RED ED – the nickname which the new British Labour Party leader abominates – was anything but red in tooth and claw when he addressed the party conference in Manchester yesterday.
Ed Miliband said the “new generation” which now leads the party wanted change across the political horizon, but there was no fire and brimstone, no punching the air with clenched fists, no rabble-rousing rhetoric in his demands.
It was a speech – his first to the conference as Labour leader – which earned a resounding reception, but which fell short, figuratively, of setting the conference alight. Indeed, he could even be accused occasionally of sweet reason – a quality not always detectable among those who thump their tubs at party conferences.
For instance he tempered his criticism of the old Labour guard over the election defeat, with individual praise for many of its members. And although he vowed to make this a one-term Government, he said he would not necessarily oppose everything the coalition did, particularly in relation to reducing the deficit.
He even had a go at trade unions, which did more than any other part of the Labour movement to crown him leader. Miliband warned against irresponsible strikes, a remark greeted with Kremlin-like stony-faced, glowering silence by union bosses in the audience.
Nor would any political speech, of whatever complexion, be complete these days without a swipe at the bankers, and the new leader duly obliged.
And while he labelled David Cameron as “miserable”, he hailed Labour as “the optimists of history”, expressing confidence that his party would sweep the board at the forthcoming local elections.
This was all very well, but Miliband seriously disappointed those who like a bit of gossip – which is pretty much all of us.
The burning issue of the moment is whether brother David, whom he defeated by a whisker in the leadership battle, will agree to serve in the shadow cabinet, or return to the back-benches or even quit politics altogether?
The new Labour leader maintained a tight-lipped silence on David Miliband’s intentions. His 56-minute performance ended with martial music and the customary orgy of hugging, kissing, palm-pressing and arm-waving.
A workmanlike performance that warmed up the conference – but he needs to be bolder if he wants to turn on the full heat.
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