Posts Tagged ‘leader’s speech’

The press is about to turn on Ed Miliband

28/09/2012, 10:41:47 AM

by Atul Hatwal

A couple of weeks ago, the conversation among a small group of lobby journalists perched at a Westminster bar (what is the proper term for such a group: a conspiracy? A Pernod perhaps?) turned to an important question: do you think Ed Miliband can make it into Number 10?

Despite the polls, the government’s rolling omnishambles and even some of their own past articles, the answer was a resounding, “no.” No ifs. No buts.

So what, you might think. Just cynical noises off from Westminster insiders, irrelevant to most peoples’ lives.

True enough, but these are also the people who frame political debate in this country. The hive mind of the lobby, with its shared assumptions and outlook mediates political truth in this country.

It shapes the tenor of the articles across the press which then set the agenda for the broadcast media.

Since the budget, the lobby narrative about the Labour leader has been quite benign. It has run along the lines of, “Ed Miliband is underestimated and actually quite effective.”

It’s helped the Labour leader garner substantially more positive reviews from the media for his House of Commons performances, despite there being little substantive difference from the previous year when he was panned each week, and spawned a series of pieces talking up the prospect of Labour victory.

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator exemplified this tendency earlier in the month with his announcement of the “Age of Ed”. He declared, “Yes Ed is no showman. But maybe voters have had enough of charisma.”

For Labour’s spinners this has been manna from heaven: authoritative writing from the right that endorses the happy story of the headline polls. The twittering echo chamber of Labour activists, wannabe MPs, loyalist MPs, friendly bloggers and journalists has been ringing like Big Ben.

However, although this has been a relatively stable equilibrium for several months, there are signs that the situation might be about to change.

A few days after the Pernod of journalists wrote off Miliband’s chances, a poll came out which showed an absolutely enormous Labour lead – the Ipsos Mori survey which had the party 15 points ahead.

The poll was widely reported, but with a twist.

The articles all cited the large Labour advantage but then zeroed in on David Cameron’s commanding lead over Ed Miliband as peoples’ preference for prime minister. The story was the same from the New Statesman to the Daily Mail.

It was as notable as it was peculiar.

Ed Miliband has consistently trailed David Cameron in the leadership stakes in almost every poll, but this has rarely been such a prominent feature in reports of the polling. Almost every piece this time highlighted the gap between the leaders in the headline.


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Labour must overcome its innate conservatism and keep on modernising

10/09/2012, 07:00:13 AM

by David Talbot

Settling into the settee at the Labour leader’s house in Frognal Gardens, Hampstead, in the aftermath of a disastrous general election defeat, the friends mused about the future of their party.

There was little or no concrete thread to the discussions that flowed that night, though clause IV and changes to the party name were indeed discussed, amongst many more beside.

The Labour leader privately rejected most of the more radical suggestions, but was convinced yet further that Labour needed to adapt. The only action agreed was that a member present would put the thoughts expressed down on paper and duly, on the Sunday following the defeat, an article appeared.

The piece created a furore. The party should abandon its historic commitment to nationalisation, rebrand its image beyond its working class base and should consider changing its name to “Labour and Radical” or “Labour and Reform”. However, this was not a cosy bunch of Blairites writing abstract policy pamphlets in the 1990s, but the triumvirate surrounding Hugh Gaitskell, the then Labour leader, in 1959.

Gaitskell recognised that the party was creeping towards irrelevance as a political force. The high tide of Labourism had seemly passed with the Attlee governments of 1945-51; inertia, infighting and tradition had taken hold of the party. Gaitskell saw the manifest dangers in refusing to change the party, which could lead to electoral disaster, if not outright extinction.

The day after polling Gaitskell privately remarked to Richard Crossman, a prominent socialist intellectual and former editor of the New Statesman, that another defeat would be final for the Labour party. The inevitability of Labour’s decline began to be predicted.

Four decades before the emergence of the personnel most synonymous with the revival and modernisation of the Labour party, Gaitskell and his cohorts first recognised that modernisation had to be front and centre – and accelerated. They openly recognised what has, truth be told, been at the heart of Labour since its formation – its innate conservatism.

This is most vividly illustrated by Philip Gould, the seminal Labour pollster, in his work “The Unfinished Revolution” which charts his involvement, and struggles with, Labour from the mid-1980s to his untimely death.

Gould describes, in quite the most excruciating detail, how Labour had abandoned the very people it had formed to represent. The Conservatives, he argued, dominated the last century because they continually modernised – whilst Labour did not. In their brutal lust for power the British Conservatives had become the most successful political force in the democratic world. This highlights the central paradox of British politics; namely, the party of conservatism held power for much of the twentieth century because of its ceaseless modernisation.

The party of supposed radicalism succumbed to its conservatism, surely no more exemplified then the deification of clause IV, originally written in 1892, and was thus systematically overlooked at the ballot box by the British electorate.

Gould details how the party’s conservatism dragged the party to the brink. The party became intrinsically, and violently, resistant to change. This conservatism is the ultimate explanation for Labour’s failure to dominate the British political landscape.

The myriad of failures of the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s was due in large measure to the party’s inability, or unwillingness, to modernise the party. But the ultimate encapsulation was the 1980s, which Gould chillingly describes:

“To millions of voters Labour became a shiver in the fear of the night, some unsafe, buried deep in the psyche, not just for the 1983 election campaign or the period immediately afterwards but for years to come.. Labour looked downwards; ‘Clawing back; turning the clock back; for Militant; anti-home ownership; strife; strikes; inflation. Not for me.’”

Gould, like Gaitskell, would spend his political life attempting to forge a new consensus in the Labour party; one of unremitting modernisation.

In his opening speech as Labour leader, Ed Miliband declared that “the era of New Labour has passed”. This is self evident. If his first conference speech was one of surprise, his second was a seminar. For the third, we need sustenance. But whatever words tumble from the leader’s podium in Manchester, Miliband cannot, and must not, reach for the party’s comfort in conservatism. The modernising zeal that Gaitskell started, and Gould sculpted, Miliband must now strive for.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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Like a big lunch: the leader’s speech is too much to digest

12/10/2011, 01:44:21 PM

by Kevin Meagher

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear Ed Miliband make a speech like that ever again. Not a criticism of the contents of his recent conference address in Liverpool – perish the thought – rather a call to scrap the whole palaver of the annual leader’s speech.

Well not really scrap, more a “refounding” of the whole idea. The current model has had its day. The annual hour-and-a-bit long, Tuesday afternoon speech has become stale and predictable. Not so much a shop window for Labour but a stock check. Visionary bit? Check. Thank-yous to unsung party heroes? Check. Anecdote about meeting a real person? Check. Emotional bit about own life? Check. Attack stuff? Check. Serious and inspirational bit? Check. Clap lines? Check. Gags? Check.

The overall effect is stodgy and lumpy. Like eating a big lunch, it becomes rather hard to digest and does little for your productivity for the rest of the day.

For next year, Ed should try something different. Some iconoclasts around him were said to have been arguing to do away with the annual ritual altogether, making a series of speeches around the country instead. Others say that we should follow the Tories and Lib Dems and store up the leader’s speech until the end of the week. (more…)

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Normal people don’t notice party conferences

06/10/2011, 07:30:53 AM

by Peter Watt

I have had a funny old conference season, in that I have essentially “watched” them all via the media of morning and evening news broadcasts and twitter. In other words, my consumption has been filtered. Conference would have passed me by, if I hadn’t actively sought out coverage, something most normal people don’t do. All of that time, effort and money spent on the annual jamborees; and most people will have barely noticed.

My overriding impression is that those unlucky enough to have tuned in, will have hardly seen an advert for a vibrant democracy. To be honest, I no longer understand those who still believe that the status quo, in terms of political party organisation in this country, is sustainable. And before anyone thinks that this a rant aimed only at the Labour party, far from it. Just read Fraser Nelson over at The Spectator on the Tory conference:

“If conferences are increasingly attended by people who are there to meet each other, no wonder there are empty seats in the hall. Most of the passholders couldn’t care less about what’s being said in the hall. It reflects a deeper malaise across our politics more generally”. (more…)

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