By any standards Ed Miliband’s speech to Conference today was extraordinary. An impassioned hour-long declaration delivered without a note, it interwove his family’s grateful dependence on British values with his vision for a One Nation country and consolidated his leadership with a forcefulness and eloquence he had not previously portrayed. Clearly more relaxed and self-confident with a united party behind him and a steady 10-point lead in the polls, this speech could well mark the point at which the electorate become more assured about him as a future Prime Minister, warming both to his mastery of his vision and his appeal as a genuine conviction politician compared to the confected malleability of Cameron. Having previously taken on the Murdoch empire and won (a feat which from the weak position of Opposition no other leader has ever matched), his commanding delivery today marked him out as a worthy contender for power.
Nor was the speech lacking in hard truths. There was no return to Old Labour, but we were leaving New Labour behind too because its deregulated finance and uncontrolled markets had generated a global collapse which belied any return to business-as-usual. Many of the cuts made by the Tories would not be able, he said, to be reversed in 2015 – though presumably the steady restoration of growth in the economy by the Keynesian rejection of a compulsively deflationary Osbornomics would gradually transform prospects.
There is of course a lot still to be worked through in the detail of policy. How would a jobs and growth strategy actually operate and how would it be funded – not simply a tax on bankers’ bonuses to create jobs for the million young people out of work, but to tackle the magnitude of sky-high unemployment across the whole spectrum? Effecting a clean break between the investment and retail arms of the banks is certainly needed, but the key objection to the Big Five is that they’re not fit for purpose, focusing on property, overseas speculation and tax avoidance rather than the needs of British industry and British jobs. And the environment, largely missing from the speeches of both Eds, needs to be firmly woven into a growth strategy as climate change ineluctantly intensifies and renewable energy steadily comes to dominate as the powerhouse of the global economy.
But whatever the nitty-gritty of future struggles over policy, the real significance of today is that I believe it marks the day when voters really begin to see Ed Miliband as the future Prime Minister, and rather like the idea too.