Ed Miliband: next prime minister

This is a man with the clarity of vision to win.

He got his biggest cheer when he addressed his critics -- internal and external -- head on: "Red Ed -- come off it." And today Ed Miliband did defy those critics, with one of the best speeches to a Labour conference in recent history.

Yes, he paid extensive tribute to New Labour's record, to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But boy, did he turn the page, ushering in the age of a new generation with these words: "How did a party with such a record lose five million votes between 1997 and 2010?"

His is a party that "takes on established thinking; doesn't succumb to it", and, to the visible annoyance of some, Ed Miliband disowned the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fatefully relaxed approach to regulation and the erosion of civil liberties that all happened under a Labour government.

The speech was nuanced. He said no to strikes, despite the gravity of the Tory cuts to come; the union leaders did not clap. But he made it clear that Labour should always be progressive: no other candidate would have said what he said about refusing to condemn Ken Clarke as "soft on crime". And he got another huge cheer when he pointed out that "a banker can earn in a day what a carer earns in a year -- it's wrong, conference".

Some inside Labour -- as well as in the Tory-dominated media -- will doubt that Ed Miliband has what it takes to be prime minister; they will say he is too left-wing. But it is through the sheer force of his values that this man can show he can win. Today he was fully unleashed. And the likelihood is that the country will learn to love him just as the Labour movement and its affiliates did. The smart money is on Ed Miliband to be the next prime minister.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.