For Ed Miliband, this particular conference speech was a ‘coming of age’. It’s somewhat bemusing that political journalists have described Ed Miliband as “disappointing”, or “singularly unimpressive”, but Miliband does not need to impress these people who’ve got it wrong before.
Most people will converge on the notion that David Cameron gave a horrifically dull speech, more akin to a newsreader reading out a corporate’s executive summary of an annual report. The pitch of Nick Clegg, that he could permanently be Deputy Prime Minister, was frankly risible. UKIP managed to propel Godfrey Bloom into the limelight for all the wrong reasons, in their pitch to make cleaning behind a fridge more relevant than the ‘cost of living crisis’.
Ed Miliband’s moral triumph is that he can genuinely say he is going into the election, to be held in the UK on May 7th 2015, having tried his best to piss off the key players in the print press. The BBC’s news coverage, whether it includes not reporting the National Hospital Sell-off following the Health and Social Care Act (2012), or not reporting the closure of law centres in England, or not reporting a march against NHS privatisation in Manchester involving approximately 60,000 people, has become astonishingly irrelevant.
The ‘coming of age’ of Ed Miliband politically is an intriguing one. Whilst Miliband has really struggled, initially, to convince others of the need of ‘responsible capitalism’ or indeed ‘predistribution’, he managed to produce a populist synthesis which was strikingly popular.
Phone lines are typically inundated in any radio phone-in with callers moaning about how their utility bills have shot up. The ‘free market’ has not offered choice or competition, but has become a gravy train for greedy companies.
There is not a single truly ‘free’ market. Virtually all free markets have needed some degree of regulation, to stop customers being abused.
It has become much easier to fire employees on the spot, and access-to-justice evaporated. Virtually all free markets have needed some degree of regulation, also to stop employees being abused.
Whilst then the ‘One Nation’ concept may seem a bit pie-in-the-sky, an economy and society which works for its citizens ‘for the public good’ is a worthy one. It is a bit of a stretch to make this sound like a return to 1970s socialism. It is entirely about making the State protect the interests of its citizens.
The media have long been gleeful at the personal ‘poll ratings’ of Ed Miliband being dire, but David Cameron impressed as a dodgy double-glazing salesman this week. Nick Clegg, having led his party to voting for NHS privatisation and the decimation of legal aid, has become a laughing stock with his argument that he is a ‘moderating force’.
Many people will therefore say begrudgingly that Ed Miliband had by far the best conference season. This was not because he had ‘rote learned’ a script rather than reading an autocue. This is because, whether it was synthetic or not, struck a chord with the concerns of ordinary voters not corporate directors.
The Westminster Class is clearly going to take a bit of time to readjust to the new mood music. Miliband has, whether they concede it or not, has been able to change the narrative from the deficit to the ‘cost of living crisis’.
The ‘cost of living crisis’ is a genuine one, with the cost of living outstripping real wages for the vast majority of the term of this government so far. It is shocking perhaps it is taken so long for the political class to realise that this is an issue.
This is not, of course, a rejection of the market in any Marxist sense. It is merely an acknowledgement that voters do not intellectually masturbate any more on the allegation of Labour singlehandedly bankrupting the global economy.
The bankers are the baddies, like the energy companies. They have failed to regulate themselves, and have been the beneficiaries of ineffective regulation from the State. The Unions are rapidly no longer becoming “public enemy number one”, not because there has been a sudden conversion of a mindset to valuing employees’ rights but because votes find disgusting the idea of faceless hardnosed hedgies and venture capitalists determining public policy behind the scenes.
And there’s finally the rub. Ed Miliband has managed to shove the volume up, when he was perhaps so quiet that people were wondering if he ever had anything useful to say. And he somehow has managed to make his ‘One Nation Economy’, ‘One Nation Society’ and ‘One Nation Politics’ seem relevant to many people who had previously given up on politics.
This is actually no mean feat.
Thanks to @labourmatters for correcting a factual misstatement in an earlier version of this blogpost.