Miliband's conference speech: what the papers say

What the commentators have to say about the Labour leader's speech in Liverpool yesterday.

Guardian

Jonathan Freedland says that the content of Miliband's speech was spot on, but that it doesn't matter because the public think he is "weird".

Ed Miliband did what the professional speechwriters always say you should do. He presented an argument, rather than a laundry list. He did not dole out random policy nuggets, with a bit on foreign policy thrown in, in order to touch every base. Instead he made a case, arguing that the values cherished by British society are not reflected in the ethics that underpin our economy.

. . .

Put simply, my fear is that you can make all the speeches and policy statements you like - carefully devising a strategy on this and crafting a narrative on that - but what matters more are shallow considerations of looks, demeanour, speech patterns and biography. That, in short, it is personality, not policy, that counts.

Times

Daniel Finkelstein (£) agrees that one of Miliband's main problems is the public's initial reaction to him -- drawing a comparison to William Hague -- but adds that he is too left-wing.

Instant reaction to Ed Miliband may not be fair (I don't think it is) but it is very powerful. Shown clips of the Labour leader, focus groups members start shaking their heads and saying "no". When asked what they think about having him as prime minister, they often laugh.

. . .

I don't believe that Mr Miliband is very left-wing, just that he is a tiny bit too left-wing. A leader can't fake his basic politics . . . He is reasonable and moderate, but he is also firmly a social democrat, steeped in the writings of the Left, accepting much of its analysis and regarding equality as his priority. And so, inevitably, he will shift the party to the left. That's what he did in his speech. . . Elections are won on the centre ground, and the centre ground is where it is, not where you want it to be.

Independent

Yes, Miliband did move to the left in this speech, says Steve Richards -- but this was a brave move. Its success depends on whether he can match it with concrete policy suggestions.

His speech had similarities with the one made by Cameron early in his leadership in which he set out why he was an optimist, wanting to let the sun shine through. I recall writing against virtually every paragraph of that address a one word question: How? Miliband's speech was similarly light on policy. What form would his more active state take? The biggest challenge always in politics is to link values with precise policy commitments that have broad appeal. In identifying the ending of the old lightly regulated era, Miliband moves with the tide of history, a break at least as big as the collapse of the old corporatist consensus in the late-1970s. That is the easy bit. Coming up with policies that unite his party and appeal to voters is much more challenging.

Telegraph

Predictably, the Telegraph does not find much to comment in Miliband's speech. An editorial argues that his ideas were wrong (except where he praised Margaret Thatcher) and that he missed an opportunity to rethink the centre-left.

Overall, Mr Miliband's demand for a new morality in public life has an alarmingly authoritarian edge. In the one rather startling outburst of honesty, he praised the Thatcher reforms of the Eighties - the sale of council houses, the deep cuts in tax rates, the new trade union laws - but then asserted that these reforms were often "based on the wrong values". That is sheer sophistry.

. . .

In truth, yesterday represented a retreat into the comfort zone: the loud boos that greeted the mention of Tony Blair - Labour's most successful leader by far - showed that clearly enough. Mr Miliband had the opportunity to show that he is bringing fresh and radical thinking to the centre-Left. He flunked it.

Financial Times

John Kay identifies a broader challenge facing the left, which Miliband must tackle if he wants to regain office:

Few voters were ever much interested in the old rhetoric of socialism, and they have equally little interest in the new rhetoric of rights. Support forsocial security is based not on recognition of claims to entitlement but on considerations of solidarity, sympathy and desert - there but for the grace of God go I.

. . .

So there is a division within parties of the left between those who cherish human rights, multi-culturalism and the environment, and the majority of their supporters.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.