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Labour Conference - Ed Miliband Comes of Age

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Yesterday afternoon, Ed Miliband came of age as Labour leader. His second major speech to annual conference was a bold, radical assessment of the modern era, and of why people have felt increasingly disenfranchised and powerless over recent decades.

To Miliband, the pillars of society - and the Thatcherite, neoliberal consensus that supported them - have contributed to that disconnection and made life harder for people, not easier. Crises in our media, democracy and economy, so the prognosis goes, are the result of cutthroat greed and material gratification over compassion.

Miliband's Labour Party rejects that status quo. Its leader seeks nothing less than an economic and social revolution and a new society which values time as highly as wealth, reciprocity in business, as in life, over raw competition. It's a party re-finding its voice and reconstituting as a post-recessionary people's party: on the side of ordinary people over vested interests.

Arguably, with this speech, Milibandism was born as a definable political philosophy. It contains elements of blue, purple, red and green. At its core is a belief in growth and markets, of course, but not for their own sake; and a conviction that vested interests in big corporations, private wealth, media conglomerates and - yes - even the state and trade unions, too often prevent people from achieving their ambitions.

It's a clear, frank and relatable argument. People around the country - particularly those of my generation, and especially in cities - too often feel remote from their own communities, and from an economy that commodifies them. Bankers and bureaucrats alike seem faceless or inaccessible. Jobs can be insecure. Higher education feels further and further out of reach.

But therein lies the problem. Miliband is preaching to the choir. Young-ish people were already more likely to vote Labour at the next election than the Tories. Students are a captive electorate given the government's tutition fees hike. As Miliband alluded to yesterday, people in Britain's big cities already vote Labour. But in the smaller towns and the counties, in the marginal seats in which an election is still won or lost, particularly in the more comfortable places, will people buy that Ed Miliband is the man for them?

Their criers in the right wing press, of course, will tear shreds out of this speech. They will loathe Miliband's newfound conviction in the "good business". They will defend the status quo with relentless mud and bile, slander and bitterness.

Of course, that won't matter if Ed Miliband is right about our new social and economic reality. Paradoxically, ridicule may even make people take another look at Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.

So undeniably, this new strategy is risky. It could contribute to the obliteration of Labour's already tentative support.

But as Ed Miliband remarked in his speech "nobody ever changed things on the basis of wanting to be liked, or not taking risks, or keeping your head down." As his team in Westminster so often remark, perhaps it's time to let Miliband be Miliband.

Alex Smith is a former aide to Ed Miliband, former editor of LabourList and consultant to Champollion Digital.

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