No one likes Ed Miliband. But he doesn't care.

Those wanting definition from Ed Miliband will have to wait no longer

Followers of Millwall football club have a favourite chant. "No one likes us", they sing, "but we don't care". It is defiant. Aggressive. Invariably uttered in support of a losing cause.

This week's Labour conference has emitted a similar roar. Ed Ball's unwavering defence of the economic agenda rejected so overwhelmingly at the last election. Ivan Lewis' bravura assault on the media barely hours before they passed judgment on his leader.

The political rule book was being torn up in front of our eyes, even before Ed Miliband arrived on stage. He did so with the opinion polls snapping at his heels and the electorate uncertain of his agenda, or even his identity. No matter. "We just can't get enough", was the tune pumped out to delegates in the minutes before he strode onto the stage. You may not like Ed Miliband. But we don't care.

The old game plan for Labour in opposition was clear. Ingratiate yourself with big business. Embrace aspiration. Rub shoulders easily with the establishment. Tony Blair wanted everyone to like him, and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure they did.

Ed Miliband rose. He was speaking from Liverpool; "Labour Liverpool". Large swathes of the country had turned blue 18 months ago. Not Liverpool. Liverpool likes Labour. It doesn't care.

His predecessors had abided by the golden rule of British politics. Don't mess with Rupert Murdoch. Not Ed. "I'm going to do things my own way", he intoned; "Nobody ever changed anything on the basis of consensus. Or wanting to be liked".

The nation had been rent asunder by riots. David Cameron had threatened to call in the army, fire plastic bullets, bring out the water cannon. The polls showed most people supported him. But not Ed. "I'm not with the Prime Minister", he said, "I will never write off whole parts of the country by calling them sick". People may want rioters thrown out of their council houses. Ed doesn't care.

New Labour had stood alongside vested interests. Ed wouldn't. The energy companies. The banks. Fred Goodwin. Ed doesn't like them. And he doesn't care who knows it.

His predecessors had kept their hands off big business. No longer. "When I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, what we celebrate will be in the service of Britain's producers", he warned, "And don't let anyone tell you that is the anti-business choice". He'd be a hands on Prime Minister. Business may not like it. By why should he care? "I will take on vested interests wherever they are because that is how we defend the public interest".

People have been calling for definition from Ed Miliband. Today they got it. They have been calling for a narrative. From now on, they will be able to read it. They have been demanding strategy. From today they will be able to follow it.

New Labour's brand of neo-liberal conservatism has been formally buried. Liberal, socially progressive interventionism is the new way. The Ed Miliband way.

"I am not Tony Blair" he said. The audience cheered. The rest of the country used to like Tony Blair. So what. Ed Miliband doesn't care.

Photo: Getty
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On Brexit, David Cameron knows exactly what he's doing

It's not a dead cat - it's about disarming the Leave campaign. 

If you’re explaining, you’re losing. That’s the calculation behind David Cameron’s latest entry into the In-Out (or Remain-Leave in new money) battle. The Prime Minister has warned that were Britain to leave the European Union, the migrant camp at Calais – popularly known as “the Jungle” – could move to Britain. But Eurosceptic campaigners have angrily denounced the remarks, saying that there’s little chance of it happening either way.  

Who’s right? My colleague Henry Zeffman has written a handy explainer of the ins and outs of the row, but the short version is: the Eurosceptic campaigners are broadly right.

But the remarks are very far from a gaffe by Downing Street or Cameron, and they aren’t a “dead cat” strategy – where you say something offensive, prompting a debate about that instead of another, trickier issue – either.

Campaigners for Remain have long been aware that immigration remains their glass jaw. The line wheeled out by Cameron has been long-planned. Late last year, senior members of the In campaign discussed what they saw as the danger points for the campaign. The first was a renegotiation that managed to roll back workplace rights, imperilling the support of the Labour party and the trade unions was one – happily avoided by Cameron’s piecemeal deal.

That the deal would be raked over in the press is not considered a risk point. Stronger In has long known that its path to victory does not run through a sympathetic media. The expectation has long been that even substantial concessions would doubtless have been denounced by the Mail, Telegraph and Sun – and no-one seriously expected that Cameron would emerge with a transformative deal. Since well before the general election, the Prime Minister has been gradually scaling back his demands. The aim has always been to secure as many concessions as possible in order to get an In vote – but Downing Street’s focus has always been on the “as possible” part rather than the “securing concessions” bit.

Today’s row isn’t about deflecting attention from a less-than-stellar deal, but about defanging another “risk point” for the In campaign: border control.

Campaign strategists believe they can throw the issue into neutral by casting doubt on Leave’s ability to control borders any better. One top aide said: “Our line is this: if we vote to leave, the border moves from Calais to Dover, it’s that simple.” They are also keen to make more of the fact that Norway has equally high levels of migration from the European Union as the United Kingdom. While In will never “own” the issue of immigration, they believe they can make the battle sufficiently murky that voters will turn to the areas that favour a Remain vote – national security, economic stability, and keeping people in their jobs.

What the row exposes, rather than a Prime Minister under pressure is a politician who knows exactly what he’s doing – and just how vulnerable the lack of a serious heavyweight at the top makes the Leave campaign(s). Most people won't make a judgement based on reading up the minutinae of European treaties, but on a "sniff test" of which side they think is more trustworthy. It's not a fight about the facts - it's a fight about who is more trusted by the public: David Cameron, or Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling or Priti Patel? As one minister said to me: "I like Priti, but the idea that she can go against the PM as far as voters are concerned is ridiculous. Most people haven't heard of her." 

Leave finds itself in a position uncomfortably like that of Labour in the run-up to the election: with Cameron able to paint himself as the only option guaranteeing stability, against a chaotic and muddled alternative. Without a politician, a business figure or even a prominent celebrity who can provide credibility on the level of the Prime Minister, any row about whether or not Brexit increases the chances of more migrants on Britain’s doorsteps helps Remain – and Cameron. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.