Despite the presence of some populist policies, the Labour leader's speech lacked a coherent narrativeby Josh Lowe / September 23, 2014 / Leave a comment
Ed Miliband takes the stage at Labour conference, pointing to (possibly imaginary) friends in the audience, waving to the back of the crowd. The hall is packed. Earlier, the queue snaked all the way out the door, across the vast conference foyer, out of the main doors and halfway around the huge Manchester conference centre building. Behind Miliband on a screen is a mosaic of party members’ photos: “We are Labour.” He doesn’t look nervous, exactly, more as if he’s straining to look relaxed.
That’s no surprise: Ed Miliband is under pressure. Extreme pressure. Bottom of a deep-sea trench, teeth of a car crusher 500-tonnes of concentrated pressure. He faces two challenges with this speech. First, he needs to sell Labour to a still sceptical public. At the moment, Ed still doesn’t feel like a leader to most people when they squint their eyes: according to YouGov, 34 per cent of people think Labour will win the next election but only 25 per cent think Miliband will end up as Prime Minister.
The second challenge is more technical, but none the less pressing. Following the Scottish referendum last week, Labour have resisted David Cameron’s plans to find an answer to the so-called West Lothian question—the issue of whether Scottish MPs should be allowed to vote on English Legislation—before the next general election. The public want answers on this—the same YouGov poll states that 71 per cent of them think Scottish MPs should be excluded from these votes following further devolution. MPs including vocal backbencher Simon Danczuk and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw do too. “This isn’t a fringe issue,” Danczuk tells me. He’s right—from aged activists to young upstarts everyone that I speak to thinks it is crucial.
So the stakes are high, something that clearly isn’t lost on party grandees, who are wary of giving precious words lest they be picked up by the papers. One former New Labour Secretary of State tells me he’s put himself under a vow of silence. John Prescott, striding through the conference hall, puts his refusal more forcefully: “Prospect!” he cries “all you thinkers. I’m a doer not a thinker.” The silence of rent-a-quotes, the lack of…