One nation under Ed

For once, Ed Miliband will have the sound of praise ringing in his ears. But it may be the only chance he'll get to wing it, writes our UK Political Editor Harry Cole

Miliband delivered his speech to Labour Party Conference today
Harry Cole
On 2 October 2012 15:44

For the first time in his bumpy career as Labour leader the whole of the hall at Labour conference seemed to genuinely love Ed Miliband today.

However, a few rabble rousing mentions of the NHS and jeers at Tories aside, Miliband was talking to someone else. Not only the voters at home, but to David Cameron personally. He parked his red tank very firmly on Dave's lawn – and not just by stealing the Prime Minister's successful tactic of not using notes or autocues

Ed has made a land grab directly for Cameron's political comfort zone – one nation Toryism. Just last year Cameron told his conference: "This is a One Nation deficit reduction plan – from a One Nation party." Now it was Ed's new favoured phrase and he littered his speech with it handsomely.

You hear that gentle ripping sound? That will be the Prime Minister shredding his planned speech to the Tories next week and for the first time having to sit up and pay attention to the fact that Ed Miliband is claiming ownership of that crucial middle ground.

The speech was not faultless though; it was far too long and thanks to the nature of these things his pithy and angry attacks on Cameron as a "shower of a Prime Minister", and his muddled promise to maybe, sort of, kinda, perhaps reverse the NHS reforms are far more likely to steal the headlines over Ed's declaration that he is fact more Red Tory than trot.

There was also rank dishonesty in his personalisations of tax cuts, claiming that the PM will be "writing cheques" for forty thousand pounds to himself. Having cut his teeth in the Treasury, we have to assume that Ed was deliberately facetious and dishonest here. If not, you have to worry about his basic grasp of taxation and government.

In many ways this is a speech that Ed should have given two years ago; the structure around his story and that of his family had a "getting to know you" feel to it, and would have been more suited to a leadership election.

The fact that people are still asking what Ed stands for two years into his leadership is telling, and today's speech will go some way to answering the crucial question of "why?" Why is he in politics? Why does he think we need change? Why is he the answer? 

Whether or not the voters believe him remains to be seen, but they will have further questions if they do buy it. Namely, "how?" Some vague talk of breaking up the banks and getting more apprenticeships is not a manifesto. How Ed will fix his One Nation Britain is what we need to know now – you can get away with one policy-light speech, but at this time in the electoral cycle he won't be able to do today's ever again. 

Miliband talked of "not only changing the medicine but the doctor too." This tired and lazy metaphor leaves his biggest weakness wide open. If you are going to change the remedy, one thing you never do is bring back the original cause of the ailment to see if that will work.

Ed said he wants to rebuild Britain, together. The millstone around his neck is the fact that he and his chums were the ones that broke it. It's going to take more than a flashy speech to undo that.

Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator. He tweets at @MrHarryCole where you can catch up on his musings as well as his work for the Guido Fawkes blog

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