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After Ed Miliband’s speech… where is the Labour Party going?

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Tom Walker spoke to delegates inside Labour's conference in Liverpool, as the dust settled after the leader's speech
Issue 2271
Ivan Monckton
Ivan Monckton

The media is trying to portray Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday as a “lurch to the left”.

They are using the fact that he was cheered for opposing asset-stripping “predator” firms—and that there were jeers when he mentioned Tony Blair—to again call him “Red Ed”.

By the next day, Miliband was touring the television studios to insist he wasn’t ‘anti-business’—despite using the phrase ‘pro-business’ seven times in the speech.

‘All parties must be pro-business today,’ he told the conference. ‘If it ever was, that’s not the real choice any more.’

And he told the press afterwards, ‘Those people who booed Tony Blair are no friends of mine.’

But the manufactured row shows how easy it was to pick and choose parts of Miliband’s speech, as it contained the occasional bit of left wing rhetoric to sugar the pill of its right wing narrative.

“It was a mixture, wasn’t it? A bit like the curate’s egg,” Unite executive council member Ivan Monckton told Socialist Worker.

“I don’t agree with a lot of the points on benefits. I had an accident in February and I’m getting my benefits stopped. He comes from a different part of society—he hasn’t got a clue about benefits.”

But on the other hand Ivan liked what Miliband said about “predators and producers”—and added “I think the bloke has integrity, which Blair never had.”

Labour is a cross-class, ‘broad church’ party. This means it includes some workers and some bosses, some left wing ideas and some right wing ones.

Miliband’s speech was deliberately designed to slam both the greed of the bankers and the so-called “irresponsibility” of poor and unemployed people, attempting to appeal to both left and right.

So he said in a Q&A on Wednesday, ‘I want Conservatives voting for us—that’s how we win elections.’ But he also made sure there was something for his Labour base to applaud.

It was Miliband’s defence of the NHS in his speech that got the best overall response from the delegates in the hall.

“I was really inspired by what Ed said about the NHS,” said Thomas Lydon of Stroud Constituency Labour Party (CLP).

“The NHS is the bedrock of our society, brought in by Labour. I’m proud that Labour is standing up together with the unions to fight for it.”

Sean Ruston, of Labour Students in Warwick, thought Miliband’s new stance on fees was a step forward too. “The £6,000 fees cap is a good idea. The consensus was they were going to go up—by saying they should go down it breaks the inevitability of it.”

Agatha Akyigyina is a Labour councillor and chair of Mitcham and Morden CLP. She told Socialist Worker, “I think the welfare system does need to change, as Ed said. But it doesn’t need to be drastic. To just blanket cut everything off would be wrong.”

She thought Miliband was right not to talk about strikes. “The unions ballot the people,” she said. “I don’t think it’s up to Ed Miliband to make decisions for the people.”

But despite Miliband’s silence, there were many who thought Labour should be backing the strikes—and not just the union delegates.

“I’m concerned he didn’t talk about supporting the strikes,” said Thomas Lydon. “I think that’s something he should be backing.

“Though at the same time he didn’t rule it out, which is a positive thing.”

Ivan Monckton of Unite thought Miliband’s position would shift. “It would have been stupid, unpolitical, to have talked about strikes now,” he said. “Let’s see what happens when the negotiations are finished.

“As long as he’s supporting the strikes then—and logic says he should—we can leave it till then.”

Regardless of Miliband’s position, though, Nanette Walton of Crewe and Nantwich CLP said she would be backing the unions. “It’s the 11th commandment, never cross a picket line, that I’ve lived by all my life,” she said.

“If it’s the only thing you can do, you’ve got to be able to strike—it’s the only weapon workers have got. I’ll be there on the picket lines on 30 November.”

Thomas Lydon
Thomas Lydon
Agatha Akyigyina
Agatha Akyigyina

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