Jonathan Freedland says that the content of Miliband’s speech was spot on, but that it doesn’t matter because the public think he is “weird”.
Ed Miliband did what the professional speechwriters always say you should do. He presented an argument, rather than a laundry list. He did not dole out random policy nuggets, with a bit on foreign policy thrown in, in order to touch every base. Instead he made a case, arguing that the values cherished by British society are not reflected in the ethics that underpin our economy.
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Put simply, my fear is that you can make all the speeches and policy statements you like – carefully devising a strategy on this and crafting a narrative on that – but what matters more are shallow considerations of looks, demeanour, speech patterns and biography. That, in short, it is personality, not policy, that counts.
Daniel Finkelstein (£) agrees that one of Miliband’s main problems is the public’s initial reaction to him — drawing a comparison to William Hague — but adds that he is too left-wing.
Instant reaction to Ed Miliband may not be fair (I don’t think it is) but it is very powerful. Shown clips of the Labour leader, focus groups members start shaking their heads and saying “no”. When asked what they think about having him as prime minister, they often laugh.
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I don’t believe that Mr Miliband is very left-wing, just that he is a tiny bit too left-wing. A leader can’t fake his basic politics . . . He is reasonable and moderate, but he is also firmly a social democrat, steeped in the writings of the Left, accepting much of its analysis and regarding equality as his priority. And so, inevitably, he will shift the party to the left. That’s what he did in his speech. . . Elections are won on the centre ground, and the centre ground is where it is, not where you want it to be.
Yes, Miliband did move to the left in this speech, says Steve Richards — but this was a brave move. Its success depends on whether he can match it with concrete policy suggestions.
His speech had similarities with the one made by Cameron early in his leadership in which he set out why he was an optimist, wanting to let the sun shine through. I recall writing against virtually every paragraph of that address a one word question: How? Miliband’s speech was similarly light on policy. What form would his more active state take? The biggest challenge always in politics is to link values with precise policy commitments that have broad appeal. In identifying the ending of the old lightly regulated era, Miliband moves with the tide of history, a break at least as big as the collapse of the old corporatist consensus in the late-1970s. That is the easy bit. Coming up with policies that unite his party and appeal to voters is much more challenging.
Predictably, the Telegraph does not find much to comment in Miliband’s speech. An editorial argues that his ideas were wrong (except where he praised Margaret Thatcher) and that he missed an opportunity to rethink the centre-left.
Overall, Mr Miliband’s demand for a new morality in public life has an alarmingly authoritarian edge. In the one rather startling outburst of honesty, he praised the Thatcher reforms of the Eighties – the sale of council houses, the deep cuts in tax rates, the new trade union laws – but then asserted that these reforms were often “based on the wrong values”. That is sheer sophistry.
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In truth, yesterday represented a retreat into the comfort zone: the loud boos that greeted the mention of Tony Blair – Labour’s most successful leader by far – showed that clearly enough. Mr Miliband had the opportunity to show that he is bringing fresh and radical thinking to the centre-Left. He flunked it.
John Kay identifies a broader challenge facing the left, which Miliband must tackle if he wants to regain office:
Few voters were ever much interested in the old rhetoric of socialism, and they have equally little interest in the new rhetoric of rights. Support forsocial security is based not on recognition of claims to entitlement but on considerations of solidarity, sympathy and desert – there but for the grace of God go I.
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So there is a division within parties of the left between those who cherish human rights, multi-culturalism and the environment, and the majority of their supporters.