Ed Miliband may have squandered the momentum that he has gained following his role in the Scottish Independence debate.
The leader of the opposition spoke at the Labour conference and has been roundly criticised for the hour long speech that he gave.
Despite public opinion of Mr Miliband, he has, since taking over the party, given strong speeches at the party conferences. He has previously in his “producers versus predators” speech in 2011, ‘One Nation’ in 2012, even the ‘energy prize freeze’ speech in 2013, outlined policy and taken jabs at the sitting government. These addresses have helped to reassure his party that they are well represented when Labour stands in opposition to Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy on issues they do not agree with. Now however, heading into an election next year, the party has cause to worry about their leader.
Miliband, who spoke for 65 minutes, had to contend with delegates stifling yawns and reporters checking their watches. The first standing ovation for the Labour leader, from his party’s delegates in the packed hall in Manchester, did not arrive until 45 minutes into his notes-free address. It was a lengthy, uninspired and criminally dull mess, bereft of charm or policy which the delegates could get behind. The only announcement made was that Miliband planned to introduce heavier taxation on mansions, hedge funds and cigarettes and planned to spend £2.5bn on doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants. Even these announcements lacked power; considering that they were leaked to Nick Robinson the night before and were splashed across the cover of the Times.
The only true laugh that Miliband got from an audience that was already on his side was when discussing the Prime Minister David Cameron. He said “David Cameron doesn’t lie awake at night thinking about the United Kingdom. He lies awake at night thinking about the United Kingdom Independence Party.”
In a speech to a captive, and partisan, audience where there is only one zinger and none of the policy that was required this can be considered an enormous let down by the Labour leader. The speech lacked energy and failed to electrify his audience. It wasn’t so much the content; Miliband was strong, as usual, on living standards and on standing up to vested interests, as the delivery.
That will be the problem that Miliband will have to fight against though. Despite the speeches he has given over the past 3 years, which have been strong, he has to fight against the public perception that he is not as polished or as strong giving speeches as his opponent in the election next year, David Cameron.
Miliband has even admitted that he forgot sections of his speech. He stated “It’s not really about memorising the speech. What I try and do is I try and write a speech and then I use it as the basis for what I want to say to the country. In a way I could just stand there and read out a speech that’s been prepared earlier. I like it as a way of engaging with people. And, of course, it’s one of the perils of it that there are bits that get left out, bits that get added in. It sort of comes with the territory.”
This came following criticism that in a speech over an hour long he managed to forget to mention the deficit or the hot button topic at the moment. Immigration. The fact he managed to forget 2 of the key points from the Labour manifesto is the more worrying fact here considering that this could well have been an audition for next year’s election.
The address no doubt struggled with Labour’s attention being focused on Scotland in the past few weeks but is that any excuse for such a poor speech? Apparently not considering Labour approval has not moved. This leads me to one of the key takeaways from party conference speeches. They do not matter.
This man could potentially be the leader of the United Kingdom next year. As of now Labour are polling ahead of the Conservatives and are in fact the favourites to take back Number 10 Downing Street. Conference speeches do not decide elections. Nobody without the aid of Google will be able to tell me one line from the conference speech Cameron gave prior to his election in 2010.
Miliband has been let off the hook because he is currently ahead in the polls. Cameron needs to increase his share of the vote to win a majority in 2015, something no sitting British prime minister has managed to pull off in the past four decades. He also needs a bigger lead, 7%, over Labour to secure a Commons majority than the lead, 2% that Labour needs over the Conservatives to do the same. The worry for the Conservatives is that UKIP is stealing votes and with Scotland electing to remain part of the union there is a Labour stronghold that Cameron will not be able to break in to.
Miliband will leave Manchester disappointed by his poor performance and losing an opportunity to shine as an orator but safe in the knowledge for at least a little while all is sunny in the Labour camp.