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  1. Politics
13 November 2014updated 12 Oct 2023 11:12am

“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?

By Anoosh Chakelian

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.”

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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.

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