Miliband’s Progress speech was virtually ignored. That’s a worry.

by Ben Mitchell

Ed Miliband made a speech over the weekend that literally dozens of people will have read. More were there to see it live. I was one of the former. Opposition leaders make speeches. That’s what they do. That’s what they’re expected to do. Some get labelled as “keynote,” i.e. this is quite important and will probably form the direction of policy X so pay close attention. The leader’s address at conference fills a few column inches for several days. Either we have a Prime Minister in waiting or it’s back to the drawing board. Saturday’s speech falls into the “strictly for diehards” category.

To sum it up: it wasn’t very good. That’s the charitable conclusion. Being brutally frank, it was actually pretty dire. Or maybe that’s the charitable conclusion. Speaking on Saturday, to the Blairite think-tank Progress (not exactly on home territory for Ed), Miliband said….something. To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he said.

It was a hotchpotch of his responsible capitalism vision; the usual to be expected attacks on the government; listening to voters; learning lessons from New Labour – where we got things right, where we got them wrong –  more listening to voters; with sprinklings of One Nationism added for extra flavour.

One Nation: the slogan that just will not budge. Still being drummed home to death. We may have tired of it but we’re not going to forget it. The mark of a successful slogan? Not really. I still don’t understand what it means. Or more accurately, what we’re meant to do with it. Alone, it’s meaningless: Labour has broad appeal? It will unite the whole of Britain?

But, all parties profess to do this. Besides, One Nation fails the “elevator pitch:” able to be summarised in one elevator ride. Which isn’t 100% accurate as I’ve just summed it up in a sentence. Unfortunately, the summary alone is so vague it requires several more elevator rides. Heck, it might be easier just to get in one, hit the emergency alarm, and hope the rescue takes several hours.

I couldn’t help but feel I’d read/heard this speech several times before. Probably because it’s been delivered several times before. Ed’s conference address last year (rightly hailed a triumph) has been regurgitated more times than should be humanly possible.

“One Nation is about everybody having opportunity and having a responsibility to play their part.”

Sounds very Big Society to me.

“A country that acknowledges the difficulties, accepts the anxieties, knows that times are going to be hard, but that is confident that change can come.

“A country that knows that we work best when we work together.”

See above.

“All the lessons of our history, from the industrial revolution to the post-war reconstruction, are that we need a recovery made by the many.”

This is David Cameron speaking.

The best parts of the speech were the references to the government’s failed economics. It wants to cut welfare, it wants to cut the deficit, but its actions on the latter will stop it properly achieving the former:

“For all their rhetoric about welfare reform, for all the cuts they’ve made, this government will be spending more on social security at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning.

“Not because they’re generous.

“But because they haven’t taken the action on the economy and they haven’t created the jobs we need to keep the social security bill down.”

This remains Labour’s best line of attack. Far from healing the economy, the coalition is harming it. Simple, concise and easy to preach.

My main problem with Saturday was that it could have been delivered by either Cameron or Clegg, bar the odd amendment here or there. There’s nothing in it that grabs you. Nothing stands out. Take a step back. Imagine you were listening to it as a non-Labour member or swing voter. You’d be thinking something along the lines of: “yes, this is all very well and good, but you’re not giving me a convincing case for why should I vote Labour.”

Anthony Painter was probably right when he noted: “The problem with reviewing speeches is that you think they are better than they are if you are there and worse than they are if you are not.”

So, why does it matter that a speech given on a weekend and which barely featured in the media didn’t set the world alight? It matters for this very reason. Not every speech has to have that killer soundbite, but it should at least have one or two ideas that you take away and discuss.

Might it be that the media have also heard this speech several times before and have simply stopped listening? Because if this is the case, and they’ve already concluded that Ed Miliband has nothing new to offer, Labour’s legion of advisers and speechwriters should be very concerned indeed.

Fanciful though it sounds, the media and the public sometimes act as if UKIP are now the official opposition. Time to think of something new to say. And fast.

Ben Mitchell is deputy editor of the cross-party blog Speaker’s Chair

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12 Responses to “Miliband’s Progress speech was virtually ignored. That’s a worry.”

  1. Felix says:

    “Miliband’s Progress speech was virtually ignored. That’s a worry.”

    Says political obsessive who can’t believe most of the world has far better things to do on a Saturday than nit-pick about who did and didn’t pay attention to a politician’s speech.

  2. Nick says:

    Still not talking about the 5,300 bn pension debt as a legacy.

    Ho hum. Nothing like making your supporters destitute is there.

  3. swatantra says:

    The venue wasn’t all that appropriate, right in he bowels of the TUC HQ. And it would help if the Unions came out in support of Europe.
    Perhaps Strasbourg or Maastrict might have been more appropriate to deliver a European Speech. EdM needs to get out and about a bit more in Europe and the World generally, instead of being closeted in Westminster all the time. If Ed is the PM in waiting it might be a gooid thing to let World Leaders know who exactly he is. Most foreigners still think Tony is still Labour leader.
    But as pointed out before ‘One Nation’ has more holes than a collander.

  4. aragon says:

    I agree Ed has nothing to say. But no-one talks to me, except through Chinese whispers anyway, so I don’t suppose that matters.

    The change in attitudes on welfare is disturbing, but reflects Tory rhetoric, which includes British people are lazy (Boris).

    Ed Miliband has nothing to offer as ed Miliband is a product of the political career path, that squeezes out content.

    This is clearly nonsense, and if you can’t solve the problem shift the blame, and welfare is not the problem, failures of Economic policy are.

    Yes, my policy is spend, spend, spend! (on infrastructure and other areas), I think that is simple enough for most and where does the money come, from the magic money tree.

    Even Viv Nicholson could get with the program (google her), but I would avoid her fate, as governments are not households.

    And if professors of economics find that explanation too simplistic, I could explain in more detail, I have already indicated the school of economics, I favour, and it is post Keynesian. And I am not as green as I am cabbage looking about economics and have the competence and confidence to engage with professors of economics.

    Do the public need a better explanation, do they care ?

    The public just want to see the results.

    This is an idea, an economic model, and alternative to austerity, a vision of change and hope, jobs and growth.

    But nobody listens far less engages with me, so like the tree falling in the Forrest, does it make a noise (only one that is rarely heard – physics applies even if nobody is listening)?

    No one listens to Ed because Ed is a political empty suit, and the public have no confidence (with reason) in any of the empty suits (Cameron, Osbourne, Clegg et al) in Westminster, “they cling to nurse for fear of something worse.”

  5. McCurry says:

    He was never going to give much to a Progress gathering, but the real question is whether he could have given if he had wanted to.

  6. Renie Anjeh says:

    ‘Speaking on Saturday, to the Blairite think-tank Progress (not exactly on home territory for Ed), Miliband said….something. To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he said.’
    Funny you say that because Ed Miliband had a chapter in The Purple Book and is a former vice chairman of Progress. Compared to other organisations in the Labour Party, he has more in common with them than any other group.

  7. John Reid says:

    Miliband gave a speech!! I must have missed it,

  8. Ex-Labour says:

    People ignored it as by all accounts I’ve seen it was regarded as a complete failure. Again said nothing of any substance. Totally vaccuous individual.

  9. Leslie48 says:

    Ed’s speech was received enthusiastically on Saturday lunch time at the packed meeting. I disagree with most of what you said above. A dominant theme was indeed ‘one-nation’ and correctly so as Ed’s Labour party remains the one that speaks to all our British people irrespective of geographical region, social class, gender, ethnicity, public or private sector, working or not working, young or old ; that theme provides Labour a big advantage over all the other parties which are either unrepresentative of the electorate or very divisive in how they see some sections of that electorate. Its the rainbow advantage that Obama had- its women ( suffering most from cuts) , its disaffected non-voters especially youth ( 1 million of whom are jobless, aspiring young families with no homes to buy, its all ethnicities in the UK , its all the UK’s regions.

    But its also about Labour’s economic creditability and acknowledging being over dependent on the city. Its not leaving the EU but showing the UK is open for business and investment. Some newspapers did cover it others mainly did not. The BBC just mimics the Tory tabloids obsessing over the EU and ignoring anything like Heseltine wanting to remain in Europe of which he wrote in detail in Saturday’s FT.

    What a pity the TV cameras did not cover ED’s description of those people in despair which he met a couple of weeks ago; TV preference was to cover London based Tory late middle aged males who want to take England away from our 26 EU trading partners. The BBC’s lost it.

  10. Paul J says:

    This website would be better if you banned a couple of tossers from it.

  11. Alex Harvey says:

    Has anyone mentioned pension debt?

    Oh dear, they have.


    Right, that’s out of the way now.

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    There can only be “One Nation” if you redistribute the wealth. Anything short of that is a fail.

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