Ed Miliband said most of the right things in his Labour conference address today. It was a speech that did a job—more than competently—but it did not inspire. And yet, to the relief of his audience, it also suggested that he might be able to inspire in the future.
He used his Jewish heritage to tell a compelling personal story and express an unforced patriotic attachment to Britain. There was plenty of north London, but perhaps a surprising amount of “Blue Labour” too: the stress on strong families (from the first unmarried father to lead the party), community, solidarity and even scepticism about mass immigration. He also said the right things on the deficit and put the unions in their place. With the exception of his Iraq apology, most of the speech could have been given by brother David—indeed it is very possible that it was mainly the speech David would have delivered.
In essence, it was about praising New Labour, criticising it judiciously, and moving on from it, with much stress on the new generation. He was very low on specifics—about the only policy idea was his pledge to save local pubs—and although he told his jokes with some panache, it was also rather flatly delivered. He will no doubt improve.
Interestingly, he neither attacked nor even mentioned the Liberal Democrats. And his criticisms of David Cameron felt like he was going through the motions. Indeed the only seriously false notes came towards the end with his tired comments about the need, once again, for a new politics—failing to notice that we already have one; it’s called the Lib-Tory coalition. And his peroration about optimism (pitted against Cameron’s supposed p…