Although the press coverage has understandably focussed on his most polemical passages, I thought Ed Miliband gave an interesting and substantial NHS speech this morning at the RSA. It is an important part of increasing the RSA’s profile and influence that we host agenda setting speeches from senior figures and Ed himself referred to David Cameron’s speech here a few weeks ago, but it also important that we set the expectation that speeches at the RSA are not just political knockabout but contain significant policy content.
Miliband may not yet have the ease and authority of a Tony Blair or David Cameron. His speech did suffer from containing too many lists (he seems to suffer a bit from my disease of always categorising things in threes), the fact that the speech was being rewritten as late as this morning may explain a few stumbles over the wording, and a bit more humour wouldn’t go amiss. However, on the upside, the speech was not simply name-calling and alarmism but also contained a substantive critique of the Coalition’s reforms. Also, the final passage in which the Labour leader talked about his Party’s emerging principles and priorities for reform – while not earth shattering in its originality - was solid and sensible.
He outlined three (again!) priority questions for future reform to address:
• How the NHS responds to an increasingly elderly population with far higher levels of chronic disease.
• How to improve mental health services.
• How social care for the elderly should be funded.
An effective opposition is an important part of a functioning democracy. I have spoken often in the past about the need for politicians to explain real choices to people not simply pander to prejudice or tap into a corrosive and tedious cynicism about politics in general. It’s no secret that I thought David Miliband was the strongest of Labour’s leadership candidates, and that I have found some of Ed’s positioning (for example, the attempt to argue that even if Labour had known the credit crunch was coming it would have made the same decisions on public finances) less than convincing. However, six months after taking over and despite a largely hostile media, Miliband is now in charge of a pretty united Party, looking forward determinedly not back acrimoniously (a huge contrast to the early 1980s) and likely to make morale-boosting gains in the May elections.
He has a long way to go before enough voters see him as Prime Ministerial material, but judging by this morning’s speech at the RSA, Ed Miliband is gradually finding his stride.