It is quite something to go from one full on campaign (the general election in May) into another (the Labour leadership election) and then within three days of your unexpected win make a hugely anticipated speech to Party and country. Ed Miliband did it very well.
I have seen close-up in four of his predecessors the agony of Conference speeches, and in their case they had weeks and months to work on them. Even if Ed had part of his mind on this moment in the past few months, most of his focus and energy will have been on the leadership election. He will be very happy his first big one is behind him.
In some ways it is to his advantage to be less known than most people who have become party leaders. Both his friends and his enemies, political and media, will try to portray him in the way that best suits them. But he can shape his own agenda and his own strategy, and there were plenty of signs as to how he intends to.
At this stage, general direction and positioning, and setting out for the public who he is, what he believes, what he wants for Party and country, is all that he really needs to be concerned with. He dealt well with the sense, a lot of it media-driven, that he wants to take Labour wildly off to the left. He did a fair bit of distancing from some parts of the New Labour record, notably Iraq, immigration, and the failure to sort out the bankers before they wreaked havoc, but he also did a very good job of setting out the scale of change made under TB and GB and why the party should be proud of it.
In an interview this morning, I was asked if I didn’t feel hurt at his seeming desire to distance from New Labour. The answer is No. I for one totally back his line that a new generation is now in charge, and that it has to apply new thinking and new ideas. He is right to be viewing his leadership through the prism of a desire for change, and challenging orthodoxy. I also hope he is taking time and care to build a strong team around him, again mainly of the new generation.
He showed a bit of steel in there by setting out a fairly hard line on strikes, to the clear televised dismay of union leaders. I liked too the way he said he would not go after Ken Clarke as being soft on crime or Teresa May as being soft on terrorism if they made changes he agreed with. I thought it was clever to ignore Nick Clegg and remind us all that the real enemy for Labour is the Tory Party, and clever too to say that while he may be around the same age as David Cameron, in terms of values he is of a different generation.
It was possible to see the nerves from time to time, and a few technical glitches too; but especially given the circumstances, I thought it was a strong and substantial speech which laid out some very interesting pointers. I would love to know how the mood was at Tory Central Office and in Downing Street, where Mr Cameron’s political staff will almost certainly have been watching. I don’t think they will have enjoyed it quite as much as they were hoping to.