This was perhaps the best speech Ed Miliband has given. Not a very hotly-contested category, admittedly, but it is the only time he has come across as being as likeable and good-humoured as he is in person. He was walking, talking, coming out with a few decent jokes. Mentioning his mum, in a way that seemed endearing rather that cheesy. From memory he delivered an almost word-perfect speech, although in its weaker parts it did sound like an medley of mini-speeches. There was a blue background, an open Romney-style appeal to his opponent’s former supporters. He quoted Disraeli, claimed the ‘one nation’ mission for Labour and even anger about debt. He wasn’t presenting himself as Red Ed, but as Blue Ed. And wearing a purple tie, as if to make the point.
Was it plausible? Not at all. What policies there were ranged from the improbable to the unworkable. He described a tax cut as the government writing a cheque to the worker – the premise being one his dad would recognise, that the money people earn is the state’s by right. Class war, the unofficial theme of this Labour conference, was everywhere in his speech. Even his faux Disraeli ‘one nation’ schtick was a form of class war, saying – in effect – that these Tory toffs will never care about the plebs. (Cameron has, I will admit, made it easier for him to launch such attacks). I’d love to know what St Paul’s-educated Harriet Harman makes of all this. He even stretched this to a ‘one nation business model’ and God knows what that might be. There were contradictions: he spoke about how pleased he was to be the son of an immigrant, and then lashed out at immigrants who undercut British workers’ salaries. His ‘one nation’ appeal sat oddly beside class war strategy. But luckily for him, no one will have listened to the whole speech: just his best bits.
And those best bits were very good. His delivery was excellent. He made up little jokes, the type that always work a lot better than scripted jokes. When he laughed, his normal hangdog expression vanished. His passage attacking Cameron for the NHS reorganisation was powerful and effective (‘The British people said: no’). Cameron had ordered Lansley not to overhaul the NHS precisely for this reason: it is going into history as a disaster, even though all Lansley did was write Labour reforms into law. ‘You just can’t trust the Tories,’ he concluded: for all appeals to the right, his speech was peppered with attacks on the Tories. And was all the more forceful for that.
‘This is who I am. This is what I believe. This is my faith,’ he said at the end. And I can take him at his word. He found his voice in this speech – and that’s what he had to say made me more apprehensive, not less, about the prospect of a Miliband government. But if the mission was to project Ed the Man, then I’d say it was a resounding success.