Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Red Ed? Come off it!

That was Ed Miliband's message as he gave a heartfelt (and apart from the odd stumble) polished performance to the Labour Party conference this afternoon. Sometimes it did feel as if the Revd. Blair had been replaced as vicar by his curate who combined youthfulness, earnestness and a commitment to optimism, the theme on which he ended.

Ed Miliband tried to differentiate himself from Old and New Labour, while acknowledging the latter's achievements, by presenting himself as part of a new generation which wanted a new politics. How many times have we heard politicians say before that they want to change politics?

He presented his back story quite well, with a self-deprecatory remark about his father, Ralph (Adolph) Miliband. There were also references to the future in terms of his 16 month old son.

One of the clear themes came through to me was that he was not going to vacate the centre ground of politics, although he also argued that the centre ground can be re-shaped. He endorsed the central premise of the New Labour argument: one can deliver both economic efficiency and social justice. He also tried to make a strong ethical appeal, emphasising that 'my values are my anchor'.

He also made clear that the party 'wouldn't always like what I have to say ... but lead I will.' Militant trade unionists got a slap on the wrist with a reference to 'overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes'.

On the deficit, he said that the need to reduce it would have meant painful cuts under Labour. Even if Labour regained office, it would not be possible to reverse all the cuts. Fiscal credibility had been hard won by New Labour and it must be won back. What this all came down to at the end, however, was a rather lame endorsement of the approach of halving the deficit.

One of the most potentially important statements was the announcement that he would vote in favour of AV in referendum, a move away from the opportunistic opposition Labour had been pursuing. It should increase the chances of the measure passing.

So a good start, but the real tests lie ahead. How will he match up against David Cameron at question time?

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