Joe Wattts at the Labour Party conference on Ed Miliband’s speech: The human touch
09:50 03 October 2012
There was no getting around it. The doubters had to admit it. At his party’s annual conference yesterday Ed Miliband gave his best ever speech.
Without notes, the Labour leader freewheeled about the stage conversing with the audience speaking with rhythm that barely showed it had been practised.
His jokes were actually funny and tales of his family touching. Much of it we have heard before; how his parents fled the Nazis for example. But it will be a mark of this speech’s impact that this time people outside politics might notice it.
Beforehand Labour spinners claimed Mr Miliband would make the speech “off the cuff”. But this was a performance deeply thought through, well crafted and to Mr Miliband’s credit, well delivered.
“One nation” was the theme of the speech; a canny piece of politics for a Labour leader to claim a phrase coined by Tory icon Benjamin Disraeli.
Labour Norwich North candidate Jess Asato said afterwards: “It was incredibly accomplished that he spoke without notes for an hour and ten minutes.
“It was straight from the heart, very personal and delivered a real vision from what will now be known as the “one nation speech”. Ed found his voice.”
The instant online reaction showed that for once while watching Mr Miliband, people were not focused on his looks, voice or mannerisms. He transcended the image he has been saddled with and managed something that eludes so many politicians, including him until now, he appeared normal.
This is crucial because while his party has managed to keep a consistent, if not huge, poll lead over the Conservatives, his own personal ratings are behind David Cameron’s. This was a strong step towards re-balancing that particular problem. But it was not the only problem.
The other issue remains his party’s lack of policy. Oppositions try not to announce detailed ideas to avoid giving the government targets to attack.
But at the same time an opposition needs firstly, some ongoing media coverage, and secondly, something to give the public an idea of what you would do if elected.
It’s a problem Mr Cameron approached using PR opportunities at the start of his leadership. While husky-hugging photos or “WebCameron” were derided, they did fill a gap. They gave him publicity over a prolonged period and said something, voters decided what, about his views.
Mr Miliband has turned his nose up at these stunts and so needed to give the public something else to talk about. A single radical eye-catching policy would have done it.
There was the Technical Baccalaureate trailed earlier this week, a pledge relating to apprenticeships and a promise to split up banks. But for some, none of this departed enough from what others, or he himself, have discussed in the past.
Labour candidate for Norwich South Clive Lewis said: “The delivery was good, he came across very human, it was his most relaxed speech yet.
“But I would have liked something more to go to the doorstep and talk to people about, something showing us as a radical reforming Labour party offering a real credible alternative. There were hints, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more.”
The speech will help to recast Mr Miliband’s image. But the conversation on its delivery will stop.
The Labour leader’s challenge is to work out how he will keep his party in people’s minds when it does.