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One terrific speech does not change the weather overnight – the whole Party must now raise its game to beat these oh-so-beatable Tories

Posted on 25 September 2013 | 7:09am

Barack Obama’s strategist David Axelrod once said that political conventional wisdom is almost always wrong and we have had a good example of that in Britain recently.

Over the summer the conventional wisdom was that Ed Miliband had had it and David Cameron, on the back of a (paltry) economic recovery, was on track to secure the majority he failed to get on the easiest wicket imaginable. One excellent speech from Ed would seem to have turned that around and the conventional wisdom this morning is that he is suddenly looking like a winner.

As both Mr Axelrod and I know, the world doesn’t work like that. One speech does not change the weather, no matter how well scripted and delivered – and believe me the no notes for an hour thing is not easy.

But what it does is get Labour right back in the game. He did well. People will hear he did well. The people pouring out of the hall saying he did well were not just delivering a line to take. They were inspired and emboldened. Hardened hacks were impressed. More importantly, people will start to argue about the policy ideas be put out there – absence of policy has been a real problem – and the national debate will move to a different and better phase, as is already happening over energy prices.

A word of warning. I said much of the same last year after his very good One Nation Labour speech (though in both content and delivery this was superior.) But that success was not built upon. It came and it went. Team Labour did not seize the opportunity. The same mistake must not be made twice.

This is not just about Ed. Far from it. He works hard, travels a lot, deals with many issues, as does any party leader. This is about the party at every level. Too few of the shadow cabinet show the hunger you must show to be on the airwaves, out on the streets, and with something interesting to say. The party at local level is patchy in terms of its performance. The unions do a lot of good work but they have again allowed their national profile to be defined solely against the leadership. Bad for them. Bad for Labour. It has to change.

It was also noteworthy that one of the best received parts of the speech was when he defended Labour’s record on the NHS. We need to do that across the board. Defend the past as a bridge to being heard about the future.

They loved it too when he defended the North East, and when he framed the Scottish independence argument in terms of a Scot being made to feel a foreigner in England. Good One Nation stuff. Building on the message from last year.

That is how strategy works. You build on it hour by hour, day by day, week by week, speech by speech, interview by interview.

The basics don’t change. Win the argument about the past and stop the Tories from getting away with trashing our record. Win the argument about your opponents – and this lot are incompetent, unpopular and with the wrong values for Britain – and above all engage in and win arguments about the future. And I really liked his passage about character. He can win that with Cameron. ‘Strong with the weak, weak with the strong.’ That needs to be heard again and again and again and again. I will say it when I take my Alcohol Concern campaign to Manchester and try to find out why Cameron caved in to the drinks industry on minimum unit pricing. And anyone who still thinks alcoholism is a choice not an illness by the way, get hold of the ITV documentary on Gazza yesterday. It was heartbreaking.

The last year has felt like large parts of it were just lost. We were letting the field to the Tories and when we were on the field we were talking in an empty stadium often about things the public were not overly concerned about, like party power structures.

Ed’s speech was right at the heart of where the public are and what they care about. Every day from now on in, the energy and passion he showed has to be on display at every level of the party, top to bottom.

I spoke at a fundraiser in Brighton on Monday night and made the point that the next election is very hard to call. Anything from a Labour majority to a Tory majority is possible, with various shades of coalition in between.

But as the Tories head to Manchester they are vulnerable. Their boasts on the economy ring hollow other than for their hedge fund donors. They are losing support over health, schools and policing. They are doing better at PR but worse at policy. That is lethal.

So they are beatable. And Ed had made winning more not less likely with that speech. But it is all about the follow through, the hunger, the teamwork, the co-ordination, the consistent landing of blows on opponents who are not up to much.

I arrived in Brighton a bit depressed about the political scene, not to mention washed out post my illness. I am back home feeling at least Labour are back in the stadium with the crowd listening, if still feeling washed out and unable to get on my bike (this is purgatory).

But if Labour get a bounce in the polls, that is the time to raise a few more gears, not sit back. Never sit back. No complacency. No substitute for hard work. No such thing as compassionate conservatism.

Strategy is the joining up of dots over time so that a picture is communicated to the public. Ed has painted the broad strokes. Now everyone, from the shadow cabinet to the party supporter who can’t quite be arsed to join the party, has to land the dots everywhere they go. Over and out.

Ps … Thanks for all the kind comments and reviews re My Name Is. I really do believe alcoholism is an an issue whose time has come and whose time is now. I was pleased Ed made so much of mental health in the NHS part of his speech and pleased Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott committed in principle to minimum unit pricing.

And I was thrilled that a Berkshire employer bought 100 copies, having read it and decided he wanted to give it to all of his staff so they might think about their own relationship with alcohol. Memo to all employers – we can get you good deals for bulk buys!!!! (you see, I am joining up dots here.)

Pps – anyone know the Corrie, Brookside and other Northern soap stars? If any of them fancy joining me for the Alcohol Concern 5k run in Manchester Monday 730am, please get in touch via my website. We’ve already got the entire Man United, City, Everton and Liverpool squads, and the entire British Cycling team.

Pps — that last bit isn’t true. We haven’t got any of them because they’ll be resting after playing or taking part in the World Champs. But I just fancied causing the heart rate of the Tory press officers to rise for a bit.

  • Bob Nicholson

    Talk about passion, it’s scorching through every word. Well said, that Claret.

  • Michele

    I wonder whether any member of Cameron’s audience will ask him to confirm that the name ‘Royal Mail’ and all the heraldry on letterboxes and stamps etc is actually part and parcel (… blush ….. sorry …..) of the sell-off and if so how, by whose permission (if indeed any was requested or merely taken for granted by a brat)?

    I don’t think it should be included. Queenie, Charlie et al should let any potential bidders know they will have expensive changes to make to the physical infrastructure. Cameron has no right to sell a brand’s previous associations or prostitute real people’s (ie: all of our) histories. Family silver anyone?

    PS: Still reading ‘My Name is …..’, the structure of it is brilliant Mr Chameleon (how about that as an open invite to the cynics eh?).

  • p a t r i c k

    It was the best party leader speech at a party conference that I have seen.

  • reaguns

    Obviously I tend to lean slightly to the right of Ed… and of David Cameron… and of General Franco if you believe what they tell me on the guardian comments section.
    But I thought it was an excellent speech by Ed, and a very good clear set of potential election winning policies.
    Obviously I don’t agree with the policies and I think some of them will return us to the bankruptcy of the 70s just as similar policies did then. I also agree with what I read yesterday saying Ed has the advantage over Cameron in that he can tell what the problems are whereas Cameron is too complacent to notice, its just Ed can’t find the solutions.

    I think Ed is right, land and energy are broken markets, and I would almost support his land solution, if not his energy one in current guise.
    I was glad to hear Vince Cable, Ed Miliband and even Ed Balls raise the issue of this ridiculous Help To Buy policy which will raise house prices, and if I believed them, I would vote labour if they really would build 200,000 houses per year, and if they could make Vince Cable chancellor with Ed as pm I think that’s a good team.
    However Tony Blair calculated that you couldn’t lower house prices and win elections, Ed knows this, so it will never happen. On that one, he was lying. I’ll take any bet with anyone who disagrees and we’ll see if he does this in office.
    What pleased me though, was that I hate centrists, I respect left and right wingers, but most of all I hate left wingers posing as centrists (Ed) and centrists posing as right wingers (Cameron). I was glad to see Ed stick up for his own supporters, rather than those voters in the middle that Alastair and Tony chased instead.
    I think on a personal level, its like a penalty kick, if you place it and miss you’ll regret it, but if you belt it and miss you’ll know you at least tried your best. I think if Ed has listened to focus groups, brownites, blairites, Ed Balls etc and lost the next election he would regret it for ever. Much better to be true to yourself and come out on the left wing platform you believe in. I now think he will win an outright majority, rather than scraping through because of the lack of boundary reform.
    All in all the best day yet for Ed Miliband.

  • reaguns

    Just to recap, while many would think from my opinions that I am the right of Ed and Cameron:
    If I really believed that Ed Miliband would build the amount of houses he pledged yesterday, I would vote labour at the next election.
    It’s not so I can get a house (I have one) or get one for my kids, its that I think my kids would better with having to pay a 20k deposit on a 100k house, than having to pay a 10k deposit on a 200k house, which is what Blair/Brownite and Cameronian policies force upon them.
    However I don’t believe it without some sort of what economists call a “signal” that he will definitely do this, something he can’t back out of.
    For once, as an example I will say something good about Gordon Brown (plenty of others to put the boot in this week.) If Gordon Brown had pledged to set interest rates to target 2% inflation, I wouldn’t have believed him. However when he gave that power, and that mandate, to the Bank of England, I believed him. This can still be changed but its politically difficult and its as close to a real guarantee as you can get as opposed to Cameron’s “cast iron guarantee” on an EU referendum for example.
    Ed Miliband needs some way of solidifying this promise so that he can’t back out of it, then I’d vote for him.
    I would suggest a similar thing with the public finances, Labour should pledge themselves to cast iron fiscal rules imposed by a third party, for example when debt goes above 40% of gdp, spending should automatically be cut by law until a surplus of minimum 1% is running, until the debt goes below 40% again.

  • reaguns

    Ok thats enough of being nice. I now must ask:
    Q. What would happened if Michael Foot had won in 1983?
    A. We’ll find out if Ed wins in 2015!
    (Yes I am aware I must be the billionth person to crack this but anyway)

  • reaguns

    The Gazza doc was heartbreaking, but just as with George Best, every time I see either man play football, or see them speak on an interview, I like them a bit more each time.
    Whereas I on the other hand have none of the alcoholism, but also none of the talent or likeability!

  • reaguns

    Lol the last bit really did make me think “How the f did AC pull that off?! Fergie has really come through for him!”

    And I thought AC would be pleased Ed made that point about mental health, good going Ed.
    I’m less worried about a labour government now. If it was Ed pm and Vince Cable chancellor, I could live with that. Better to have two honest, proper left wingers in there, than people who are left wing but pretend not to be and are only in this for pure reasons of power ie Cameron, Osborne and Balls.
    On the plus side if I am wrong, then the country will be made very happy by these guys.
    If I am right, then the country will go down harder faster and we won’t have to wait another 30 years for a right wing capitalist solution, we’ll get it in 2020.

  • James Richardson
  • mightymark

    I fear Ed has erred on the energy front. He has given the energy companies and their Tory friends both the occasion and incentive to bugger up his two year freeze policy. So they will now spew forth lots of stuff to breed fear of the policy (and fear works) whilst simultaneously cooking up a policy to counter it. Expect to see costs of environmental regulation questioned and junked to ease prices (if they get into a row with the EU over this so much the better). They will argue that this will keep energy costs lower for more than two years whilst querying what will happen to costs after the “pent up” pressures build in the lead up to 2017 (by which time voters might well have a vivid example of a similar phenomenon as their currently low fixed mortgages come to an end to be followed by rates reflecting the probable rise in interest rates as the economy recovers).

    A politician should not so far as possible adopt a policy that leaves the management of whatever it is that is to be affected in the hands of those it has thereby disgruntled especially where their natural allies are the party opposite – and it is in Government. That is what Ed has done and I fear Labour will pay the price.

  • Western Independent

    I read this with interest and can see the sense of your argument that it’s the cumulative effect that counts and that it can’t all come from one person.
    I’m sure others have pointed this out before, but McAfee warns about your site that it contains “content that comes from potentially dangerous or suspicious sites” which it is blocking.

  • Big Sister

    Like you, I found Brighton inspiring. You’re right – no room for complacency. But this is an argument we can, and must, win. Meanwhile, get fully well so you can ‘get on your bike’ 😉

  • Michele

    VERY disappointed to hear Yvette Cooper going all populist PC in her speech today.
    There are some targets that cannot defend themselves, it’s not allowed and it’s not fair to exploit and kick them just for a bit of easy applause.
    It’s beneath them to respond but not beneath me.

    The Police could NOT get Stephen Lawrence’s killers convicted first timeS round.
    I have spat out here before that we do not live in a country where gut feeling is enough to convict someone (but we do live in a country where it can lead to mis-directed allegations of blanket racism).

    We do however live in a country where Police are SUPPOSED to give back people’s clothing after Not Guilty verdicts if asked for them.
    In this case the Police refused.
    Because they refused that clothing could, too many years later, be used to finally snare two of the barstewards because of developments in forensic science and in technology.

    Surely, if actually racist, Police Officers would have handed clothing back with suggestions it be burned?
    We are actually in an atmosphere where THE Police are referred to as racist as if the inevitable fact that some could be that means ALL are.
    Isn’t that how racists behave?
    Isn’t that prejudiced?

    The spot of blood that finally proved to have Stephen’s DNA was 1/12th the size of the minimum size needed at the time of earlier trials (and the latter was as small as 3mm).
    Its microscopic nature and the fact that it had soaked deeply in to fibres proved it had landed while wet and was not contamination from a dried flake during storage.

    Stephen’s is not the only case that is being re-investigated again and again and again and the two scummy killers presently locked up might be joined by other members of their gang, along with the killers of other victims whose trials were not successful against them but evidence is being increased with every scientific means possible.

    Hillsborough, wow Yvette.

    I don’t know about anyone else here but in the late 80s before IT and near-universal keyboard skills, my notes (like my colleagues) were handwritten and hugely altered and snopaked.
    The telex tapes that followed them were also full of backspace cancellations to allow corrections.
    NOT because I was hiding anything, rather because I was making meanings more clear (or simply correcting grammar).
    Wail spin, Guardian spin, media spin, politicos opportunistic spin – all have done their thang with the cynicism about alterations.
    NEVER ever a mention that Ambulance crews were on work to rule at the time.
    Never a mention that extra ambulances requested by the police were not sent because of the rule about keeping the minimum number on standby for other emergencies.
    Never a mention that the ground had long been condemned, never a mention about the standard ‘Awayday’ version of fun at the time (and this match was two away teams).
    Anybody watch the film ‘Awaydays’ made 11yrs after it had been written about 70s/80s footie fan behaviour?

    Nope, I am not a Police Officer (or staff member) but I do think we might as well re-name their reason for being – they are a tad like living Pinatas, smash ’em with sticks and the sweeties and toys will come tumbling out c/o what?