“Even worse than I thought it would be”

John Rentoul

em12 300x168 Even worse than I thought it would be“Incredible,” as Marvin the manically depressed robot says of the long-sought planet in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “It’s even worse than I thought it would be.” I did not like the sound of Ed Miliband doing a “personal” speech. And though the whole of Twitter seemed to think it was totes amazeballs that a politician could memorise large chunks of a long speech, just as they thought when David Cameron did it, it was even worse than I thought it would be.

One nation. It was brilliant when a Labour leader stole it from the Conservatives the first time. It confounded expectations. It made people look at Labour again, differently. But to do it again 17 years later doesn’t have the same effect.

Call me bitter. And it is true that I do not like the politician’s conference speech as a medium of communication or an art form or whatever it is. I didn’t like most of Tony Blair’s, although his 2006 swansong was an exception. The only other one that I can remember liking since Neil Kinnock’s in 1985 was Sarah Brown’s in 2008, and we’re not supposed to approve of leaders’ spouses doing the American thing.

But, really. A wooden speaker suddenly rediscovers the walk-and-talk technique he first copied from the Tory leader and which helped him win the Labour leadership, and all my colleagues in the journalism trade lose their heads.

He did not say anything. Except platitudes, familiar second-tier policies such as apprenticeships and a technical baccalaureate, and more platitudes. He had some good jokes, which, after a rushed start, were delivered with some timing and variety of tone. And the passage taking the Government apart on competence was well crafted and delivered. But making Cameron look silly on competence is frankly not hard.

But apart from that it was terribly thin. This, towards the end, was a good example:

A new technical baccalaureate, a qualification to be proud of. We’ve got to change the culture of this country, friends. It has got to be as valuable to a young person as a university degree. We need to make it so.

Changing the culture is an admission of defeat. It means that you do not know what policies to follow to bring about that “culture” change. “Parity of esteem” between vocational and academic qualifications is motherhood, pie in the sky and not going to happen unless some pretty dramatic institutional changes occur. Andrew Adonis could, possibly, move us some small way in that direction. Ed Miliband? I don’t think so.

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