Ed Miliband gave his fightback speech in the Beveridge Hall in the Senate House at the unashamedly elite University of London in Bloomsbury.
The room was full of north London Labour members. This was Miliband the intellectual, the guy who is not ashamed of ideas or of comparing different philosophies of political parties. It was Miliband the man who has always believed that inequality is the problem.
‘So let me take the opportunity today to spell it out in the simplest of terms. It is what I stood for when I won the leadership of this party. And it is what I stand for today. This country is too unequal. And we need to change it,’ he declared.
Lessons had been learnt from the party conference. Miliband was standing at a podium. He had a pre-prepared speech. He made no embarrassing references to people he’d met. And, disconcertingly, he kept looking straight at the camera, so there were times I felt that he was speaking to me directly in my living room, Though he, also disconcertingly, often looked away before he finished his sentence. It felt like a practice for a general election televised debate.
But like many TV debates and party conference speeches, the difficulty is defining the audience: the speech was a defiant message to the journalists who are trying to destroy him, a rallying call to party members not to lose nerve, a cry to the British people to trust him to be their prime minister.
The soundbites we have seen trailed in the papers were there: an attack on a ‘zero-zero’ economy reliant on zero-hours contracts and zero tax for the very rich. He opened with: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ And told us about his resilience, his thick skin, and that he was doing this for us, not to have his picture on the wall in Downing Street.
Miliband did lay out his philosophy, but also explicitly the difference between Labour and the Tories. For the Tories inequality was not a mistake, he said, it was the way they viewed society where low wages were the way to compete in the world economy and insecurity was the way to make people work harder.
And he had a riff attacking Ukip, presenting the most coherent view of their philosophy I have ever heard: ‘Piece together the different statements from Mr Farage and his gang and think about what it says: That working mothers aren’t worth as much as men. Life was easier when there wasn’t equality for gay and lesbian people. You feel safer when you don’t have someone who is foreign living next door.’
The most interesting section of the speech was not about inequality, but about devolving power, though it was almost throwaway: ‘And in fact, big spending can’t change the fundamentals of an economy that doesn’t work for working people. And we won’t have the money to do it anyway. This is about our character as a party. The wealth creators, not just the wealth distributors. Because we need to make possible good, private sector jobs at decent wages. The devolvers of power, not the centralisers. Because we believe in giving power away so people can change their own lives and communities. And the reformers of the state, not the defenders of the status quo.’
Sally Gimson is a journalist and councillor in the London borough of Camden. She lived in Berlin from 1994 to 2000 and worked as a news producer for Deutsche Welle Television. She tweets @SallyGimson
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