considered and honest Miliband. This is not to Mr Rentoul’s liking. He is a big fan of Blair.

  • BlairSupporter

    Thanks, JR, for your textual analysis. Didn’t watch it myself. Just not sufficiently masochistic.

    Sad, isn’t it?

  • BlairSupporter

    Ah well, JJ. We Blairites can’t expect to agree on everything.

    Miliband has a hard act to follow. I mean Act 1 (Act 2 was a dress rehearsal that never shone in the limelight.) But, he is not a leader and never will be. He has nothing new to offer.

    As you will no doubt know I didn’t vote for Blair. But I always enjoyed listening to him and always thought he had leadership qualities and the “vision thing”. This guy hasn’t either of those.

  • BlairSupporter

    They were that too, of course – and disjointed and only from a minority. He MUST have known it would cause SOME reaction. If he didn’t, what is he doing leading a party? Or leaving a (Blair-like) pause to elicit a reaction? Bad form. Lack of REAL leadership. Blair would NEVER have done it. Especially towards a recent, historical success story predecessor.

    Dreadful error of judgement.

  • BlairSupporter

    OFGS – Peter Oborne?!?!?!

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