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Miliband’s brave move to the left
THERE was a glorious red sunset over the River Mersey as I left the Labour conference on Tuesday evening – a tribute to Ed Miliband, presumably.
After all, he had just delivered the most radical, left-wing speech by a Labour leader in a generation, in a city that famously likes its socialism red in tooth and claw.
Make no mistake, it was a speech that rewrote the political rule-book, one that says it is electoral suicide to try to rein in “fast buck” business – the so-called masters of the universe – and step outside the Thatcherite consensus.
For those of us accustomed to the paralysing caution of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, whatever rhetoric they employed to rouse the conference faithful, it was an eyeopening moment.
But will it work? Certainly, the Conservatives were gleeful, believing Mr Miliband had blown it, offering conclusive proof that he is “Red Ed” and simply too left-wing to be elected prime minister.
Many Labour people were downbeat, frustrated that their man delivered a wooden speech that was often rambling, lacking sparkle and the killer phrases that make voters sit up and listen.
To me, that missed the point – because Mr Miliband will never be a great orator. The criticism should be that his entire businessbashing argument lacked coherence.
The leader’s central argument was that there are two types of company – “producers”
and “predators” – and the latter should be punished with higher tax and stricter regulation.
But Mr Miliband’s team could name only one “predator”, the widely-condemned Southern Cross care homes giant, and refused all urgings to identify more. Worse, Labour was unable to explain how the business wheat and chaff would be divided, who would do the dividing, or what the punishments would be.
It was striking that, by yesterday morning, Mr Miliband was insisting the policy was not to make “moral judgments about individuals”
in business, but to draw up new rules for capitalism. This should be music to Labour ears. Finally, it has a leader brave enough to say that our freewheeling American-style economy brings with it unacceptable risks and consequences and that a tamer, perhaps European-style model, is preferable.
The problem, of course, is that this is not what Mr Miliband said from the podium. Did he blunder and go too far? Perhaps he decided he had to be as controversial as possible, simply to get noticed?
It may come back to haunt him. Driven to specifics, almost every company will turn out to be a “producer”, so Mr Miliband could be dogged by his unwise name-calling.
On the other hand, if Mr Miliband can properly define what he means, and call time on the lightly-regulated era that led to the financial crash and shocking poverty, then the rewards could be huge.
Will he pull it off? Not even he is convinced.
As he told one newspaper: “Let the chips fall where they may and we’ll see what people say.” Let the battle begin.
UNFORTUNATELY for Mr Miliband, there was a TV blackout for some of his speech caused, astonishingly, by a faulty kettle in one of outside broadcast trucks.
All sorts of conspiracy theories were promoted.
My favourite came from the wag who said the clapped-out kettle belonged to someone from... the Tea Party.