The Tories Would Be Foolish to Underestimate Ed Miliband

New Statesman (1996), October 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Tories Would Be Foolish to Underestimate Ed Miliband


Ed Miliband's first major speech as the new Labour leader, delivered to the party conference in Manchester on Tuesday 28 September, was a powerful statement of progressive social democracy of a kind that led the New Statesman to endorse his candidacy in our issue of 30 August. Throughout the protracted leadership campaign, and in his conference speech, Mr Miliband spoke a different land of language from that used so ritualistically by the New Labour establishment--hence the irritation of his brother, David, when he denounced the Iraq war as "wrong". More than this, in two short sentences, the younger Miliband spoke the simple truth to which neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown gave voice: "The gap between rich and poor does matter. It doesn't just harm the poor, it harms us all."

Mr Miliband vowed not to attack the coalition from the right on crime and civil liberties. As our legal blogger, David Allen Green, wrote on newstatesman.com: "The Labour Party after 2001 was the Illiberal Party ... perhaps the worst of the modern age." Mr Miliband understands this.

In the speech, he reached out to centrist voters but avoided the crude rhetorical populism of his predecessor Gordon Brown: "British jobs for British workers", anyone? However, his decision to rebut those tedious tabloid epithets--"Red Ed", "Forrest Gump", "Wallace"--was misguided. Members of the public, many of whom would not have heard these charges before, will inevitably wonder: "Why was he called that in the first place? What is he hiding?"

Yet the speech was inevitably short on detail on the defining issue of this parliament: the economy. His position on the deficit and debt-financed public spending was an awkward hybrid of the pre-election Darling plan--to halve the deficit in four years through a 2:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises--and the Balls plan to be more flexible in adjusting the pace of consolidation. …

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