You can see what Ed Miliband was trying to do. As his party isn’t trusted on the
economy (his number one problem) he had to say how much he admires business. But, then again, his party is bankrolled by unions who dislike capitalists. So, Ed Miliband draws a dividing line: the
‘predator’ companies (bad) and companies like Rolls Royce, for example, and presumably small businesses (good). Here is the new narrative of his leadership: Miliband vs
Predator, coming to a cinema near you.
But just like Cameron’s ‘runaway dads’, the concept of a predator company is easier to talk about in the abstract than in real life. Just what is a bad company? Asset strippers
fulfil a decent economic function: if a company goes bust, being an amalgamation of lots of companies assembled by a lunatic boss, then it is of great economic service to allocate these
resources more effectively.
As for Ed personally, we heard about his kids and his (now) wife. He wanted to bill himself as an outsider, breaking open the closed elites of Britain. I thought this was really beyond the pale. Ed
has been an insider since he was in nappies, born into Labour Party aristocracy. He is the very opposite of an outsider; he’s marinated in establishment politics – a textbook case of
what Peter Oborne has called the ‘political class’. This doesn’t make him a bad person, but it disqualifies him from playing the plucky maverick. David Davis was brought up
in a council house and thought his way into the Conservative Party.
As for the rest of the speech: it had some promising lines. He spoke up for the strivers and was using the right vocabulary – although solutions and policies lag some way behind. He had at
least one good Nick Clegg joke. His body language was a little less Thunderbirds, although I found myself laughing more at his angry face than his jokes (which, for a speech that long, were too
scarce). His claim that he’d have doubled the £3,000 tuition fee rather than trebled it is unlikely to endear him to student hearts. Claiming Ed Balls had been right about the cuts
gnawing away at growth is an invention, as Jonathan blogged yesterday.
I nabbed a few delegates as they came out (hard to spot them, as most folk here are aspirant SpAds or lobbyists of some kind). They say he’s coming on, loosening up. “I’m not Tony
Blair,” he declared midway through the speech (to applause from those in the audience who hated that election-winning malarkee anyway). But we’ve all gathered that by now. But you
didn’t lose the will to live midway through Blair’s speeches and you usually walked away knowing what the overall message was. And Blair delivered, as Labour delegates now
admit, a standard of oratory that the party cannot expect to hear from this leader. Labour Party members are adjusting to a new, less ambitious role in British politics: learning to love the man
they didn’t quite vote for last year. Today’s speech takes them a little further down that road.