Ed Miliband’s speech today was aimed at different audiences. Those of us in the hall, on left and right, will have liked some parts and disliked others. Here are some left viewpoints:
Pro-government corporate media are already crying foul. And no wonder. Ed Miliband’s speech today was the most radical delivered by a Labour leader for a generation.
Sure, it was low on policy detail and there were predictable issues that plenty of his supporters will disagree with, from welfare to Afghanistan.
But Labour’s leader made an unmistakable political break today with the unrestrained market consensus of recent decades: denouncing the “failure of a system” that had delivered a “crisis of the promises made over the last 30 years”.
There was no doubt who was in the frame: the bankers and vested interests of the corporate world, rigged markets, big energy conglomerates, companies “powerful enough they can get away with anything” and cosy cartels that set top pay (while he promised to put a worker on every company pay committee).
And turning on its head the Tory and New Labour charge that such talk is “anti-business”, Miliband raised the prospect of a “new economy”, ditching the “old set of rules”: backing producers against predators, wealth creators against assets strippers, real engineering instead of financial engineering. Of course, whether he turn all this brave talk into policies that match the rhetoric is another question.
But even the Blairite ultra Hazel Blears sitting next to me – who listened to some of the sharper attacks on corporate power through gritted teeth – admitted Miliband needed something strong to “cut through”. And compared with the usual bland fare of British politics, it was certainly that.
There’s always a slight sense of dread for a Labour left-winger when listening to the Conference speech of a modern Labour leader. I half expected to spend the speech in a grump with my arms crossed, but in truth there were things to cheer. He spoke of standing against the “consensus”. A truly radical Labour Government would take on Thatcher’s consensus as she took on Attlee’s. He spoke of the sense that companies that were so big and powerful they could get away with anything. Calling for workers representatives on renumeration boards is a step in the right direction.
He slammed the Tories’ onslaught on the NHS. I admit I whooped when he said: “Conference, I am not Tony Blair.” But sadly Blair’s ghost loomed large. He was rightly met with stony silence when he applauded Thatcherism for slashing taxes on the wealthy and taking on union rights.
I was furious at his call for unemployed people to be effectively discriminated against at a time when hundreds of thousands have been thrown out of work through no fault of their own, and when there’s a massive social housing shortage (in large part the fault of New Labour). He promised a future Labour Government wouldn’t spend beyond its means, hinting the myth that the deficit was caused by spending too much, rather than a collapse of tax revenues and increased welfare spending because unemployment went up.He made it clear many of the cuts won’t be reversed: a challenge to the labour movement to make a future Labour Government do just that. Those looking to a coherent alternative to the age of austerity – like myself – will be disappointed.
Ed Miliband should shed no tears over the co-ordinated campaign by the Tory media and the Blairite undead in his own party to undermine him for his alleged lack of charisma.
Charismatic Tory wartime leader Winston Churchill sneered at his Labour counterpart Clem Attlee in the 1945 general election for his personal modesty, taunting him for having “a lot to be modest about.”
This didn’t prevent Attlee from leading Labour to a landslide victory over the old imperialist.
Labour won because it pledged no return to mass unemployment, introduction of the NHS and a welfare state and a campaign to rebuild Britain’s industry, housing and schools.
The electorate ignored Tory pleas to vote for “the man who won the war,” convinced of the need for concrete policies in the interests of the vast majority of the people.
New Labour spin doctors, who painted Tony Blair as uniquely capable of winning general elections, remain wedded to this approach of image over substance even after his pro-business and pro-war policies and obsession with personal self-enrichment created a legacy of popular disenchantment with Labour.
They retain too much influence in the party, prevailing on Miliband to equate predatory asset-stripping companies with “non-contributing” or simply jobless council tenants.
We haven’t heard that from a Labour leader for a very long time. Ed showed that he values those who genuinely create the wealth of our country – the workers who are the backbone of our economy – and for the first time in a long time we heard clear thinking on the importance of manufacturing to grow our economy.
His emphasis on our shared values, on defending our NHS and on scything down the ‘greed culture’ polluting our society will resonate with families across the land. They will resonate more once we see the details to convince us that they can do social good.
We will have to see a lot more detail, but we have seen a man on a mission. There is definitely a phoenix rising from the ashes, into a people’s party.”