The best Labour leader’s speech since 1985? Ed Miliband nails it

Coalition’s U-turn on West Coast Main Line is the cherry on the top of a magnificent 24 hours for Labour

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:20 ON Wed 3 Oct 2012

THE BEST line from Ed Miliband’s well-received speech to the Labour conference was immediately vindicated last night when the Government announced it was scrapping the award of the contract to run the West Coast Main Line and ordering a re-run of the bidding process which could see the service retained by Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains.

Rail expert Christian Wolmar said on the Today programme that the Government is returning the bid costs to the four bidders at roughly £14m each. That could mean £50 million of taxpayers' money has been wasted.

There could be no better illustration of what Miliband described as an “incompetent, hopeless, out-of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-we-go-along, back-of-the-envelope” approach to running the country than the fiasco over the rail franchise for the West Coast Main Line.

Branson, who argued that FirstGroup might not deliver on their promises, had threatened legal action over the award of the franchise to its rival for £5.5bn. The U-turn, announced after midnight, left the Government's critics saying: ‘What a way to run a railroad.’

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that flaws in the bidding process "stem from the way the level of risk in the bids was evaluated".

"Mistakes were made in the way in which inflation and passenger numbers were taken into account, and how much money bidders were then asked to guarantee as a result," he said.

By contrast, it gave a fresh boost to Miliband's triumph. The Labour leader was on the Today programme this morning and said: "It's another hopeless shambolic piece of incompetence. If I had heard about this yesterday, I would have added this to my list of incompetences by this Government."

Ed’s speech confounded his critics inside and outside the Labour party. Dan Hodges, the Telegraph blogger who describes himself as the ‘Blairite cuckoo’ in the Labour nest, tweeted an apology to Ed this morning for rubbishing his speech last night.

Hodges, son of Labour MP and double Oscar winner Glenda Jackson, said: “Ed M brands government a U-turn, back of the envelope, shower. 5 hours later the [government] announce [West Coast Main Line] will be re-tendered. Ed, I apologise...”

Even so, some of the excitement over Ed’s cheeky land-grab for the centre-ground of British politics by stealing the Tory ‘One Nation’ theme looks a bit threadbare on the morning after.

Alastair Campbell, Blair's former spinmeister, who is thinking of becoming a Labour candidate at the next election, missed the speech because he had to go to London but said Ed had seized the Big Society initiative from Cameron. He tweeted: “For Cameron, One Nation, Big Society, All in this Together are RIP. Ed Miliband has seized the opportunity.”

As a bromide, The Daily Telegraph has helpfully listed the number of times the One Nation theme has been appropriated by leaders in the past:

  • Margaret Thatcher 1950: “We say one nation, not one class against another.”
  • John Major, 1997: “I stand for enterprise opportunity for the whole nation, one nation, undivided and whole.”
  • Tony Blair, 1997: “I want a Britain that is one nation.”
  • David Cameron, October 2011: ”This is a one-nation deficit reduction plan - from a one-nation party.”
  • Nick Clegg, March, 2012: “We are the One Nation party.”

Even someone called Ed Miliband used it in February 2012: “We need what you might call ‘one nation banking'.”

YouGov's Peter Kellner reckons Miliband has made the best Labour leader's speech since Neil Kinnock in 1985. But Kellner’s praise was an unintended reminder that windy rhetoric may move audiences but it doesn’t win you votes – a point reinforced last night by BBC Newsnight anchorman Jeremy Paxman when he was clearly appalled by the gushing studio analysis of the speech by his political editor Allegra Stratton.

Ed now has to return to the scene of his triumph for a question and answer session with delegates in the main hall at Manchester. It could prove more testing than committing the 65 minute address to memory, if the likes of Unite’s Len McCluskey (or one of his union members) is allowed to ask: “What has One Nation politics to do with the continuing freeze on pay rises for thousands of public sector workers?” · 

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And he went to a comprehensive school.

And, I say; as if he said anything else. That was the only substantive point he made.

Right to the jugular again Tommy!

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