It’s the old ones that are the best.
‘I want a Britain that is one nation, with shared values and purpose, where merit comes before privilege, run for the many not the few, strong and sure of itself at home and abroad’ argued Tony Blair in the 1997 Labour manifesto.
Ed Miliband returned that theme yesterday in his highly effective speech in Manchester – and I’d make five observations:
Jon Cruddas. At a Demos fringe on Monday Cruddas set out his view that early Blair (in opposition and Labour’s first term in office) was a far more interesting figure than the politician who left office in 2007. This early period was precisely when Blair made a grab for the One Nation mantle, as Ed Miliband is doing now. That ought prompt a more balanced understanding of what ‘Blairism’ really was (his windfall tax and criticism of fat cats wasn’t far from ‘responsible capitalism’) as well as offering some clues to where Ed Mili might be heading.
Blue Labour. The death of Blue Labour was greatly exaggerated, as Richard Darlington and Rowenna Davis have both pointed out in the last week. If anything some of Blue Labour’s central tenets are becoming orthodoxy in Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. Examples include seeing politics through the prism of power structures, the desire to reform capitalism rather than just compensate for its downsides through the welfare state, Ed’s talk of conserving the things people care about, a willingness to confront social issues like immigration and a renewed emphasis on vocational training.
Definition. The political trick that the ‘One Nation’ line pulls off is to simultaneously define yourself and your opponents. ‘Change’ did this for Obama in 2008 – it made Hillary Clinton look establishment and tied John McCain to George Bush. One Nation signals that the David Cameron’s modernisation project has run aground – something not lost on the Big Society Tory Phillip Blond, who was in the hall yesterday and spent the weekend in Manchester.
Language. The language was much more grounded than it has been – particularly in the economic sections. (‘If the medicine’s not working you change the medicine. And friends, I’ll tell you what else you change. You change the doctor too.’) There was no talk of the squeezed middle, nor references to ‘predistribution’. The ideas haven’t gone away but Miliband is finding more effective ways of talking about them.
Policy. There were a couple of quite big policy announcements in the speech. One was on increasing the retirement age (‘we are going to have to work longer; have a later retirement age than we do now’) and the other was the promise to repeal the NHS bill. The first of those is sensible, the second may prove very difficult if the reforms are already embedded come 2015. The big gap, of course, was where the inevitable Labour cuts will fall if the party wins the next election. That will have to come at some point, but for now at least it was a job well done.