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Friday, 30 September 2011

A lurch to the left?

A brief post this morning on Ed Miliband's conference speech. Here's the main things I observed.
  • You really know you're luck's down as leader, a leader struggling to make an impact, when your conference speech loses transmission to the BBC, Sky and ITV all at once. I didn't see 7 minutes of Ed's speech. Blogger Iain Dale wondered whether David Miliband had pulled the plug. It was unfortunate, of course it wasn't his fault... but it didn't help and Labour aides will have been furious.
  • The "good" and "bad" businesses "proposal" sounded vague and almost impossible to implement. Fine, perhaps, as a broader philosophy... but Miliband will struggle to explain how civil servants would put this into practice. He talked about changing the "rules" to allow "good" and "bad" behaviour to be regulated. In doing so, he took Labour into a more statist stance, the state deciding and regulating good and bad business practice, than Blair or even Brown would have. It wasn't a liberal position, and I'd rather let businesses have the freedom to do what they think is right than be hamstrung by regulations established by Labour Ministers (none of the Shadow Cabinet has ever run a business, incidentally) and civil servants who know nothing about business. Let's not forget that businesses are the foundations of growth and jobs and that the vast majority are "good" - both small businesses and FTSE companies alike. It was a relatively small number of very, very large banks that caused the economic crisis, and Ed Miliband identifying a problem with all businesses seems heavy-handed and meddlesome at a time when the economy is flat-lining. Business know best how to run their own affairs, and interference from the state should be kept to a minimum.
  • The booing of Tony Blair was embarrassing. I know of course the unpopularity over Iraq and the feeling that Blair was a closet Tory. But it just made Labour sound as if they had settled back into Opposition again. With Brown's two Ed's in charge, it was a small thing that underlined the impression that the Labour party is moving away from the centre ground - a place where Ed M himself admitted they would need to be to win the Tory votes needed to win an election.
  • There was probably a bit too much apologising at the Conference. Voters say they like politicians to apologise, but in the end it sounds a bit incompetent. Admitting Labour got Fred Goodwin's pension wrong, OK. There was also an admission that Labour didn't do enough to reduce the gap between rich and poor (it widened). But saying you got something wrong, doesn't do wonders for persuading people to think you'd get things right now or in the future.
  • Delivery still suspect. Hague was no better. IDS was much, much worse. But the voice and the sometimes vacant look are troubling because Ed M just doesn't look like a PM in waiting, where Cameron and Clegg look the part. That Ed M isn't making more ground when the Coalition has made its core message one of cuts and austerity, and where it has a free run at Opposition without the Liberal Democrats as a second Opposition party, should be worrying for Labour.
Overall, a speech that will probably be forgotten - but it was unfortunately one that attempted a deep argument that was a bit confusing ("good" and "bad" businesses?), and most crucially will not have helped achieve Labour's No1 objective at the moment. Getting voters listening to Labour again.

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