'One Nation Labour': Miliband wins plaudits for storming speech

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Ed Miliband with wife Justine after the speech
Ed Miliband with wife Justine after the speech

Ed Miliband won plaudits across the political spectrum today, after delivering a pitch-perfect conference speech promising a "One Nation Labour party".

The speech, which lasted over an hour and was delivered without notes, saw Miliband come across as composed, confident, passionate and funny – much to the surprise of commentators.

"Britain has given my family everything," he said, in a personal section detailing his parent's flight from Nazism.

"Now the question is asked again. Who in this generation will rebuild Britain?


"It falls to us, the Labour party, to leave our country a better place than we found it, never to shrug our shoulders at injustice."

In a reference to the Olympic summer, Miliband added: "It's not some impossible dream. We've felt it. 'One Nation' – a country for all."

The use of the 'One Nation' tag is a daring theft from traditionally Tory rhetoric. The phrase was first used by Benjamin Disraeli, Britain's first and only Jewish prime minister.

His Conservative credentials lent the phrase a centrist quality in Miliband's hands, helping to deflect accusations of him being too left-wing and appeal to voters who switched to the Tories in 2010.

On the internet, observers as diverse as socialist musician Billy Bragg and Daily Mail columnists praised the speech, which offered several concessions to the right while pleasing many on the left.

The only substantial complaint was that Miliband used the phrase 'One Nation' too many times. In total he used the word on over 40 occasions – a clear plot to make sure it featured in tonight's news broadcasts.

A section on the legacy of New Labour suggested Miliband wants the phrase to act as its replacement.

"New Labour, despite its great achievements, was silent about the responsibilities of those at the top," he said.

"In 'One Nation', responsibility goes all the way through society. The people at the top have the biggest responsibility.

"In 'One Nation', no interest - from Murdoch to the banks - is too powerful to be held to account."

In a personal section detailing his childhood, Miliband emphasised his comprehensive education, in an unspoken contrast with David Cameron's elite upbringing.

He said that his father – Marxist historian Ralph Miliband – would not have approved of many of his beliefs, especially his commitment to 'save capitalism from itself'.

"He would have loved the idea of Red Ed, but he wouldn't have liked the fact it wasn't true," the Labour leader joked.

The Labour leader also won laughs when he described how even his four-year-old son gave him advise about the speech, when he told him to include dinosaurs.

"No, Daniel, we tried predators last year," he replied.

Speaking about his inspiration to go into politics, Miliband cited the assassination of South African campaigner Ruth First, who he met as a child.

"I knew that wasn't the way the world was supposed to be. I knew I had to do something about it," he told delegates.

The main policy announcement in the speech came in the form of a proposed Technical Baccalaureate – to be known as a Tech Bacc – for the "forgotten 50%" who do not plan on going to university.

The Tech Bacc would offer a 'gold standard' qualification at 18, Labour officials said, allowing 16-year-olds who are not interested in academic subjects to stay in school.

It would include maths and English and a mandatory work experience programme.

Labour plans to ask businesses which powers they need to establish their involvement in work experience, in a bid to transfer the costs to the private sector.

Most businesses are understood to be lukewarm on apprenticeships because they fear training up a young person just to see them be poached by another firm.

Large firms with government contracts will be forced to provide apprenticeships, however.

Miliband also repeated his threat to banks to split their retail and investment divisions before Labour returned to power, or "we will break you up by law".

On immigration, Miliband promised a tough approach but couched it in a left-wing assessment of the problem, saying immigrant workers had been exploited and used to hammer down domestic wages.

His solution was to crack down on employers who don't pay minimum wage, recruitment agencies who only hire people from overseas and a crack-down on "gangmasters" in the construction industry.

The Labour leader also suggested he would remove quarterly reporting for listed firms, in a passage on the theme of 'producer' firms versus 'predator' firms.

 

After the speech, bookmakers William Hill made Miliband 10/11 favourite to be the next person to be prime minister.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman commented: "Ed Miliband’s political education didn’t take place at school in Primrose Hill but in the Treasury under Gordon Brown. He and Ed Balls were special advisers to Brown when they let the banks run amok and claimed to have abolished boom and bust.

"Labour plunged us into austerity. It is the Liberal Democrats who will get us out."

 

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