UK Politics

How did Miliband go down at the TUC?

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband's speech at the TUC was trailed as a key one for Labour's relations with unions. So how was it received?

The first thing to say - it was a long time coming.

Parts of Ed Miliband's speech to the Trades Union Congress had been trailed across the media almost three days before the Labour arrived to state his case in Bournemouth.

We were told to expect defiance in the face of anger over his plans to alter the historic relationship between the party and its biggest financial backers.

But there would be warmer words on the need to change the law on the much-derided zero-hours contracts.

And, of course, a welcome seaside splash of Tory-monstering which would once more unite the Left, reminding it of its common purpose.


It was quite a list of boxes for Mr Miliband tick. So did he manage to assuage, mollify, embolden, inspire, enthuse, engage, amuse, endear and please?

The atmosphere in the hall of the Bournemouth International Centre was hardly crafted to reach a crescendo of passion as Mr Miliband - the man the unions helped get the Labour leadership, lest one forget - walked on stage.

The preceding debate, on fair pay and a "living wage", was a rather pedestrian affair. One contributor joked, as crews gathered in anticipation of the Labour leader: "Nice to see the TV cameras have turned up for me."

Contrary to some predictions of a bigger role to come, Mr Miliband did not bring his wife Justine along - Gordon and Sarah Brown-style - to warm hearts before he delivered his speech, which lasted 19 minutes and 40 seconds.

But there was polite applause as he went through his points, most of which had already been reported.

There was some dutiful clapping for a joke about "Red Ed", becoming a little louder for the likening of David Cameron to failed US presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The best applause - accompanied by a little cheering - came for his promise to legislate against zero-hours contracts.

'Support us too'

Mr Miliband's team scripted the speech so that the most contentious passage - urging unions to have the "courage" to back his changes to funding - invited neither applause nor derision.

He simply flowed through it, not pausing for reaction.

Image caption Martin Smith: Policies will be key

The delegates obeyed the rhetorical signal and stayed silent. When he finished, the ovation (not a standing one) lasted 30 seconds.

Altogether the reaction in the hall was respectful, but were those watching convinced?

Martin Smith of the GMB, the first Labour-supporting union to announce a cut in funding, told the BBC: "He read the mood very well. Delegates wanted to hear about policies.

"In the end it's policies which will win the election for Labour and he spelled out several of them. He got a very warm reception. Nobody had come to barrack or boo him. We need the relationship with Labour and we will be out fighting for the party at the next election."

Not everyone was as impressed as Mr Smith.

Several of the big unions have banned delegates from talking to the media without getting permission in advance.

One female delegate, covered by the provision, said: "The message from Ed was that he wanted the unions to back him, but he should be doing more to support us first.

"He has to be told that it's not going to be all give and no take on our part."

Another woman, also banned from talking without permission, said: "Ed Miliband said what he wanted us to hear. But he's got to back his words up with some actions.

"That's the only way he's going to inspire a bit more faith in his leadership. There were lots of things he could have said, lots of policies he could have mentioned, but he didn't."

Frances O'Grady, the leader of the TUC, had said at the weekend that she expected Mr Miliband to get a "good reception".

"Good" is a subjective word. Given the disputes of the last week, the reception was never going to be rapturous. Dramatic it was not.

As Mr Miliband went from the hall to meet some of the general secretaries, he might have felt a sense of immediate relief. He would know, though, that the work of convincing the unions of his planned changes has only just begun.

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