Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Miliband Buries The Past.

In terms of style, there is clearly room for improvement, which I am sure he will achieve with time. But, as far as substance went, I thought he - at several points - got it bang on.

He started with where Labour got it right:

We changed Clause 4. We were right to do so.

Think of how we emphasised being tough on crime was as important as being tough on the causes of crime. We were right to do so.

Think of how we challenged the impression that we taxed for its own sake and that we were hostile to business. We were right to change.

And think of how we challenged the idea of a male dominated Parliament with All-Women shortlists and made the cause of gender equality central to our government. We were right to do so.

The old way of thinking said that economic efficiency would always come at the price of social justice.

With the minimum wage, tax credits, the New Deal, they showed that was wrong.

I am proud that our government lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, hundreds of thousands of pensioners out of poverty, proud that we created the highest levels of employment in Britain's history.

And he was also brave enough to say where we got it wrong.

"Iraq was an issue that divided our party and our country. Many sincerely believed that the world faced a real threat.

"I criticise nobody faced with making the toughest of decisions and I honour our troops who fought and died there. But I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that.

"Wrong because that war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations.

"America has drawn a line under Iraq and so must we."

It was extraordinary to watch his brother David and many of other Labour cabinet members sitting there as the conference hall exploded into applause. The Labour party has been held back by Blair's insistence that, although there were no WMD, he couldn't apologise for getting rid of Saddam. Many of the Labour cabinet who took part in that decision have stuck to roughly the same formula when it comes to that subject.

In a few sentences, Ed Miliband blew away that tired logic and claimed the Labour party as his own. Blair and his refusal to apologise have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

And he also attacked the notion that the United Kingdom should behave as almost a satellite state circulating a far greater world power.
"Our alliance with America is incredibly important to us but we must always remember that our values must shape the alliances that we form and any military action that we take."
His brother was too tied to Blair's legacy to ever strike such a distance between his regime and Blair's, which is why Ed is looking ever more like the most sensible choice for a party which feels the need to move on from policies - and acts of sheer stubbornness - which cost us five million voters in as many years.

However his comments about Iraq appear to have annoyed his brother, who was filmed asking Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman: "You voted for it, why are you clapping?"
The Blairites have been voted out of power and - as David's comments show - they are, even now, unwilling to admit that the sheer scale of the disaster which was the Iraq invasion contributed to Labour's loss and to their own in this leadership contest.

Ed Miliband represents a chance to move on from all that.

And he also refused to allow Nick Clegg to claim the mantle as the person most concerned with privacy and civil liberties when he stated that he would not allow the Tories or Lib Dems to "take ownership of the British tradition of liberty".

These are Labour and Liberal Democrat values, which Blair sold out, imagining that we would sacrifice our privacy for his empty promises - as 7-7 showed - of guaranteed security.

Clegg is to be applauded for his stance on civil liberties, but it is his willingness to swallow right wing economic dogma which will kill him with progressives.

Miliband has put a clear shaft of light between the Con-Dem coalition and Labour. And, I suspect, Clegg's lurch to the right - and the consequent loss of progressives votes for the Liberal Democrats - might make this a very good place for him to pitch his tent.

And, after Blair decided that New Labour would be pro-Israel, without bothering to inform the rest of us that we were now officially on the side of the occupiers, it was heartening to hear this man - whose parents fled the Holocaust - say this:

And let me say this, as Israel ends the moratorium on settlement building, I will always defend the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. But Israel must accept and recognise in its actions the Palestinian right to statehood.

That is why the attack on the Gaza Flotilla was so wrong.

And that is why the Gaza blockade must be lifted and we must strain every sinew to work to make that happen.

They were words that would never have come out of Blair's lips. And conference responded enthusiastically.

As I say, it could have been a more polished performance, but he gets ten out of ten for the substance of what he said.

Today, Miliband buried Blair. And everyone watching knew it. That's a pretty audacious start for a new leader.


I am pleased that the Independents leader writers heard exactly what I heard:

There were no great game-changing announcements such as when Tony Blair signalled the abolition of the party's Clause Four. There were no breathtaking oratorical flourishes. But in an hour- long address Labour's new leader guided his party away from the traumas and contorted positioning of the recent past and pointed it in a new direction.

As such it was the most daring speech from a Labour leader delivered for a long time.

His brother could never have made that speech.

Click here for full speech.

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