UK Politics

Labour views: Memory man Miliband

Ed Miliband Image copyright PA

The media is having a field day with the fact that the Labour leader Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit and immigration in his 75 minute conference speech, delivered from memory, without notes.

And it is not just the usual right-wing critics. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey called it a "glaring omission".

Mr Miliband's front bench colleagues have been rallying round their leader and talking about just how difficult it is to commit so many words to memory.

"Ed did an amazing performance yesterday and with all this stuff going on in the international scene as well was responding up to the minute developments," said shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

"Now we all know from the text which was issued that there were a couple of sentences that he didn't say."

'A boy thing'

But, he added, no one should doubt Labour's commitment "to have tough and fair immigration controls, balance the budget, to raise the minimum wage and save the NHS from the Tories and deliver an economy which is fair for all and not just a few".

Image caption Leonie Cooper is not impressed by feats of memory

Suitably on-message. But does Mr Miliband's memory lapse, which he has held his hands up to, reveal something deeper about his priorities?

After all, he managed to remember long passages about ordinary people he had met around the country, but not two of the issues ordinary people tell pollsters they care about the most.

And why bother speaking without notes at all?

"I think it's a bit of a boy thing," says Labour councillor Leonie Cooper.

Image caption Nikki Blackmore had heard some of the speech before

"I don't really have a problem with politicians standing behind a lectern delivering a great speech. They are not actors. The fact that they can learn a very long speech is a bit to me like actors learning lines."

She said she was "not particularly impressed" by any frontline politicians who perform feats of memory normally only attempted by Shakespearean actors.

"There was no need for him [Ed Miliband] to do it this time. We have seen him do it before."

Another woman, who did not want to be named, said: "I don't think it made a lot of sense to deliver it without notes. It's become a competitive thing between him and Cameron."'

'Bullet points'

Most Labour delegates I spoke to were far more interested in what Mr Miliband did say - on the NHS and apprenticeships - than what he didn't.

"For most people, they don't understand what it [the deficit] is anyway. it's something that has been hyped by the Tories, who have made people scared of it. The NHS affects people's everyday lives," said Hanna Toms, Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Truro and Falmouth.

Image copyright BBC News
Image caption Hanna Toms says the NHS is more important than the deficit

But for such a naturally loyal lot - they are not called the party faithful for nothing - Labour delegates were surprisingly quick to criticise the Labour leader for his lack of passion.

"It was very much aimed at us. Aimed at people in the party," said nurse Nikki Blackmore.

"It comes across like bullet points in his head. Like it is from a text book,"

Image copyright BBC News
Image caption Nadhim Ahmed likes to speak without notes

"I lot of it I'd heard before anyway, at the women's conference. It was repetition."

Former local council candidate Nadhim Ahmed also felt Mr Miliband's speech could have been "a bit more emotional, given us a bit more thrust for the next general election".

But he defended the "no-notes" speaking style.

"I memorise my speeches. It allows you to maintain eye contact with the audience."

Barry Jones, a Labour councillor from Aldershot, said he had "always been rather impressed" by Mr Miliband's ability to wander the stage speaking "apparently off-the-cuff" but suggested he should learn his cues better.

Maybe it is a "boy's thing" after all.