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Miliband’s Speech: Vacating the Centre Ground

John Rentoul

ed13 300x210 Milibands Speech: Vacating the Centre GroundNo, I didn’t like Ed Miliband’s speech. It may be just me. I don’t much like the leader’s party conference speech as a form of communication, and I didn’t like most of Tony Blair’s, which tended to purple prose, hammily delivered. His 2006 “farewell” speech was an exception, which I have added to my Top Ten Party Conference Speeches, a collection that will appear in The New Review, The Independent on Sunday magazine, soon.

In particular, I thought the pointless trashing of New Labour was an insult to those centrist voters who gave Labour its last three election victories.

In order to pretend to be “strong”, Miliband claimed to have stood up to Rupert Murdoch. This is just playing to the gallery of people who wrongly think Blair was too close to Murdoch, which damagingly allows them to suggest that the Labour government conceded to News Corp’s interests. Blair gave nothing to Murdoch, refusing to let him buy Manchester United and trying to keep open the option of adopting the euro, which Murdoch opposed (everyone now says Murdoch was absolutely right and praises Gordon Brown to the skies for averting something that was never going to happen).

Then Miliband claimed to have stopped military action in Syria. Which is true, and there were good arguments on both sides (my take on the Commons vote here and here). What is daft is the phrase “rush to war”, which, as everyone knows, is only one step down in the lexicon from “warmonger”, itself a step away from “war criminal”, the ignorants’ way of suggesting that the millions of voters who applauded Blair’s attempts to defend human rights against tyranny in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq are unclean.

There was good stuff in the speech. The point about the reluctance of British people to talk about depression, for example, and the defence of Labour’s record on health: “We did rescue the National Health Service.”

But the policy content was old-school state control of the economy: energy price freeze and land confiscation. People may complain in focus groups about gas and electricity bills and the price of houses, but that doesn’t mean they want state planning.

Still, at least everyone could agree that Miliband delivered the speech well. Except me. I thought it was hopeless, full of half-finished anecdotes (he doesn’t have a bodyguard) left over from another half-remembered part of the text.

Still, I should not have said, on BBC Newsnight last night (I was on with Helen Lewis at 14′20″), that Miliband could be prime minister, but he would be a slightly peculiar one. I did not mean it as a personal remark. I meant it in the sense that Miliband would be a singular and unusual prime minister, much as Boris Johnson would be and Margaret Thatcher was.

The point I was trying and failing rather miserably to make was that it is not Miliband’s personality or style that might prevent his becoming prime minister, but his policies, and his needless offending of centrist, free-market-minded voters.

What he said and what he meant

I have a further commentary on Miliband’s speech in today’s Independent, reproduced below:

“Ella rode past me on my bike, she fell off – it’s not funny, I helped her up and afterwards she called me something I’d never been called before, she said I was an action hero. Why are you laughing?”

I am self-deprecating. I can laugh at myself. But women also think I’m a modern, post-feminist hero. Eat sand, Bullingdon boys.

“I want to start today with the simplest of thoughts, an idea that has inspired change for generations, the belief that helped drive us out of the Second World War and into that great reforming government of 1945…”

Nobody remembers that the Attlee government was blown out in six years or that the Conservatives also promised to set up a national health service: if I wrap myself in the folk memory of wartime sacrifice that’s a Labour history everyone likes.

“I want to start with leadership; leadership is about risks and difficult decisions, it’s about those lonely moments when you have to peer deep into your soul.”

People don’t think I’m much of a leader? I’ll give them a bit of cod Tony Blair leadership gobbledegook. Lots of people bought his book, after all.

“I’ve seen in Afghanistan those young men and women, young men and women who are young enough to be my son or daughter serving our country.”

I’m not as young as you think (43 if you look it up on Wikipedia).

“They used to say a rising tide lifts all boats, now it just lifts the yachts.”

Keeping the class war subliminal. Everyone remembers stories about David Cameron on Rupert Murdoch’s yacht and George Osborne on Oleg Deripaska’s.

“Justine and I had the privilege of taking our son to his first day at school. He was nervous at first, but he soon started having fun; a bit like being leader of the Labour Party really…”

Gordon Brown once accused David Cameron of using his children as “props”. Well, needs must. Not only does Ed Speak Human, Ed Does Things Normal Humans Do, like have children who start at school.

“If people want a party that will cut itself off from the rest of the world, then let me say squarely: Labour is not your party.”

You do not seem to be a natural Labour voter. Please vote Ukip rather than Conservative. Thank you.

“It’s the same old story; we rescue the NHS, they wreck the NHS, and we’ll have to rescue it all over again – that is what the next Labour government will do.”

I cannot believe that Cameron, having sounded quite convincing about our national religion, allowed Andrew Lansley to give it back to us on a plate.

Photo: Getty

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  • reformist lickspittle

    Hmm, so the “centre ground” includes uncritically supporting rip-off energy cartels??

    As they say, interesting………

  • RogerMcC

    “I don’t much like the leader’s party conference speech as a form of
    communication, and I didn’t like most of Tony Blair’s, which tended to
    purple prose, hammily delivered. His 2006 “farewell” speech was an
    exception, which I have added to my Top Ten Party Conference Speeches, a
    collection that will appear in The New Review, The Independent on Sunday magazine, soon”.

    As for me I don’t much like sausages and indeed being a vegetarian haven’t eaten one containing meat for about 18 years – nevertheless this will not stop me from shortly publishing my top ten bangers list….

  • JohnJustice

    Ed Miliband being “a singular and unusual prime minister much as ….Margaret Thatcher was” is fine by me JR. Thatcher caught the mood of the times when she came to power and I think Ed is doing the same in the period we are living through. As John McTernan, TB’s former political adviser said on TV yesterday, Tony Blair was right for his times, Ed Miliband is right for ours. Come on JR join the Blairites for Miliband campaign. You know it makes sense.

  • Hill244

    First Jacobson now Mr Rentoul. Ho Jo can only write about Mancunian Ashkenazim writing about Mancunian Ashkenazim. Mr Rentoul can only write about the grandeur that was Blair the glory that was Brown.

  • newfriendofed

    Too much to expect that J. R. would actually like Ed’s speech but I do detect a change in tone that is welcome. There is less mockery. He now takes him (more) seriously. Perhaps he would even let him now scrape into his list of ten most interesting politicians. Or is that too much to hope for? What I find most striking, however, is the odd interpretation of both the Murdoch and rush to war tropes (never thought I would use that word, by the way). J. R. sees them as directed at Blair but I think that is a product of how J. R. sees (virtually) everything. The Murdoch claim differentiates Ed from everyone: Cameron, Brown, etc. so why relate it to Blair? As for ‘rush to war’ that seems less an oblique comment on what Blair did (in fact, whatever his mistakes, he did not exactly rush to war) than another distinction between Ed and what virtually everyone (Cameron, Obama, Hollande) was about to do in this particular case.

  • wakeuptheworld

    God help us, if this is the future.

  • Pacificweather

    “But the policy content was old-school state control of the economy: energy price freeze and land confiscation. People may complain in focus groups about gas and electricity bills and the price of houses, but that doesn’t mean they want state planning.”

    Yet again, John, you reveal that economics is not your forte. House prices follow the laws of supply and demand because two thirds are owned by individuals. Energy prices follow the laws of lightly regulated monopolies. Gas is traded on average 8 times from extraction to use to the benefit of the end user I am sure you believe, John, or did you never bother to think about it because it involved simple arithmetic?

  • Pacificweather

    ” Blair’s attempts to defend human rights against tyranny in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq are unclean.”

    The word ‘attempts’ is an interesting inclusion in the sentence. An acknowledgement that, although his heart was in the right place, his mind did not always follow it through. It will be interesting to see the extent JR will eventually move on this subject.

  • Pingback: “Our NHS,” says Jeremy Hunt | John Rentoul | Independent Eagle Eye Blogs


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