Forget the Tories: take the time to read Ed Miliband’s speech for yourself

by Michael Dugher

As Ed Miliband made his way out of the conference hall after his speech in Liverpool last week, for some of the assembled political journalists, glumly “kettled” in a far corner of the conference centre, the story had already been written: Ed Miliband had “lurched to the left” with an address that was “anti-business”. Neither the conference nor the speech remotely warranted such a depressingly predictable narrative. But for some of the (Conservative-supporting) press, the facts must not get in the way of a good (or lazy) story.

By contrast, and by coincidence, as I made my way out of the hall in Liverpool, I bumped into two very senior business figures. One is a longstanding Labour supporter, who has made millions in private industry. The other has only recently joined the party, having retired from business after decades of running multi-million pound commercial enterprises. Both thought the speech was very good. They enthused about not only its thoughtfulness, but in particular its emphasis on the importance of business as a “wealth creator”, a line used repeatedly in Ed Miliband’s speech.

I too was struck by what I regarded as a firmly “pro-business” message the speech (the words “pro-business” were used no less than five times).  He rightly held out the example of Rolls Royce as a great British company and he contrasted the behaviour of its chief executive, Sir John Rose, with that of former bank chief, Sir Fred Goodwin. Also, as Labour continues to berate the government for its lack of any industrial strategy, I was pleased that Ed mentioned UK train manufacturer, Bombardier, as well as the defence giant, BAE Systems, with workers from both companies still reeling from recent announcements of large scale redundancies. He recognised the importance of financial services to Britain, but praised those companies that “train, invest, invent and sell”. Indeed, he said: “The vast majority of our businesses have the right values and do the right thing”.

The truth is it is not “anti-business” to criticise Fred Goodwin or to condemn what a private equity firm did to Southern Cross care homes. Neither is it “anti-business” to say a future Labour government should challenge the big vested interests like the energy companies ripping off consumers. It is the right thing to do.

Neither did I think the speech was particularly “left wing”. Indeed, my impression was that Ed Miliband was leading a big argument from the centre-ground. He was tough on bad behaviour at the top, but he was also tough on everyone else. His belief in a “something for something” culture, whether that is in housing allocation on welfare payments, or directors’ remuneration, is a welcome one. He also highlighted many of New Labour’s achievements, telling the conference: “My party is proud of that record – and so am I”.

It is interesting to note that it was a Conservative, Edward Heath, who first used a phrase that would not have been out of place in Ed Miliband’s speech: “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. Only the loonies on the Tory right would regard Ted Heath as a “leftie”. Similarly, it was a Liberal, JM Keynes, who wrote in the 1930s something that Ed seemed to echo in Liverpool in 2011:  “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done”.

The truth is that Ed was making a big argument. To be fair, it may have come as a bit of a shock to some of the journalists. The speech was inevitably quite long, and political hacks, with the news desk breathing down their necks, were pressed for time. Perhaps that explains why so many went for the easy line. But, interestingly, others in the media in recent days have been more reflective. Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator, and not a creature of the left it’s fair to say, wrote:

“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”.

All of this is, of course, in marked contrast to what we have heard so far in Manchester from the Tories. George Osborne today and the Conservatives this week have talked a lot about growth. How much they are talking about it is, in itself, an indication of how little there is of it in the economy, thanks to their decision, as Alistair Darling said recently, to “squeeze the life out of the economy”.

We have also heard a combination of old politics and, frankly, new populism. As well as gestures to the right – EU referenda, scrapping the human rights act, making it easier to unfairly sack people – there has also been a drift to the right, with a series of light-weight offerings – £250 million for weekly bin collections, 80 miles-an-hour driving on the motorway, David Cameron’s “war on carrier bags” (to quote the Daily Mail headline).

In no way has there been any sense that the Conservatives are making a big argument. Perhaps Cameron will do that later this week. Perhaps. But for those of you who missed Ed Miliband’s speech last week, Labour is making a big pitch about what is wrong with Britain today and how the country can be better in the future. But don’t take my word for it. And don’t read last week’s newspapers. Watch the speech and decide for yourself.

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and parliamentary private secretary to Ed Miliband.

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9 Responses to “Forget the Tories: take the time to read Ed Miliband’s speech for yourself”

  1. swatantra says:

    This is good news for Labour. Labour has to be seen as the Party of the small business man and woman, working 24 hrs a day, flogging their guts out keeping the business afloat and people in employment and industry ticking over. That is equally as important as keeping the working man and woman in a job with a roof over their heads picking up their minimum wage packet at the end of the week. Tories are the Party of Big Business, people like Ascroft.

  2. Rob the crip says:

    Well you know Ed Miliband lurches to the left, he did! when did this happen, He says he’s the leader of the hard working party, and the people who dare to come back from wars zones injured must understand we will not stand for them, anyone who dares to be disabled god help you.

    we are the party of those nice middle class, I will not forget you creeps daring to call Brown names when he took a few pennies from you, to help our beloved middle class.

    Labour and the left they use it like a nife problem is left right Labours not the party to run the country end of story

  3. treborc says:

    Says a lot about Labour, two millionaires says he did well ,while the rest of us worry about our jobs feeding the family or if your disabled living.

  4. rob the cripple says:

    Says all I want to know when a party starts to ban people for having thoughts which do not agree with the New labour party

  5. swatantra says:

    I’d spare a thought for the squeezed middle; they’ve got it just as hard as the poor, and a lot more to lose. It’s not easy just missing out on all the support and there is a hell of a lot of support out there, because your income is slightly above the threshold. So they have the added trauma the worry the strees off keeping things going, just because they like the idea of working for a living.
    And, if Ed is Red then I’m a banana. Brown never was, just gave the impression he was.

  6. Robin Thorpe says:

    For what it’s worth I agree with Micheal Dugher (although as PPS to EM he is clearly a tad biased). The criticism of the speech has been about specifics and whilst Rob the Cripple may be right that not enough support is given to the less able, the overall message from Ed’s speech is one of morality and aspiration. A message that no social democrat can disagree with. Parliamentary politics is always going to be about compromise, about half-fulfilled objectives, but what Ed is saying, I think, is that if you can frame the moral context then we are at least going in the right direction. The coalition government are trying to be proficient administrators, Ed is trying to make a difference. I for one welcome his attempt to present an intellectual solution to a real problem. Politics should be more about ideas and ethics and less about administration. Civil servants are the administrators, MPs are there to offer leadership and public accountability.

  7. Chris says:

    I agree that “it is not “anti-business” to criticise Fred Goodwin or to condemn what a private equity firm did to Southern Cross care homes. Neither is it “anti-business” to say a future Labour government should challenge the big vested interests like the energy companies ripping off consumers.”

    However, it is anti-business to assume that the only vested interests are corporate. Where is his commitment to take on the left-leaning vested interests – the unions, the BBC, GMC, RCN, the quangocracy, and so on ad nauseam.

    It is anti-business (as well as profoundly ignorant) to believe that it is ‘right’ for a government to determine which is ‘good’ business and which is ‘bad’, and then apply differing taxation levels to those determinations.

    When not one member of the shadow cabinet has ever had a wealth-creating job or operated outside the public sector, the ignorance and arrogance behind the proposals is truly scary.

  8. DaveM says:

    Business should pay a living wage not the minimum wage which is grossly exploitative.
    The country is in a mess because of low pay recently disguised by cheap credit which is no longer available. Growth will not come until the majority of workers have money to spend. Expect further collapse of businesses.

  9. Mike Homfray says:

    If reasonable, social democratic critique of inappropriate and corrupt business practice is somehow evidence of a wild lurch to the far left, then we really may as well pack up and go home!

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