Labour conference: Is Ed left-wing?

  • 28 September 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
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Media captionEd Miliband defends his keynote speech

"Ed Miliband, he's centre ground".

That's what the Labour leader told me this morning when I asked him what he would say to people who called him left-wing.

The reason I asked him is because on the one hand he is presenting himself as a break with the consensus of the past 30 years and on the other is anxious not to be seen as a return to the era before New Labour.

The phrase "left wing" is a label which he fears. He knows that his enemies in the Conservative Party and the right-wing press want to present him as Red Ed, the man who got the job thanks to the unions and who now leads a party which jeers the mere mention of Tony Blair.

That is one reason why there was a striking passage in his speech yesterday in which he praised Margaret Thatcher's cuts to the top rate of tax, tougher trade union laws and sale of council houses. Intriguingly, that was heard in silence.

Some argue that the ideas of left and right no longer have much meaning. After all, they say, Ed Miliband is in favour of a tougher approach to welfare in which the more you contribute the more you get - is that left wing? Perhaps not but advocating higher tax and tougher regulation for businesses and the highest paid whilst defending higher public spending are likely to be seen as left wing by the voters Labour needs to win back.

What has made this week at Labour Conference interesting is that Ed Miliband is taking risks, saying something new and feeling his way to a new politics even, though, he struggled to find clear, popular language for it. My instinct is that will eventually matter more than questions about whether voters think he is labelled left-wing.