Ed Miliband’s ‘producers vs predators’ speech to Labour conference helped the party leader move out of the political shadows. Now he needs to supply some detail
One thing can be said about Ed Miliband’s speech at the Labour conference yesterday. He has shown thar he is capable of delivering a speech confidently, even if the power companies cut live TV coverage for a few minutes, and that included a decent self-deprecating joke or two.
He gave some strong messages on fiscal responsibility, echoing Ed Balls, towards the start of his speech, which were necessary and will need repetition.There was also the making of a strong populist argument in the speech This is that he is on the side of the ordinary hard-working person or the more productive businessperson. He will cut through the elites that have let people so badly down over the last few years, not least the bankers.
In one sense, this theme has the potential to resonate in these tough times. The ‘producers or predators’ line comes across well in the bulletins. People do feel let down by the powers that be, and it makes sense to put himself against the vested interests at the moment.
There is a strong theme too in focusing on those who work on moderate incomes and this a theme that the coalition too often fails to recognise: talk of narrowing gaps often focuses just on the very poorest, yet it is important that those on relatively low and modest working incomes don’t feel that work doesn’t pay.
Narrowing gaps must be about more than those who are helped off welfare: in government, Labour delivered more for the deciles just above the lowest group in areas like education, and those are the people who will decide most whether the party is in government again. Talking to them is good politics.
The danger is that without the detail, the ambitions fail to connect with delivery. Certainly, he makes a strong case for social mobility: but more will be needed than cut-price fees where the loan repayment levels remain the same. Equally, the talk of differential business tax rates need more clarity – frontbenchers challenged to defend it on TV can tell him that – as does the proposal to give hard workers preference with social housing.
However, after this speech, Ed Miliband has moved out of the shadows of the last Labour government. But he will need to guard against the instincts of some in the party whose interest is more in a quiet life of Tory-bashing than the inconvenience of winning three elections.
Yesterday’s speech allowed Ed Miliband to set out his vision: now he must put flesh on the bones, all the while ensuring that his argument maintains the hard edge that could provide the makings of a winning manifesto.