In Manchester last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband gave what we'd been warned would be an unconventional and potentially 'ground-breaking' speech to the party faithful as his annual Conference address. I was fortunate to be there and assess the impact both in the hall as the speech was delivered, and to be part of discussions afterwards about what it meant.
Much has been made of the 'One Nation' message, and Ed's vision of a country pulling together in the spirit of equality and fairness. We were pretty clear on what his meant for 'producers', but what was missing was detail around where the 'predators' would fit (yes I know that was last year's speech, but if he can evoke it, so can I.)
He was (to my mind, justifiably) criticised for not referring to the deficit during the speech; this gave some opponents the opportunity to trot out the 'deficit denier' namecalling we had hoped had been consigned to 2010.
The reaction inside the hall was so positive you could almost smell it. It was a tame audience, a warm and receptive crowd who want their guy to win. There and in the media, there was a strong focus on the style of the speech- no notes, no lectern, no autocue- just a frankly astonishing display of memory and a sense of the Ed Miliband his supporters have told us was there all along, albeit cunningly hidden behind the image of 'a man in the pockets of trade unions and at war with his brother'- basically, what the media would have us believe. But the tide turned somewhat last week as Ed metaphorically rolled up his sleeves and talked turkey.
It's weird being absorbed into a Party Political Conference: you exist in a bubble of sorts that means your judgment can be impaired. You only hear one viewpoint. I felt very positive immediately after hearing Ed's speech, and I will admit to feeling rather swept up in the emotion of the Hall, but a few days of analysis gives me some small concerns. As I say above, Ed spoke passionately of his 'One Nation' party, but told us nothing of where the wealthier individuals in society can play a part. He seemed to be sidelining them and choosing to focus on the '99%'. Perhaps this will play out well and prove a good move. Right now I feel it's playing to the crowd and means he risks emphasising the divide between us even more.
On an upbeat note, a change was sensed in the hall- and now I have had time to consider and discuss the speech with politicos and non-politicos alike, it seems it filtered out beyond the bubble too. It's hoped that the shift is one toward a politics where perhaps, just perhaps, we can ditch the soundbites and focus on what matters to the average person: authenticity, sincerity and speaking from the heart.
So all in all... not a bad day's work, Ed. But brace yourself- you've a way to go.