Competent performance but by no means brilliant

 

ANALYSIS:Ed Miliband yesterday laid the first brick of his leadership and left behind some of Labour’s less attractive features, writes MARK HENNESSY

SOME LABOUR delegates were clearly deflated leaving the hall yesterday: some are still not reconciled to having Ed Miliband as leader; some were irritated by the way in which he denigrated New Labour’s history; others had gone into the Manchester hall with expectations that were not deliverable in the first place. Labour has still not come to terms with life in opposition. Miliband did well, if not brilliantly. The delivery was pedestrian in parts; too pedestrian to lift the thousands sitting in front of me.

Too often, he seemed to regard the applause, when it did come, as an interruption to his oration, rather than a tribute. Too often, the speech seemed to include paragraphs dropped in specifically to neutralise a particular constituency.

But it was the first brick laid in his leadership. He left behind some of New Labour’s unattractive features: its authoritarianism; its distancing itself from some of its traditional, but not mad-cap, left-wing base. Most importantly, he drew a line under the Iraq war, saying it was “wrong” – in contrast to his brother David who argued during the election campaign that it was old news. It is not. It is a sore that has never healed for many in the party.

On the crucial issue of the deficit, he aimed for the centre-ground, making clear that Labour cannot join the “deficit deniers” and that it must, instead, give the public a narrative which accepts the need for some cuts. However, these should be undertaken only if matched with a growth strategy – even though the latter has not yet been convincingly argued for, nor has it been shown how it can be financed. “I say this because the fiscal credibility we earned before the 1997 election was hard won and we must win it back by the time of the next general election.” He said cuts would have happened under Labour and they would have been painful, even though these cuts – planned, but never detailed before it left office – would not have gone as far as is now proposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition – a distance he believes is too far and unnecessary.

“I won’t oppose every cut the coalition proposes. There will be some things the coalition does that we won’t like as a party, but we will have to support. Come the next election, there will be some things they have done that I will not be able to reverse,” he said, indicating that as leader there would be times when he will say things his party won’t want to hear. For now, that remains the biggest question mark over Miliband’s leadership. He has had a reputation for indecisiveness and for avoiding the hard decisions. The first real evidence that he is prepared to put his own stamp on his leadership will come when he chooses his shadow chancellor – the person who will, for many, become the face of Labour once the cuts are announced and implemented.

Should he select his brother, Ed Balls, or Balls’s wife, inspector Yvette Cooper? Doubt remains about the elder Miliband’s intentions. He noticeably did not applaud when the new leader condemned the Iraq invasion, but he could hardly have done so and remained credible. The impressive Cooper is now saying that she does not want the post, while her husband’s selection would be manna from heaven for the Tories as they try to portray Labour as having returned to its Michael Foot days of unelectability.