This afternoon (Tuesday) Labour Leader Ed Miliband made his keynote speech to his party’s annual conference in Brighton. Speaking as is now usual for more than hour without notes Miliband set out his vision of how “Britain can do better” under Labour, with an economy that works for “ordinary people once again”.
Whereas his previous two party addresses have established who Ed Miliband was and to set out his “One Nation” philosophy this speech added the message “Britain can do better” under Labour to those themes.
His words were given rapturous standing ovations as did his departure from the conference hall with wife Justine at his side as they walked through the cheering delegates to the sound of loud music followed by the media pack. However what was important for the Labour Leader is not whether the delegates “got it” but the nation at large.
Miliband pledged that his Labour Government would freeze gas and electricity bills for every home and business in the UK for 20 months if it wins the 2015 election. He added that energy firms had been overcharging “for too long” and it was time to “reset” the energy market.
He suggested he would support measures to give 16 and 17 year old votes in general elections.
Miliband also promised Labour would build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020.
The Labour Leader told delegates and the watching TV audience: “David Cameron talks about Britain being in a global race. But what he doesn’t tell you is that he thinks the only way Britain can win is for you to lose.” That means “the lowest wages, the worst terms and conditions, and the fewest rights at work - a race to the bottom. The only way we can win is in a race to the top.”
Miliband peppered his statements with the tag line: “We're Britain, we're better than this” earning cheers and applause from Labour’s activists. He received standing ovations for defending the NHS and promising to axe “the bedroom tax” - and tackled Tory criticism that he lacks leadership skills head-on, saying: “If they want to have a debate about leadership and character - be my guest.”
Echoing the message from his Shadow Cabinet colleagues over the week he told the party faithful, he had stood up to Murdoch, to vested interests on media regulation and the tobacco lobby as well as made the right call on Syria.
To find out what others thought I asked Lord Maurice Glasman who is a Miliband guru. He told me: “Ed finally defines his direction. Regional banks, living wage, interest rate cap, organizing, break up of oligopoly” all of which has been promised by Labour and Ed at this week’s conference. Yet Glasman also asks: “Can he hold the position?”
Next on my list was Neal Lawson who is Chairman of Compass which campaigns for The Good Society. He stated: “Ed’s speech was well delivered. Good lines and some good policy. But no theme or argument to carry a debate.”
So how do others see us? Amongst the international delegates was Terry Connolly. As his name suggests he is a member of Ireland’s Labour Party and organizes the PES activists in Europe. His view is very positive. “It was a powerful speech that showed that Ed Miliband is ready to become UK Prime Minister. He showed a strong commitment to the social democratic ideals of universality and outlined a clear vision of the future of the UK, a future which will be shaped by the Labour Party.”
Whether that future is shaped by Miliband and Labour is down to the great British voter.
(This article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on September 24 2013 and in other publications)