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.