Ed Miliband wants voters to see a little bit more of the man he is this conference, and his speech today is expected to be very personal, giving even more vivid glimpses into the Labour leader’s life. He will draw on his own upbringing in the speech, pointing to his parents’ experience as Jewish refugees and the education he received at a London comprehensive.
Although this is being billed as the most personal speech Miliband will give, it’s not as though he hasn’t delivered speeches before about his identity. In his first speech as Labour leader in 2010, for instance, he told the hall that he wanted ‘to tell you who I am’ and described his parents’ flight to Britain in quite some detail.
In 2011, he told conference delegates in Liverpool about how his background had given him unique insight:
‘What’s my story? My parents fled the Nazis. And came to Britain. They embraced its values. Outsiders. Who built a life for us. So this is who I am. The heritage of the outsider. The vantage point of the insider. The guy who is determined to break the closed circles of Britain.’
He continued the ‘this is who I am’ theme in a speech in June of this year, saying:
‘This is who I am. The son of a Jewish refugee and Marxist academic. A Leeds supporter, from North London. A baseball fan. Somebody who looks a bit like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. If spin doctors could design a politician, they wouldn’t design me.’
So today, Ed Miliband will expand on this identity even further. He is expected to say:
‘My family hasn’t sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years. My parents came to Britain as immigrants, Jewish refugees from the Nazis. I would not be standing here today without the compassion and tolerance of our great country, Great Britain, a country that my parents saw rebuilt after the Second World War.’
Now, this sounds rather familiar, too. If you recognised the image of the oak tree, it’s not just because Miliband is taking a dig at the Conservatives. He used the same image in that speech in June, saying:
‘I grew up as British. Jewish but not religious. A Londoner by birth and most of my life. But in Leeds during formative years growing up. And so since and always, a long-suffering Leeds United fan who began supporting them after the glory years. I spent time in America and taught at Harvard for a while. Added the Boston Red Sox to my sports teams. I got elected as MP for Doncaster North. Fell in love with Justine, not Jewish, from Nottingham and had our two boys. So you could say my family have not sat under the same oak tree for the last 500 years. I am the son of a Jewish refugee. A Leeds supporter, from North London. A baseball fan. I am proud to lead the Labour Party. I am proud to represent the people of Doncaster North. I am proud to be English. And I am proud to be British too.’
Miliband knows that voters like the story of his refugee parents, which is why his background features in many of his speeches. It will be interesting to see how he enlarges on this today. Fraser has already argued that some of the passages and the accompanying party political broadcast about the Labour leader’s comprehensive schooling play the working class card when Miliband has a very shaky claim to that indeed. But he clearly thinks his personal story is important, and will use it today as the basis for his big picture reforms.