Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Miliband’s Progress speech was virtually ignored. That’s a worry.

Ed Miliband made a speech over the weekend that literally dozens of people will have read. More were there to see it live. I was one of the former. Opposition leaders make speeches. That’s what they do. That’s what they’re expected to do. Some get labelled as “keynote,” i.e. this is quite important and will probably form the direction of policy X so pay close attention. The leader’s address at Conference fills a few column inches for several days. Either we have a Prime Minister in waiting or it’s back to the drawing board. Saturday’s speech falls into the “strictly for diehards” category.

To sum it up: it wasn’t very good. That’s the charitable conclusion. Being brutally frank, it was actually pretty dire. Or maybe that’s the charitable conclusion. Speaking on Saturday, to the Blairite think-tank Progress (not exactly on home territory for Ed), Miliband said….something. To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he said.
It was a hotchpotch of his responsible capitalism vision; the usual to be expected attacks on the government; listening to voters; learning lessons from New Labour – where we got things right, where we got them wrong –  more listening to voters; with sprinklings of One Nationism added for extra flavour.

One Nation: the slogan that just will not budge. Still being drummed home to death. We may have tired of it but we’re not going to forget it. The mark of a successful slogan? Not really. I still don’t understand what it means. Or more accurately, what we’re meant to do with it. Alone, it’s meaningless: Labour has broad appeal. It will unite the whole of Britain.

But, all parties profess to do this. Besides, One Nation fails the “elevator pitch:” able to be summarised in one elevator ride. Which isn’t 100% accurate as I’ve just summed it up in a sentence. Unfortunately, the summary alone is so vague it requires several more elevator rides. Heck, it might be easier just to get in one, hit the emergency alarm, and hope the rescue takes several hours.

I couldn’t help but feel I’d read/heard this speech several times before. Probably because it’s been delivered several times before. Ed’s Conference address last year (rightly hailed a triumph) has been regurgitated more times than should be humanly possible.
One Nation is about everybody having opportunity and having a responsibility to play their part.”

Sounds very Big Society to me.
“A country that acknowledges the difficulties, accepts the anxieties, knows that times are going to be hard, but that is confident that change can come.

“A country that knows that we work best when we work together.”
See above.

“All the lessons of our history, from the industrial revolution to the post-war reconstruction, are that we need a recovery made by the many.”
This is David Cameron speaking.

The best parts of the speech were the references to the government’s failed economics. It wants to cut welfare, it wants to cut the deficit, but its actions on the latter will stop it properly achieving the former:
“For all their rhetoric about welfare reform, for all the cuts they’ve made, this government will be spending more on social security at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning.

“Not because they’re generous.
“But because they haven’t taken the action on the economy and they haven’t created the jobs we need to keep the social security bill down.”

This remains Labour’s best line of attack. Far from healing the economy, the coalition is harming it. Simple, concise and easy to preach.

My main problem with Saturday was that it could have been delivered by either Cameron or Clegg, bar the odd amendment here or there. There’s nothing in it that grabs you. Nothing stands out.

Take a step back. Imagine you were listening to it as a non-Labour member or swing voter. You’d be thinking something along the lines of: “yes, this is all very well and good, but you’re not giving me a convincing case for why should I vote Labour.”

Anthony Painter was probably right when he noted: “The problem with reviewing speeches is that you think they are better than they are if you are there and worse than they are if you are not.”
So, why does it matter that a speech given on a weekend and which barely featured in the media didn’t set the world alight? It matters for this very reason. Not every speech has to have that killer soundbite, but it should at least have one or two ideas that you take away and discuss.

Might it be that the media have also heard this speech several times before and have simply stopped listening? Because if this is the case, and they’ve already concluded that Ed Miliband has nothing new to offer, Labour’s legion of advisers and speechwriters should be very concerned indeed.
Fanciful though it sounds, the media and the public sometimes act as if UKIP are now the official opposition. Time to think of something new to say. And fast.

This article first appeared on Labour Uncut on Tuesday 14th May 2013

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