OK, I think we've had just about enough on Miliband and his big day. But two Times columnists weighed in today and I want to sneak bits of their columns out under the paywall for you, because they represent two slightly different critiques. First, Hugo Rifkind, who writes amusingly about Miliband's idiosyncratic speaking style:
Part of the problem is that, when Ed Miliband speaks, it’s very difficult to listen to what he’s actually saying. There’s the arms, for starters. On the radio the other week, the comedian Susan Calman pointed out that they often look like the limbs of somebody standing behind him, slipped under his armpits as a joke. Then there are the eyes. They keep closing and stay closed for ages, until the exact moment that the viewer starts to panic. “Well, that’s it,” you’ve just thought. “This time they will never open again.” Suddenly, they do. It’s terribly distracting.
Funny. But Rifkind goes on to make a serious point: that people in Britain are increasingly suspicious of big business, fed up with unchecked capitalism. Miliband is on to something - so it's a pity he's unelectable.
There are various versions of this analysis floating around; call it the 'Substance good, Presentation bad' view. Jonathan Freedland argued similarly the day after the speech. I'm afraid I think it's much worse than that - more like, 'Substance terrible, Presentation bad'. Philip Collins, possibly the sharpest commentator on the Labour Party at the moment, is more of this persuasion. I think he nails it here:
This was a magical mystery tour through a nation that has been run by people with the wrong values for decades. The fault lies not with the people of Britain, who have the right values, British values, or with the previous Labour Government, of which Mr Miliband, who has the right values, is proud. A mysterious closed circle of bad people with the wrong values (MPs, asset strippers, phone hackers and predators) have turned the country to moral ruin by erecting a system to reward their wrong values rather than the right values of the people and Mr Miliband.
This is, essentially, a conspiracy theory, something you believe at school but grow out of. I half-expected him to cry out in frustration: “I just don’t understand how they did it. There can only be a few hundred of them.” The rank weakness of the argument is shown by the fact that it had to be illustrated with a long section on Fred Goodwin, which is the rhetorical equivalent of a Frank Spencer impersonation or a routine about the Daleks not being able to go upstairs.
Collins concludes that the speech was not a new beginning, but "the dying breath of vintage social democracy, in which state action directs the nation towards moral betterment." I think the speech was even worse that Collins suggests, if that's possible, because apart from being a weak-minded conspiracy theory it was also unforgivably parochial. There was not a word about the seismic economic changes going around this island. If the Eurozone crisis becomes a catastrophe, Miliband's speech will read as if it's from another era altogether.
The 'substance good, presentation bad' school of thought is dangerous for the Labour Party. It's interesting that even Miliband's strongest supporters in the press, like the New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan, have conceded that Miliband has presentational problems. I sense some hedging going on. If Labour goes down to heavy defeat on a left-wing manifesto at the next election, you might have thought the whole party would be forced to confront political reality. But the Vintage Social Democrats have found their escape route. Right policies, they'll say, but - this with a sad, regretful shake of the head - wrong guy. Yvette Cooper will be called upon to represent the true believers. The dream will never die.