by Kevin Meagher
Given the tumultuous events in Scotland, Ed Miliband can be forgiven if he’s already ripped-up several drafts of his leader’s speech as he still works out how to respond. But putting that to one side, what is today about? What do we need to hear from Ed and what should he be looking to get out of his annual address to his party?
Ed needs to galvanise the Labour tribe. After all, that is technically why we are all here this week. Yet there’s a flat feeling to this conference. While many express cautious optimism that Labour will win next May, the next conversation comes with predictions of electoral doom, as Lib Dem floaters return home and Cameron rallies. Ed needs to convey, if not vision, then optimism about next year and transmit a sense of confidence that his troops can buy into.
He needs to transcend the party and speak to the electorate at large. This is now the real purpose of a leader’s conference speech. For one day a year, the spotlight falls on the Labour leader, who is given an opportunity to try and set the political agenda, and, even more importantly, show us what kind of person he is. Dog breeders would call it temperament. And while you can train yourself to recite a speech without notes, (a skill that’s frankly lost on a television audience) being likeable and spontaneous is a tad more difficult. But that’s what most non-committed voters will be looking for. This conference, the last before the general election, is, essentially, a job interview for becoming prime minister. So no pressure then.
Show Labour gets the need for further devolution. Calling for a constitutional convention – hitherto Labour’s response to the Scottish devolution result and demands for similar moves for England – is all very well, but it lacks urgency. Ed needs to use his speech to set out the principles that will inform his approach in coming months. Positioning Labour against the ridiculous idea of an English parliament is a start, but Ed needs to go further today and set out the conceptual framework for how power is devolved in England. If he doesn’t, he risks letting Cameron frame the agenda in his conference speech. So is it regions, city regions, strengthened local government or something else?
Do something to address the issue around leadership and economic credibility. Although the party maintains a steady opinion poll lead, the deficits the party continues to run on leadership and economic credibility makes many nervous that the headline poll lead will hold water the closer we get to next May. Let’s be clear: this is a legacy that anyone leading the Labour party would face, but it is, ultimately, Ed Miliband’s problem to fix. And, to put it bluntly, nowhere near enough has been done over the last four years. No-one in their heart of hearts will truly believe the party is set to win next year until these gaps narrow. (more…)