By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
2 Oct 2012.
Ed Milliband delivered his “make it or break it” speech to the 2012 Labour Party Conference. He rebranded the Labour Party under his leadership as “one nation” Labour.
The one nation label is historically associated with David Cameron's wing of the Conservative Party. But in Milliband's hands the one nation label is a commitment, especially in this time of Recession, not to promote and protect the elite and "The City" at the expense of everyone else.
It wasn’t the speech I expected to hear. It wasn’t everything for which I might have hoped. But it also wasn’t much of what I feared. It was enough to “climb the mountain” with a skeptical Party faithful and an even more deeply dubious me.
Rejection, truthfully, had the biggest part in my expectations. I had already drafted a blog piece panning the Conference, even suggesting that Unions redirect their funds and support into founding a new party since the Labour Party seems so embarrassed to be associated with them.
I had every reason to expect to be anything but impressed.
First, there is the history of New Labour. Many consider New Labour to have been "Tory lite." Some even consider it more accurately described Tory “light weight." New Labour was Neo Liberal, not Socialist, some say not even Pluralist.
Second there was Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls saying 3 days prior that he, Balls, would be “ruthless” as Chancellor. “Ruthless” is a Tory Shibboleth. It may be the lasting aftertaste of a public school and Oxbridge education. Mr. Balls did not warm the cockles of my heart using it. In fact, I was outraged. Ruthless is the moral affliction of tyrants, not the virtue of a statesman.
But Milliband surprised me.
First, he was uncharacteristically powerful and direct. He seems to be weaning away from run-on sentences of possible Latin or French word choice, wonk speak, and dangling drops in tone. He used far more direct Anglo Saxon. This speech delivered far more "punch" than past speeches, to use an American phrase meaning clear, simple, direct & riviting.
Second, he offered unequivocal commitments to policy changes the country desperately needs. He pledged to resuscitate the NHS. He took on the Coalition's despicable harrowing of benefits recipients, especially the disabled. He placed in context his pledge to continue the freeze on public sector wages and benefits and his support for longer working careers before pension eligibility. It is circumstance, not philosophy. He made it clear he would take on the power of the banking clan, pledging to break up the banks if they did not separate retail from casio operations by the time Labour takes power. Of significant importance to my evaluation of his capacity to deliver on his objectives, he showed he appreciates “the Paradox of Thrift.” He will be guided by some Keynesian wisdom.
I didn’t hear everything I wanted to hear.
Milliband remains committed to reinventing trade schools. I could almost hear him say, we can’t all be lawyers. That makes me nervous. Elitism has a long history in the UK that could well swallow whatever good he intends with the "TBAC."
He did not mention federalization of the UK. While he opposes independence for Scotland he did not raise any hopes for either "devolution" or federalization as an alternative.
Milliband positioned his Party to the center, not the left. He didn’t talk about a warm and generous, decent society (although he tip toed about the edges of it). He is not going to turn Britain into Norway, Finland or Sweden.
But he offered a familiar "Democratic" profile and that is enough for now.
It appears to me necessary to accept some of the things I don't like to obtain the things I would like to see done now, at least for the time being. First among these is to see the back of the Coalition. It can’t happen too soon. One wag wrote "only a desperate fool" would support Labour. But who, if anyone, is more the fool - the fool desperate enough to support Labour or the fool who isn't? Personally, I don't think either are, entirely, foolish.
Milliband positioned Labour more like US Democrats than either Old or New Labour. That is a beast I know and with which I am comfortable, if on the same, somewhat ambivalent basis I am prepared to support Milliband’s Labour.
I know tons of ink will spill this week to portray Labour as "really red," "secret New Labour," really in the hip pocket of Union "paymasters," promising what they can't deliver, not showing us the beef, not trustworthy, in power when it all went wrong, genetically spendthrift and untrustworthy, etc. Of course one speech is not detailed plans proposed much less consistently followed. Some will understandably want to wait and see. Critically, setting the right tone won't be enough if Milliband reaches office. If he does Milliband will have to be able to control Balls, Byrne and Cooper to Milliband's tone and vision, no easy task.
But Milliband has done enough to persuade me the nation just might be able to give itself a chance by giving Labour a chance to redeem themselves and the nation from the malevolent Tory revolution.