Another look at Ed Miliband’s conference speech

In the debate about Stephen Hester’s bonus, I was reminded of this article by Peter Oborne. Ed Miliband’s Labour party conference speech received wide-spread derision essentially as this was supposedly a “lurch to the left bereft of clear policies”.

However, it is clear now Miliband’s approach set out in the speech has set the tone for political debate now. He talked about “The failure of a system… An old set of rules. An economy and a society too often rewarding not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values.” For this, read the bankers and those whose pay Labour is now calling on the government to curb. When he said “you’ve been told we have to tolerate the wealthiest taking what they can. And what’s happened? Your living standards have been squeezed by runaway rewards at the top” he foresaw current public opinion: it is the taxpayer’s one million going on Hester’s bonus, and although slightly off-topic, the taxpayer’s £60 million for the Queen’s proposed jubilee yacht, opposed by 64% of the public. Miliaband also mentioned the Sir Fred Goodwin knighthood controversy, which was back in the news recently: “We shouldn’t have given Sir Fred Goodwin that knighthood”.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have come round to the idea of responsible capitalism, whilst the predatory-versus-producer-businesses idea, which was the aspect of the speech most scoffed at, even entered the Republic campaign debate recently with Mitt Romney attacked for having worked for Bain, essentially a supposedly predatory business.

Looking at Miliband’s speech now, it is hard to see the evidence of a strong lurch leftwards. It contained praise of the Armed Forces and criticisms of benefit scroungers and uncontrolled immigration. Miliband said all parties must be pro-business. Hardly the words of a raving Trot.

Going back to Peter Oborne’s article, he also seemed to have got it right. He wrote:

“The obsessive concentration on matters of overwhelming triviality has obscured the central point: that Miliband made an intellectually ambitious and admirable contribution to public debate. He sought to reshape the terms of political argument and so redefine the territory on which the general election will ultimately be fought. He has even made a tentative step towards tearing up the rules that have defined British economics for the past generation with his cautious critique of capitalism as it has been carried on here for the past 30 years.”

As Cameron sweats over the fallout from Hester’s bonus package, leaving him isolated as politicians from Miliband to Boris Johnson attack the deal, I’m sure he wouldn’t disagree with this analysis of Oborne’s.

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