Ed Miliband’s speech to this year’s Labour Conference was portrayed in advance as a major test of his leadership, including by many in his own party.
Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t a speech that focused on the challenges faced by the property sector in detail. Miliband has very much left that to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn.
The speech appeared to have two overriding objectives. The first was to show Miliband is an ordinary man, with an ordinary background, with the ability to cope with the extraordinary demands of being Prime Minister (although in the case of party leaders, the concept of ordinariness is a somewhat relative one). The second was to clearly and convincingly define the concept that will guide his leadership, particularly after the economic rhetoric about producers versus predators from his Conference speech last year failed to gain traction, as he sheepishly acknowledged.
The concept offered was One Nation Labour, a party for all, neither loony left old Labour, nor the New Labour that alienated traditional supporters and supposedly expected too little from the richest and most powerful. This One Nation Labour is for public sector and private sector; for rich, poor and squeezed middle; for north and south. This was a bold move, planned to appeal to Conservative supporters.
As Prime Minister Miliband said he will end casino banking, reform education with better vocational training, help business by relaxing accounting rules and tightening takeover laws, ensure immigration does not push low paid British workers out of their jobs and safeguard the NHS following Conservative restructuring.
While ticking the obligatory boxes (yes to the Olympics, the armed forces and the union with Scotland, no to inflation, unemployment and increased borrowing) Miliband fleshed out this vision for One Nation government. The amalgam of policy preferences, with ‘preferences’ rather than ‘commitments’ very much the operative word, were unambiguously designed to warm the cockles of the centre ground of British politics.
Most Conference Leader speeches give the Leader in question a boost and this was no different. The immediate reaction both within the Labour Party and more widely has been positive. The task now for One Nation Labour is to build on May’s local election gains and convince voters across Britain that Miliband has what it takes to be the next Prime Minister.