James Forsyth

Miliband produces the bare minimum, but don’t underestimate him

Miliband produces the bare minimum, but don't underestimate him
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Ed Miliband did what he needed to do. In his speech he needed to show that he was not some demented left-winger, that he was not a tool of the unions and that he appreciates the need for cuts.

He did the first bit with his tone. It is very hard to depict someone as dangerously left-wing when they appear thoroughly reasonable. The union test he got through with the line that no one in the Labour party should have any ‘truck with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes.’ As one Tory said to me last week, attacking him over being in hock to the unions was never going to be effective for long as it is so easy for him to distance himself from them.

On cuts, he went further than his line that he wouldn’t oppose every cut, acknowledging that ‘There will be some things the coalition does that we won’t like as a party but we will have to support. And come the next election there will be some things they have done that I will not be able to reverse.’ This is, of course, not a deficit reduction plan. It still leaves huge questions about what he would do. But it will help establish him as reasonable. Whether it is credible to hold to this position through the spending review is another matter.

There were various raids on Cameron territory, most noticeably his choice of optimism as the dividing line. Cameron used to talk a lot about the future, about sunshine winning the day but he has found all his other messages drowned out by deficit reduction.

Attacking the coalition for not thinking about growth, could be a potent line of attack. It is a problem that we are hearing all about cuts and not about how they could get the economy growing faster. Cameron needs to spend a lot more time talking about the more dynamic economy Britain will have after the cuts if this charge is not to stick.

There were also a few homages to Blair in the speech. Most noticeably, his line that wisdom is not confined to one political party and that Beveridge and Keynes are two of his heroes.

The speech was, though, as Pete notes, too long and the delivery was not brilliant. It definitely improved as the speech went on, but in the early stages the timing was off on the jokes. The one about his Mum being glad the contest was over seemed out of place with his moving story about how his family had fled the Nazis. The gag about David nationalising his train-set also didn’t work.

But, overall, the speech showed why the right would be foolish to underestimate Ed Miliband.