Michael Wilson criticises the timidity evinced by Labour Leader Ed Miliband in his TUC Conference speech
After Falkirk, and the union funding debacle, Ed Miliband needed to make a clear, strong, and progressive speech at the TUC conference. He needed to talk about Labour’s relationship with the unions, address the funding crisis, and firmly both set and attain support for Labour’s agenda for the future. Labour and Ed Miliband are at a vital point, and he needed to secure his leadership and vision then, more than ever. It was a defining moment. But instead of a reverberating triumph, we got a resounding failure.
In a bitter disappointment of a stump speech, he ignored the issues and embarked on a tirade of “those bloody Tories”, which kept delegates firmly glued in their seats, and quieter than a group of sleeping mimes. He urged that “change must happen”, in his single allusion to Labour’s relationship with the unions, and said the party must “gather the courage” to embark on reform. Of course, he stopped short of explaining what that change was, and his ‘courage’ seemed to be on vacation – probably holidaying in the same vista as his backbone.
Probably realising, from the Easter-Island-head expressions from delegates, that he was failing miserably, he attempted to build evocative imagery with “we could become a Labour Party not of 200,000 people, but 500,000 or many more. A Party rooted every kind of workplace in the country. A Party rooted in every community in the country. A genuine living, breathing movement”. Ah yes, and we’ll all live in a fluffy rainbow-land with chocolate kittens that defecate candy. And maybe, in this new Utopia, he will sit around Parliament, smoking a peace pipe and singing Kumbaya. Where is he getting his speechwriters from? Disney? His only good point was about zero-hours contracts and, funnily enough, was the only part of his speech that meaningfully awakened delegates from their deathly slumber.
Labour does need to reform its relationship with the unions. The Falkirk affair made that abundantly obvious. But, by not addressing the issue beyond a few meaningless buzzwords, Miliband just let McCluskey and Prentiss walk all over him, and has kept Labour stuck in the 1980’s. Three years ago, Labour lost 5 million voters. They weren’t union members, but other working-class and middle-class citizens, whom Miliband has abandoned in order to be a puppet of the union bosses who got him elected.
If we are to have a shot at winning the next election, Miliband needs to cut the strings and make the unions face up to the fact that they are not the only people in this nation. One Nation Labour is about governing for everybody, and if people like the GMB want to throw their toys out of the pram and withdraw funding, then Miliband should let them. In fact, he should write the check himself.
We need to modernise. We need to fight for the rights of union workers, yes: but Miliband should not abandon everyone else in an overly populist rush to save some face over the unions’ saying ‘no’ to him. We need a vision for the future of our one nation, where the NHS is saved, our economy is rebuilt, and youth jobs are guaranteed. We need a vision for the future where our Labour Party is run by the people, exercising their democratic right to enact change in our nation, instead of a few union bosses only concerned with stuffing their own pockets. We need a vision for the future where all people affected by Conservative policies are brought together, and empowered to win.
This is the vision we expected from Miliband’s speech. He let us all down.
Michael Wilson is a PPE Student at the University of Stirling. He sits on the boards of organisations such as NUS, Labour Students, and the Young European Movement, and is an active member of the Labour Party. He tweets as @MichaelTWilson3