The Labour leader moved audaciously to tear the “One Nation” mantle from the Conservatives’ grasp in a conference speech which offered a sustained and withering critique of the coalition Government and saw the odds immediately slashed on him becoming the next Prime Minister.
Highlighting the “unfairness” of a raft of coalition policies which have seen taxes cut for the highest earners but raised them for pensioners, the Doncaster North MP insisted he was the man to stand up to vested interests in Britain’s banks, media and energy firms and reunite a country now divided “into two nations”.
“That’s the reality in Britain today,” he said. “It is a rebate for the top, it’s rip-off for everybody else. It’s a recovery for the top; it’s a recession for everybody else.”
Contrasting himself with David Cameron, he said: “You can’t be a ‘One Nation’ Prime Minister if you raise taxes on ordinary families and cut taxes for millionaires. You can’t be a ‘One Nation’ Prime Minister if all you do is seek to divide the country. Divide the country between North and South. Public and private. Those who can work and those who can’t work.”
Mr Miliband began with a promise to “do something different” before speaking for over an hour without notes, making repeated references to his own state-educated childhood and the experience of his parents arriving as Jewish refugees during the war.
But it was his pitch to the centre ground which will be best remembered, as he repeated the Tory “One Nation” phrase almost 50 times and offered a clear message to the voters who turned away from his party in 2010.
“I want to talk very directly to those who voted for David Cameron at the last General Election,” he said. “I understand why you voted for him. I understand why you turned away from the last Labour government. This Government took power in difficult economic times. It was a country still coming to terms with the financial crisis…I understand why you were willing to give David Cameron the benefit of the doubt.
“But I think we’ve had long enough to make a judgment. Because they turned a recovery into the longest double dip recession since the war. Because there are more people looking for work for longer than at any time since the last time there was a Conservative government.”
He made it repeatedly clear he will not be dragging his party backwards, either to a New Labour model “too silent” and “too timid” about Britain’s vested interests, nor the Old Labour party which failed to represent the whole of the country.
“We must be the party of the private sector just as much as the party of the public sector,” Mr Miliband said. “As much the party of the small business struggling against the odds, as the home help struggling against the cuts. We must be the party of South just as much as the party of the North. And we must be the party as much of the squeezed middle as those in poverty. There is no future for this party as the party of one sectional interest of our country.”
Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps dismissed the speech, saying: “To prove he is credible, Ed Miliband had to do more than give a speech to rouse the Labour Party faithful – he had to show that he had learned from the mistakes that Labour made in office.”