Miliband sets his sights on wooing voters in the West
Graeme Demianyk hears Ed Miliband call upon Britons to come together as ‘One Nation’ in the fight to overcome the economic downturn.
Ed Miliband reassured voters in the Westcountry that Labour is a party of the South as he promised to re-build Britain as "One Nation".
Delivering his keynote conference speech without notes and talking for more than an hour, the party leader knowingly and repeatedly borrowed the "One Nation" idea devised by Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli – but sought to use the phrase as a weapon against the Tory-led government.
Mr Miliband made plain the party could not appeal solely to its northern heartlands, a nod to the Tony Blair decree that without taking seats across the South West it would fail to sweep to power.
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"We must be the party of South just as much as the party of the North," he said.
The Western Morning News understands Labour has targeted seven additional seats in the greater South West at the 2015 election, with candidates set to be twinned with Shadow Cabinet ministers for support. After the 2010 drubbing, Labour was left with just four MPs in the South West region, including one each in Exeter and Plymouth and two in Bristol.
In a wide-ranging address that mixed humour, outrage and passion, he compared Labour's call to unity to David Cameron's decision to hand tax cuts to millionaires while cutting services and benefits for the poor.
Mr Miliband stressed that he was not offering a return to the politics of Disraeli, instead he called upon the country to show the spirit of unity to rebuild Britain's economic prosperity in the wake of the financial collapse.
He said: "I believe we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. I believe that we cannot shrug our shoulders at injustice and just say that's the way the world is. I believe we can overcome any odds if we come together as people."
In deeply personal passages, Mr Miliband explained how his upbringing as the child of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazism, and a comprehensive schoolboy in north London, helped to form his political beliefs.
Proposals under the One Nation theme include a banking system that no longer puts high-street saving at risk from "casino" traders, and a vocational education programme with English and maths to 18 for "forgotten" children not going to university.
Aides said Mr Miliband opted against notes to achieve a more authentic connection with the hall and people watching at home, and the speech will draw comparisons to Mr Cameron's notes-free conference address in 2007.
At his most withering, Mr Miliband said of the coalition: "Have you ever seen a more incompetent, hopeless, out- of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-you-go-along, back-of-the-envelope, miserable shower than this Prime Minister and this Government?"
The speech roused the party. Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: "I wanted oomph and I got it – passionate, witty and fluent. You saw the real Ed for the first time. Someone who has the vision and drive to help us be One Nation again."
Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View Alison Seabeck said: "It was an absolute tour de force. He set out clearly what Labour stands for, what our values are, and on top of that he announced a couple of clear policy directions.
"I think he answered one of the criticisms which is what does Ed Miliband stand for. It's one of the best I have heard."