Moments of grumpiness aside, Ed Miliband’s fightback speech this afternoon was very worth listening to.
The Labour leader did want to say that he understood voters’ concerns, but that this didn’t mean he was going to change his current stance on immigration or Europe. It was a brave speech in that respect, and in that he decided to talk about and name Ukip, which is something that other politicians continue to shy away from doing.
But Miliband also talked about those who did not vote. He said:
‘And millions of people now feel that our country does not work for them, politics does not listen to them and cannot answer them. They believe the people who work hard, try and support their families and build a better future have been left behind, and the major parties work for others and not them.
‘Some of those voted for Ukip in these elections. And far more people did not vote at all. These are challenges for all political parties.’
Clearly Miliband diagnoses the problem with politics as wider than just the proportion of the electorate who backed Ukip. He sees the protest registered by those who didn’t vote at all.
This was the key passage in his speech about what the problem was. And in Miliband’s mind, it’s bigger than just immigration:
‘Let me tell you how I see it. More than anything it is about the big economic change we have seen. The industry of our country, the docks near here, the mines in Doncaster, my constituency, provided a decent wage, a decent life, a decent pension.
‘A job was not just a job. It was the foundation of community. And about thirty years ago these secure jobs with good prospects started to disappear. And they weren’t replaced by similar jobs for the future. At the same time, immigration has been changing communities fast, including here in Thurrock, with people seeking to build a better life here.
‘And the pace of change is quicker than it has ever been. So over the last decades there were big changes happening in our country. And fewer and fewer working people thought the country worked for them. That was made worse when political scandals happened, like MPs’ expenses.
‘And as a result by 2010, too many came to think that no party was standing up for them, including Labour. You in Thurrock know that the last Labour government did great things: rescuing our NHS, investing in schools and supporting working families with tax credits. But they were not enough by themselves.
‘Because ordinary working people, people who weren’t rich, felt life was getting harder. Our embrace of the future meant that some people thought we didn’t respect the loss they felt from the past.’
He didn’t toughen up Labour’s immigration policy from its current position, but instead argued that those who said ‘Labour has been too radical’ were ‘dead wrong’.
What’s Miliband up to here? Why isn’t he panicking and announcing tougher immigration policies or U-turning on an EU referendum? Well, he’s sticking by the courage of his convictions, or his ‘intellectual self-confidence’, as he likes to call it. At the Speccie, we’d rather the Conservatives had the same courage (but different convictions), but Miliband does deserve credit for realising that he’s better off being distinctively Milibandesque, rather than trying to convince voters he’s something else.