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.

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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.