The speech we've longed to hear from a Labour leader

Ed Miliband spoke the simple truth that Blair and Brown avoided: inequality harms us all.

He took an awfully long time to get going but after an awkward introduction, complete with clunky jokes, Ed Miliband delivered the sort of thoughtful, progressive speech we've longed to hear from a Labour leader.

There was a wonderful Spirit Level-style attack on inequality, an eloquent defence of trade unionism and an unambiguous condemnation of the Iraq war -- a necessary moment of catharsis for the party.

In one line he spoke the simple truth that neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown gave voice to: "The gap between rich and poor does matter. It doesn't just harm the poor it harms us all."

He vowed not to attack the coalition from the right on crime and civil liberties, a welcome break from Blairite type and a smart way of setting the Conservatives against each other. He reached out to centrist voters but steered clear of the sort of easy populism -- "British jobs for British workers" -- that returned to haunt Gordon Brown.

His decision to rebut those tabloid epithets -- "Red Ed", "Forrest Gump", "Wallace" -- was a risky one. The public, many of whom won't have heard these charges before, will inevitably wonder: 'why was he called them in the first place?', 'what is he hiding?'. But his call for a "grown up debate" will have resonated with many.

Yet the speech was dangerously short of detail on the defining issue of this Parliament: the economy. His position on the deficit was an awkward hybrid of the Darling plan and the Balls plan. He failed to answer the key question: at what point does deficit reduction become a threat to growth? Miliband and his team need a better answer to this question by the time of the spending review. At the same time he wisely steered clear of dystopian predictions of a "double-dip recession" -- a forecast that may yet return to haunt Ed Balls.

Fresh from a marathon leadership election, Ed Miliband was never going to have trouble playing his winning tunes on Iraq, civil liberties and a living wage. But he will soon be tested by events. Which cuts will he support? Which will he oppose? Which strikes will he support? Which will he oppose? In common with all his predecessors, it is his judgement that will count in the end.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Hillary Clinton can take down the Donald Trump bogeyman - but she's up against the real thing

Donald Trump still has time to transform. 

Eight years later than hoped, Hillary Clinton finally ascended to the stage at the Democratic National Convention and accepted the nomination for President. 

Like her cheerleaders, the Obamas, she was strongest when addressing the invisible bogeyman - her rival for President, Donald Trump. 

Clinton looked the commander in chief when she dissed The Donald's claims to expertise on terrorism. 

Now Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, "I know more about ISIS than the generals do"

No, Donald, you don't.

He thinks that he knows more than our military because he claimed our armed forces are "a disaster."

Well, I've had the privilege to work closely with our troops and our veterans for many years.

Trump boasted that he alone could fix America. "Isn't he forgetting?" she asked:

Troops on the front lines. Police officers and fire fighters who run toward danger. Doctors and nurses who care for us. Teachers who change lives. Entrepreneurs who see possibilities in every problem.

Clinton's message was clear: I'm a team player. She praised supporters of her former rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, and concluded her takedown of Trump's ability as a fixer by declaring: "Americans don't say: 'I alone can fix it.' We say: 'We'll fix it together.'"

Being the opposite of Trump suits Clinton. As she acknowledged in her speech, she is not a natural public performer. But her cool, policy-packed speech served as a rebuke to Trump. She is most convincing when serious, and luckily that sets her apart from her rival. 

The Trump in the room with her at the convention was a boorish caricature, a man who describes women as pigs. "There is no other Donald Trump," she said. "This is it."

Clinton and her supporters are right to focus on personality. When it comes to the nuclear button, most fair-minded people on both left and right would prefer to give the decision to a rational, experienced character over one who enjoys a good explosion. 

But the fact is, outside of the convention arena, Trump still controls the narrative on Trump.

Trump has previously stated clearly his aim to "pivot" to the centre. He has declared that he can change "to anything I want to change to".  In his own speech, Trump forewent his usual diatribe for statistics about African-American children in poverty. He talked about embracing "crying mothers", "laid-off factory workers" and making sure "all of our kids are treated equally". His wife Melania opted for a speech so mainstream it was said to be borrowed from Michelle Obama. 

His personal attacks have also narrowed. Where once his Twitter feed was spattered with references to "lying Ted Cruz" and "little Marco Rubio", now the bile is focused on one person: "crooked Hillary Clinton". Just as Clinton defines herself against a caricature of him, so Trump is defining himself against one of her. 

Trump may not be able to maintain a more moderate image - at a press conference after his speech, he lashed out at his former rival, Ted Cruz. But if he can tone down his rhetoric until November, he will no longer be the bogeyman Clinton can shine so brilliantly against.