Peter Hoskin

Ed Miliband’s speech: neither here nor there

Ed Miliband's speech: neither here nor there
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Where are Ed Miliband's editors? If twenty minutes had been lopped off that speech, then it might have been quite a decent little number. As it was, it dwelt too long on the past at the beginning; it hit all of its high notes in the middle; and sagged again during an protracted conclusion. Maybe if David Miliband doesn't stand for the shadow cabinet, he might be persuaded to stick around and at least fine-tune his brother's speeches.

As for what we learnt about the MiliE leadership, most of it was presentational. The phrase "new generation" popped up with machine gun regularity, as did words like "optimism" and "change". This was all about setting himself apart from New Labour – but not too much. Blair and Brown were praised at monotonous length, but then he'd talk about how the party had lost touch with the public. The election result was portrayed as a victory for Labour activists over "Lord Ashcroft's millions," but then it was described as "bad". On the one hand, on the other hand. This, yet that. And, of course, we shouldn't support "irresponsible strikes".

This Janus act, facing both ways at once, bled into Miliband's sketchy policy prospectus. At times, he was a fiscal hawk, soaring on currents of "fiscal credibility" and "severe cuts". But then he'd stress that Alistair Darling's deficit reduction plan is only a "starting point", and attack, say, the withdrawal of the Sheffield Forgemasters loan. More revealing, perhaps, were the areas where he did seem to agree, more or less, with the coalition: prisons, welfare reform, the need for strong families, etc. Indeed, he employed quite a Cameroonian lexicon, talking about "responsibility" and, er, "the good society". And at one point, he even said that the state, a potential "vested interest," can be an "impediment to the good society".

The most certain aspects of Miliband's speech were the things we knew about already. Iraq, the living wage, civil liberties – all made an appearance, and seemed to be warmly received by the crowd. They had come to witness the birth of a new generation, and at times – especially when Miliband took on the hubris of the Brown years – it looked as though they had got it. But, overall, the new Labour leader seemed to be stuck in stasis, uncertain of the direction of travel. Perhaps he'll have made his mind up by the time the Spending Review comes around.