UK Politics

Landale's View: What Ed Miliband meant

This is a brief synopsis of what I think Labour's new leader Ed Miliband meant to get across to us in his first big speech to the party conference:

"I am not Red Ed. I am a nice boy, the son of immigrants who escaped the Nazis. I might have had an unusual childhood growing up in a house full of passionate lefties, but it gave me a strong conviction of the power of politics to change lives. My elder brother, David, is a good guy. But I am in charge now.

"Over the past 13 years, Labour got a lot right: the minimum wage, the New Deal, better schools and hospitals, civil partnerships, devolution. But the party, I think, also got a lot wrong and that is why we lost the election. We must be humble and not blame the electorate for not voting for us.

"So, without batting an eyelid, I am quite happy to trash much of Labour's record. The party was wrong on the Iraq war, bank regulation, mass immigration, civil liberties, and tuition fees. I shall lightly brush over the fact that I was part of the government that made these mistakes. And I may be a Gordon Brown protege, but he was wrong to claim that he had ended boom and bust.

"So, I will do things differently. I am the new guy on the block, I am the new generation. Even if I am a similar age to the prime minister. I will be a responsible leader. I will back the coalition on some issues: Ken Clarke's plans for shorter prison sentences, Theresa May's review of stop and search, and possibly even Iain Duncan Smith's plans to reform welfare. I will speak for the mainstream majority. But I will shape the centre ground of politics, not occupy it.

"Oh, and you know I spent much of my campaign slagging off the Liberal Democrats? Well, I am not doing that any more. Instead, I will argue for electoral reform, an elected Lords, stronger civil liberties, more freedom for local authorities and no more Iraq-style wars. Just in case, you understand. You never know when we might need to work with Nick Clegg and he kind of likes these things too.

"I want to try to work out a credible policy on the economy. I want to cut the deficit. It is patriotic to do so. I won't oppose every cut proposed by the coalition. But I don't want to cut spending so quickly that it plunges Britain back into recession. So, cutting the deficit by half over four years is a good starting point. But we must not cut at a pace and a scale that endangers the recovery. So that's a hint I will cut spending more slowly but I will not tell you today what that means in practice. We need to focus on encouraging growth as much as cutting the deficit.

"I think David Cameron is onto something with his "big society" riff. I too, you see, believe in the good society and community, the importance of post office, pub and family. And I agree that while government must play a role, the state can itself be a "vested interest" and impede the good society. So I am not a "big state" man, whatever my critics say.

"Now, I might have won the leadership election on the back of union votes but I want to tackle the idea that I am in their pocket. So, brothers, you must be responsible. There must be no irresponsible strikes in the face of cuts. That would alienate the public against us. I won't support irresponsible strikes. But don't worry, I haven't gone all Tory on you. I still support a living wage, I want to tax the banks more, and my answer to immigration is not a cap but less flexible labour markets and stronger workers' rights.

"So, look, I am the new kid on the block, I am not like that awkward Scottish bloke who came before me. And I am an optimist. This is my new dividing line with the Tories. David Cameron is a miserable pessimist who believes that government is about nothing but cutting the deficit. I am an optimist who will cut spending more fairly. I am an optimist who can lead Labour's new generation to victory at the next election.

"And yes, I am not Forrest Gump. I do not believe that life is like a box of chocolates..."