New Labour is not dead, but it is seeking a new wardrobe. This isn't meant as a criticism of the direction that Ed Miliband looks like he wants to take the party in, but he shows an acceptance that the old politics of the Labour Party are gone forever.
Ed Miliband is not an actor like Tony Blair, or a PR man like David Cameron, and he isn't a barnstorming speaker. This may change as he gets used to making speeches that the media and the public are waiting upon, and as he inevitably grows into the role.
This speech was a good one, and considering the short time he had to put it together, well delivered. He started by paying tribute to his family, and the country that gave his family safe haven during World War II.
There were places where he did not pull any punches, and was as critical of what Labour had done in power, as he was of the government and what they intend to do. He was brutally honest about the reasons we lost the election, and "We must not blame the electorate for ending up with a government we don’t like, we should blame ourselves."
This is not comfortable to listen to, and those of you who are not Labour supporters, need to understand that this was the speech of a Labour Party leader, not a Conservative, or Liberal Democrat. In reality, this was the first thing he had to do, to tell us where we had gone wrong, on civil liberties, 90 days detention without trial, and most telling of all, Iraq.
It is easy for me to applaud him saying we were wrong to go in, as I was always against it, as indeed were most of the members. But, many senior members of the party did vote for it in 2003, but he felt that it needed to have a line drawn under it. But he also needed to tell us that we had lost touch with the public, and although this wasn't explicit, those people who had come to us in 1997, but had ebbed away. These issues had come up a lot during the leadership campaign, but hearing them from the leader, at the conference, gives them a legitimacy.
Ed Miliband was also condemning of the cuts and the direction that the coalition are making, but he was also right to say, we can't oppose them all. We would have made cuts if reelected, and need to be honest about that. He said that Alistair Darling's four year plan was the starting point, which possibly rules out any chance of Ed Balls being shadow Chancellor. It does leave a big door open for his brother to step in if he feels he can, otherwise, it is almost certain that the job will fall to Yvette Cooper.
The speech was always going to be scant in real detail, because it was always important for Mr Miliband to show he was his own man. His comment that he wouldn't be supporting irresponsible strikes against the cuts brought a cheer to the audience, even if it didn't seem to be welcomed by the unions. What this really means is not possible to tell at this stage, and no doubt David Cameron will try to draw him out in the first PMQ's in two weeks time.
The central theme, which everything tied into was the 'new generation,' and the new politics. This meant not opposing the cuts wholesale, especially when it came to welfare, though he was looking for, "a genuine plan to make sure that those in need are protected and that those who can work have the help they need to ensure they do so." In reality, however, he isn't actually moving away from the changes we were already making in government.
I liked the line about saying that the new generation wasn't defined by age, but by attitude. This was the only time when the speech got personal in regard to the leaders of the coalition parties. I think this was good, as personal attacks aren't a good way to go, if done too much. He spoke about policy and approach differences, which is what the public want to hear.
So, did Ed Miliband pass the first test I said he faced yesterday? I think he did, and it has at least put the government into the 'better not be complacent' mode. He did lay to rest the 'Red' Ed sobriquet, and as I said at the beginning, was a lot more 'New' Labour than many of us expected. It seems to me, that Ed Miliband is looking to renew 'New' Labour, but with a view to once again connecting with those outside the party. I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but he has learned quickly, that the project that Alistair Campbell, Gordon brown and Tony Blair started hasn't faded away, it just has undergone a battering recently, but still has a lot of life left, and is the way to oppose this government in a realistic manner.