There was some good news for David Cameron and Nick Clegg this week – Ed Miliband made a good speech at the Labour conference and is now being touted as a serious leader beyond challenge.
“Brilliant!” said Cameron. Excellente!” said Clegg. They could not be more happy, for make no mistake, the last thing they want is for Ed Miliband to be replaced by someone more likeable, more competent and more ordinary.
When it comes to politics the two most important things that matter to voters are, firstly, the economy and, secondly, the economy. A long way behind what leaders and their parties are saying on the economy is what is in third place – personal credibility.
This week’s speech by Ed Miliband was talked up not just by his supporters but by his critics too – but both had their motives and agendas. Miliband’s admirers – a relatively small group of people – wanted to use the opportunity of a “good speech” to cement his position and remove talk of him being challenged before the 2015 election.
Miliband’s critics outside the party naturally want him to stay on – but so too do his opponents in his own party who have already calculated that the economy could be about to turn for the better (output up, order books up, unemployment down) that it would be better for Ed Miliband to challange Cameron & Co and for them to challenge him afterwards.
Then there are those who are supposedly objective commentators (employed or trotted out by TV channels) telling us that it was a good speech because the Labour leader managed to give an hour-long talk without notes. It is also said that talking about “One Nation” stole the Conservative clothes of Tory prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and wrong-footed the Conservatives.
Give me a break. David Cameron was doing extemporaneous speeches in his leadership election seven years back (yes, it was that long ago!) but does that mean he was necessarily the best candidate, or now, Prime Minister over others? Frankly, if you want commanding speakers who can talk in detail without notes, be witty and convincing then Malcolm Rifkind would have been PM long ago.
No, the truth of the matter is that Ed Miliband made a good speech compared to his previously sonorous, dull and contradictory speeches – and so Ed the Geek still remains Labour’s greatest liability. Here’s four reasons why.
Firstly, the opinion polls put Labour in the lead by an average of about 12 points over the Conservatives (with the Liberal Democrats fourth behind UKIP). This is not good enough; Neil Kinnock was 24 points ahead of John Major at this point in the electoral cycle and he still lost. Moreover, David Cameron is ahead of Ed Miliband in ratings as leader of their respective parties and in who would make the best prime minister – and shows no sign of relinquishing that lead. Without having personal credibility the Labour message will be cast into doubt.
Secondly, David Cameron’s conference is still to come, he has still to speak and he still has the opportunity to trump Miliband. On past performances that should not be too difficult – so the talking up of Milband is just a tad premature.
Thirdly there’s the question of Ed Miliband’s record. He may have gone unnoticed as a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet but he was in fact Energy Secretary and his record is now coming back to haunt him. Two Nations of the rich and poor? It was Ed Miliband who lined the pockets of landowners with big subsidies for wind turbines on their moors and farmland and it was the same Ed Miliband who has ensured that the cost for those subsidies would be paid for by the electricity bills of the poorest in society.
Expect this point to be rammed home next week and for the next three years as the Conservatives try to extricate Britain from the subsidy farming of the electricity companies that are laughing all the way to the bank.
Fourthly, but possibly not finally, there is the economy. As I mentioned earlier, there is the reasonable possibility that the British economy is beginning to turn in the right direction. Don’t expect any miraculous recovery, but the probability of a gradual climb into real economic growth (especially if we start to reduce our expensive electricity costs by removing Ed Miliband’s favourite subsidies) is now worth a decent wager.
Couple that with the fact that every time we see Ed Balls smiling inanely we are reminded that it was Miliband’s party in government that spent money it didn’t have like there was no tomorrow. Miliband and Balls are still in denial about the cause of Britain’s economic recession and the British public is not stupid.
Miliband can blame the banks and bankers all he wants – but we know he and his cronies were encouraging them and giving them knighthoods. Miliband can blame American subprime mortgages but we know that he and his cronies were encouraging the same type of borrowing by British lenders.
It was Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and their boss, Gordon Brown, who created Britain’s Two Nations – and the British public is not ready to forget or forgive that self-indulgence.