“That is my faith. One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.”
You would have to be begrudging in the extreme not to acknowledge that Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party Conference on Tuesday was not one of the most remarkable of modern times. He had to speak both to party and nation to convince them both he has what it takes to be Prime Minister. In an hour long speech, without notes or prompts, he delivered that message without a hitch.
During his discourse Ed mentioned another speech made 140 years ago in Manchester close to where he was speaking. It was Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s “One Nation” speech. “One Nation” conservatives believe societies exist and develop organically, and that members within them have obligations towards each other. In my formative years in the 1950s and 60s “One Nation” Tories were the norm.
Today that is not the case. When Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said “we are all in this together” he wasn’t talking to the nation but his millionaire colleagues around the Cabinet table as he promised them a forty thousand pound tax rebate to be paid for by the country’s pensioners. In capturing the “One Nation” concept for Labour Ed has stolen the Conservatives’ clothes they wrap themselves in when wanting to deceive the voters in to believing they are not the “nasty party”.
However it is not the Disraeli speech I want to dwell on here but one delivered towards the end of the 2010 General Election campaign. I will quote from Rowenna Davis’ excellent book “Tangled Up in Blue”. Here she writes about Maurice Glasman who has been trying to persuade the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to address a London Citizens assembly shortly before polling day.
“In a moment of frenzied passion, Glasman wrote all the words he wished Brown would say. It was a speech grounded in the Citizens UK tradition – it was about Brown’s personal life, his motivation and his identity. It referenced his childhood and his upbringing. It went right through Brown’s campaign as a student to get a decent wage for university cleaners to the introduction of a minimum working wage during his time as chancellor. It talked about his role in pressuring authorities to disinvest in apartheid South Africa, and the power of the people. It was emotional, heartfelt and genuine. And it was sent directly from Glasman to Ed Miliband’s inbox three days before the assembly was due to take place.”
Well Glasman, with Ed Miliband’s help, did persuade Brown to make the speech and although some changes were made in essence it remained in the Citizens UK tradition. Such was the power of the speech that although Brown’s back was against the wall his popularity shot up six percent. Coincidently in the initial days after Miliband delivered his leader’s speech on Tuesday six percent more British voters believed he was prime ministerial than before.
At the time of writing Brown’s speech Glasman, who was not close to the Prime Minister, was associated with the “Blue Labour” movement. The title “Blue Labour” has now fallen by the way side but if the adherents to that philosophy had to choose a new name “One Nation” would do very nicely.
In contrast to Brown, Ed Miliband has remained close to Glasman and made him a Lord in February 2011. Hence the university political professor has become a professional politician but there are many voices crying out to be heard by the Labour Party leader and it isn’t always Glasman who has his ear.
However if there is one word in the Miliband speech de force that convinces me Glasman had some input it is the word “Faith”. Glasman was Director of London Metropolitan University’s “Faith and Citizenship programme”. “Faith” is a word Miliband highlighted time and again.
“Hold on a minute” you might say, “Miliband is a confirmed atheist, as was his father, as is his brother. How can he have faith?”
I have long argued in print that atheists, as with people of religion who truly believe in their God, are all people of faith. The truth is until we die we do not know if God exists or not. The act of faith is to say when there is no certainty “there is no God”. Hence Miliband is fully entitled to speak of his faith and indeed he based his entire speech on it.
Here are just three examples: “But I do believe the best way me for to give back to Britain, the best way to be true to my faith, is through politics…..That is who I am. That is what I believe. That is my faith……And I know who I need to serve in Britain with my faith. It’s the people I’ve met on my journey as Leader of the Opposition.”
Rowenna Davis tells us that Glasman’s Brown speech was about his personal life, his motivation and his identity. It referenced his childhood and his upbringing. It was emotional, heartfelt and genuine.
Miliband in his speech said: “I want to tell you my story. I want to tell you who I am. What I believe. And why I have a deep conviction that together we can change this country. My conviction is rooted in my family’s story, a story that starts 1,000 miles from here, because the Miliband’s haven’t sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years.” He closed with: “That is my faith. One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.”
I am sure Rowenna Davis would use the exactly same words to describe Miliband’s speech as she did for Brown’s – and what’s more, they would be true.
PS: Benjamin Disraeli was Britain’s only Jewish Prime Minister. If Ed Miliband is elected to that high office he will be the second.
(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on October 7 2012)