Friday, 1 October 2010

What Ed Said

Ed Miliband's certainly not going to win any prizes for his public speaking delivery. On Tuesday a technical error with the auto-cue caused an awkward delay at the start of his speech, and his body language was much more subdued than that of the over-eager gesticulations of his brother and the more flamboyant presentations of other political leaders. Throughout the first twenty minutes he would occasionally stumble through his words like a predictive text service, pronouncing one word before quickly correcting to his desired choice (for an example see 'deprived/defied' at 15.11). But let us cast such stylistic aspersions aside and examine the substance of this cornerstone address for the Labour Party.

The first ten minutes were well-pitched and set a firm basis from which to embark. Call me sad but I thought the jokes were pretty decent, and his willingness to talk about his Jewish background stands in stark contrast to the last Jewish leader of one of the main parties, Michael Howard. But the heart of the speech was a mixed bag, part cocky, know-it-all, A-level politics student, part responsible new leader of progressive politics. Ed argued that New Labour had 'defied the conventional wisdom' but too often 'bought old, established ways of thinking', and after stating that he would not oppose every coalition cut, followed it up with a lengthy passage on the reasons to oppose the coalition's spending plans. The Times piercingly described it as (paywall) 'at times redolent of Vicky Pollard, the unintelligible schoolgirl from Little Britain, saying 'yeah, but no, but yeah, but no'. This was Ed's bad side.

But then things changed. He staked Labour's starting point for deficit reduction fairly near the centre ground, he talked frankly about immigration, and he issued a clear warning to the Unions about irresponsible strike action. I'm not convinced that his rhetoric on Iraq is genuine, and isn't just playing up to public opinion, but it was a refreshing viewpoint to hear from someone so high up in the Labour Party, as were his criticisms of Labour's record on civil liberties.

As the end came into view, his speech crescendoed with his talk of a new generation and optimism heading into the future. For people of my generation the future can appear like a stick in the hands of the baby-boom generation, comprised of student debts, a poor economic climate and a rapidly ageing population, ready to crush future hopes and dreams. Ed Miliband may not view the need for a new, empowered generation in quite the same way as I do, but to hear a politician talking of optimism going into the future and not simply writing off the young as over-indulged, lazy and work-shy, is a very positive signal to be sending out to young voters.

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