Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Strong on substance, but the delivery needs work

Ed Miliband's speech today covered a lot of ground and of necessity was a broad brush approach to setting a new direction for the party.

There was enough looking back with pride at the achievements of the past thirteen years - health, education, equalities - but also a necessary humility in accepting that we made errors over promising an end to boom and bust, over civil libertiLinkes issues and, in particular, over the invasion of Iraq. He rightly accepted the need to reduce the deficit, but not at the expense of risking the recovery, which makes eminent economic sense. He spoke of unions working to support their members, but didn't support strike action without reservation. Bravely, he took on the nicknames that have been attached to him over the course of the campaign and in recent days, neatly defusing their power to damage with the evidence of his words. There may have been little in substantive policy, but given the breadth of the speech, that is not a criticism. That will need to evolve, but the direction of the party looks to be set.

For me, the weakness in the speech was the presentation and the delivery, which need to be improved as a matter of urgency. To be fair, this is a first outing as leader, it seemed under-rehearsed and gigs don't come much tougher than this, but Ed has to improve rapidly to be sure of making the right impression. It may be worthwhile following the well-trodden path to a vocal coach - Margaret Thatcher certainly had some help in the early years of her premiership and I'm convinced that Boris Johnson has done some work to train himself to speak more slowly and with less boyish enthusiasm. Ed has to learn fast on this one.

Ed certainly improved as the speech went on and the final peroration was quite strong, drawing in the essential optimism that characterises Labour politics - the belief that we can build a new Jerusalem together as a society rather than as individuals. It is our disappointment in government, but our guiding light in opposition.
We are the heirs to an extraordinary tradition, to great leaders who were above all the optimists of history. The optimism of 1945 which built the National Health Service and the welfare state. The optimism of Harold Wilson and the white heat of technology and the great social reforms of that government. The optimism of Tony and Gordon who took on the established thinking and reshaped our country. We are the optimists in politics today. So let's be humble about our past. Let's understand the need to change. Let's inspire people with our vision of the good society. Let the message go out, a new generation has taken charge of Labour. Optimistic about our country. Optimistic about our world. Optimistic about the power of politics. We are the optimists and together we will change Britain.
Optimism is a powerful, but simple message. Given the gloom spreading across the public sector, generated by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government, there seems to be nobody else able to offer that ray of hope for a better day to dawn and it makes absolute sense for Labour to colonise that higher ground right now.

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