Ed's to-do list: smash Ukip, woo hacks, travel. Photo: Getty
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“Labour is in a tough fight”: five lessons from Ed Miliband’s speech

The Labour leader made a speech to party activists and journalists today in an attempt to draw a line under his party’s crisis. What did he tell us?

He’s going to get out more

One key criticism of Ed Miliband, voiced by the New Statesman editor Jason Cowley last week, is that he doesn’t get out enough. That he doesn’t seem to understand ordinary voters’ concerns because he is out of touch with the rest of the country, preferring a more comfortable mode of seminar socialism and lofty academic ideas.

He acknowledged this today, twice emphasising his plan to get around the country and deliver his message. “This speech is about setting out the big argument for the country, and by the way, I’m going to be doing this again and again, right across the country,” he said, in response to whether Britain can learn to love a geek in just six months.

When asked to identify one mistake he’s made over the past four years, he admitted that he hadn’t been around Britain enough:

“A lesson I learnt most in the last four and a half years or so is about going out more and engaging more,” he said. “Spend less time in Westminster and more time out in the country. You learn more. It makes you a better politician and engages more directly with people. So that’s what I’m going to spend the next six months doing.”

 

He’s trying to woo the press

As I wrote this morning, it is ridiculous that Miliband’s supporters when doing the media rounds during his time of crisis have been blaming the media, particularly the Murdoch press, for their leader’s problems. It seems Miliband has cottoned on to this rather lazy, misjudged defence.

Today’s speech was essentially a showcase for the press, showing that he can still make a good speech with a strong narrative, without fluffing his lines (the autocues were all too prominent today). He also made a point to take a significant number of questions from journalists, much to the anger of some of the Labour activists, who made up the majority of his audience.

It was also notable when pushed on his passage about holding “vested interests” to account that he mentioned energy companies, banks and payday lenders, but didn’t include Murdoch in that list. Usually he refers to what he sees as his gutsy part in the phonehacking furore when doing his “standing up to vested interests” shtick. He also repeated that he is “not in the whingeing business” and “The Times and all the other newspapers have to take their own views.”

Clearly Miliband and his team are noting the importance of having the media onside, and how difficult the consequences can be when they do not.

 

Vested interests are a convenient enemy

There was a key passage in his address today lashing out at “vested interests”:

No vested interest, whoever they are and however powerful they are, from banks to energy companies, should ever be able to hold our country back.

He insisted repeatedly that he would hold these to account when Prime Minister, as he has done in opposition, without really specifying what they are. His reticence to outline which or whose vested interests he’s keen to take on suggests two things:

The first is that there is a policy announcement due that ties nicely into this narrative (something new and radical on tax avoidance maybe? His “zero-zero economy” line suggests this too). The second is that they are a convenient enemy: people at the top, working in their own interests, without a care for ordinary working people. It doesn’t matter who they are, they’re just useful for making Miliband sound plucky.

 

Labour is finally ready to condemn Ukip

It is well-known that many in the Labour machine lament that they cottoned on to the Ukip threat to their vote too late, and have been having real trouble countering Nigel Farage’s narrative in northern and seaside towns that would have once been safe Labour bets.

But Miliband today gave his strongest, most direct, attack on Ukip yet:

I say to working people in this country, let’s really examine their vision. Because when you stop and look at it, it is not really very attractive. And it is rooted in the same failed ideas that have let our country down.

Piece together the different statements from Mr Farage and his gang and think about what it says: That working mothers aren’t worth as much as men. Life was easier when there wasn’t equality for gay and lesbian people. You feel safer when you don’t have someone who is foreign living next door. The NHS would be better off privatised. Rights at work, whether they come from Europe or from here, are simply a barrier to economic success. And let’s get out of the European Union. Is that really the country we want to be? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that’s the kind of country people want.

 

He’s developing a sharper immigration message

His message on immigration was still a little hazy, but he’s definitely sharpening it up.

In his speech he simply concluded on the subject: “We will be talking more about immigration as a party.” However, when pushed on the subject during the ensuing Q+A, he spoke quite candidly about what he sees as the drawback of only making the positive case for immigration:

I always talk about the positive benefits of migration and it’s absolutely right to do so. The thing that as a party it’s important that we acknowledge though, is that in aggregate migration is definitely beneficial for our country, that is my view, but people don’t live their lives in the aggregate. People live their lives specifically in their own circumstances. And migration affects different people differently.

***

It wasn’t a particularly exciting performance. I’d say those looking for a confident, coherent Miliband should look to his speech to the CBI earlier this week, which was largely missed by the media. I reported that it was an assured performance, with more to offer business than David Cameron’s attempt. Matthew Parris in his Times column today judged it “powerful” and “incomparably the best” of the three party leaders.

But today’s address did give Miliband the opportunity to outline what he is about, and how his party is going to fight the last six months to the election. His section on Labour’s programme for government was particularly good, delivered with passion and fluency:

And just in case you find people who still believe that there is no difference between the parties, just tell them what we are fighting for:

An £8 minimum wage.

An end to the exploitation of zero hours contracts.

Freezing energy bills until 2017.

Putting our young people back to work.

Paying down the deficit and doing it fairly.

Reforming our banks so that they work for small businesses.

Cutting business rates.

Apprenticeships alongside every government contract.

Building 200,000 homes a year.

Abolishing the bedroom tax.

Tackling tax avoidance.

Hiring more doctors, nurses, midwives and careworkers, and putting the right values back at the heart of the NHS and repealing the Health and Social Care Act.

Read the full speech here.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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The triumph of Misbah-ul-Haq, the quiet grafter

How Misbah redeemed Pakistani cricket.

It was an incongruous sight: the entire Pakistani cricket team doing press-ups on the revered pitch at Lord’s, led by its captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. This unusual celebration marked not merely a Test match victory over England on Sunday but something greater: the rehabilitation of Pakistani cricket.

Seven years earlier, the Sri Lankan team bus was en route to the cricket stadium in Lahore for the third day of a Test match against Pakistan when it was attacked by Islamist militants. Gunfire killed six police officers and a driver; several Sri Lankan cricketers were also injured. That was the last Test match played in Pakistan, which, despite protestations, opponents consider too dangerous to visit.

A year later, Pakistan toured England for a Test series. The News of the World alleged that in the final match at Lord’s three Pakistani cricketers had conspired to bowl no-balls in exchange for money. All three received bans of five years or more for corruption. The entire squad was lampooned; police had to shield its members from abuse as they arrived home.

Misbah was on the periphery of all of this. Aged 36 at the time, he was dropped from the squad before the English tour and seemed unlikely to play international cricket again. But the turbulence engulfing Pakistani cricket forced the selectors to reassess. Not only was Misbah recalled but he was made captain. “You have to ask yourself,” he later said: “‘Have I been the captain because they supported me, or because they had no alternatives?’”

Pakistani cricket prizes and mythologises teenage talent plucked from obscurity and brought into the international side. During his decade as captain, Imran Khan picked 11 teenagers to make their debuts, often simply on the basis of being wowed by their performance in the nets. Misbah shows that another way is possible. He grew up in Mianwali, a city that was so remote that: “The culture there wasn’t such that you thought about playing for Pakistan.”

At the behest of his parents, he devoted his early twenties not to his promising batting but to gaining an MBA. Only at 24 did he make his first-class debut, strikingly late in an age when professional sportsmen are expected to dedicate all their energy to the game from their teenage years.

Pakistani cricket has always been “a little blip of chaos to the straight lines of order”, Osman Samiuddin writes in The Unquiet Ones. Misbah has created order out of chaos. He is unflappable and methodical, both as a captain and as a batsman. His mood seems impervious to results. More than anything, he is resilient.

He has led Pakistan to 21 Test victories – seven more than any other captain. He has done this with a bowling attack ravaged by the 2010 corruption scandal and without playing a single match at home. Because of security concerns, Pakistan now play in the United Arab Emirates, sometimes in front of fewer than a hundred supporters.

Misbah has developed a team that marries professionalism with the self-expression and flair for which his country’s cricket is renowned. And he has scored runs – lots of them. Over his 43 Tests as captain, he has averaged at 56.68. Few have been so empowered by responsibility, or as selfless. He often fields at short leg, the most dangerous position in the game and one usually reserved for the team’s junior player.

Misbah has retained his capacity to surprise. As a batsman, he has a reputation for stoic defence. Yet, in November 2014 he reached a century against Australia in just 56 balls, equalling the previous record for the fastest ever Test innings, held by Viv Richards. The tuk-tuk had become a Ferrari.

Late in 2015, Misbah tried to retire. He was 41 and had helped to keep Pakistani cricket alive during some of its darkest days. But the selectors pressured him to stay on, arguing that the team would need him during its arduous tours to England and Australia.

They were right. His crowning glory was still to come. The team arrived in England following weeks of training with the national army in Abbottabad. “The army people are not getting much salaries, but for this flag and for the Pakistani nation, they want to sacrifice their lives,” Misbah said. “That’s a big motivation for all of us. Everyone is really putting effort in for that flag and the nation.”

Now 42, almost a decade older than any cricketer in England’s side, Misbah fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by playing in a Test match at Lord’s. In Pakistan’s first innings, he scored a century and celebrated with push-ups on the outfield, in homage to the army’s fitness regime and those who had had the temerity to mock his age.

When Pakistan secured victory a little after 6pm on the fourth evening of the game, the entire team imitated the captain’s push-ups, then saluted the national flag. The applause for them reverberated far beyond St John’s Wood.

“It’s been a remarkable turnaround after the 2010 incident,” Misbah-ul-Haq said, ever undemonstrative.

He would never say as much, but he has done more than anyone else to lead Pakistan back to glory. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt