I was quite gushing the other day about Ed Miliband’s conference speech, but deservedly so. Not only was it a good speech – and it was, end of – but it was refreshing to see the Labour leader being a success for once and giving Labour something to be hopeful for. After so many years of Brown’s incompetence and inaction, and now 2 years of opposition with an underperforming leader, to see something, some fight, was a relief as much as anything.
But still, not everyone was satisfied, and I’ve heard detractors from both the left and the right. Without citing examples for each argument, here are some of the ones I’ve noticed and some quick rebuttals:
From the Left: Miliband was taking was taking too much from the Tories; ‘One Nation’ from Disraeli and the style of walking and talking his speech from Cameron. Further, his talk of community was akin to a move into Blue Labour territory and Cameron’s Big Society.
Let’s be honest, the ‘One Nation’ slogan was a purely political selection. One; it gives him a way to brand Labour without the words ‘New’ or ‘Old’ entering the equation. And secondly, it’s a clever piece of ‘look how smart I am’ usurping of former Tory language to give the political commentators something to praise him on. To take this use of language as a move to the right is a bit premature.
Also, taking his selected style for the address from Cameron; so what? It allowed him to really make his speech in a more effective, less nerdy way than he could from behind a podium. He pulled it off with skill – one which, if you’ve got, you may as well use.
From the left: No break from austerity? How can a Labour leader applaud pay freezes for nurses and teachers?
It was a great speech. But had he signalled anything but this, no one would have given a damn about how it was delivered or what else was in it. The right would crucify him for lacking the economic fortitude to tackle the deficit and the left would turn in on itself and debate whether it was the right thing to do.
The decision had already been made anyway. No one thought he was going to say anything different on austerity, and his hands have been tied politically on the issue. Let the man forge a path into Downing Street with a working majority. It is then our responsbility – as members, progressives and the public at large – to bombard the Labour government of the day to end austerity. That, or say hello to five more years of Tory/Lib Dem hell.
From the right: He’s positioned himself to(o far) the left of New Labour and Tony Blair.
I don’t think there’s such a thing, personally, but anyone who argues this is doing so for political reasons, rather than based on any factual assessment. Yeah, he is to the left of Blair, but his policies and rhetoric so far have probably barely even moved him left of centre on the political compass. Read his speech, this is a Labour party which will go along with austerity. Whose most radical policy in the taxation department is to bring back a Brown era tax rate. Who is citing a former (in the extreme past tense usage) Tory slogan. Ed Miliband is not too far to the left for the British public. That won’t stop the right from trying to make him sound like he is, but the right’s opinion and reality are two very different things.
From both: The speech was too policy-lite.
Totally missing the point of such a speech. This far out from a general election, in the state his leadership was in, now was not the time for a policy heavy speech. This was about the ideology, the message that policy would spring from and about the style of argument Labour are going to make with the Tories. It was one of comparisons and of spelling out injustices that need to be fixed. He positioned himself as the future leader of the whole country – or at least 99% of it – which is hard to do when you announce policies which are good for some, bad for others.