Last Wednesday, Ed Miliband delivered the speech of his life. Whether we agree with the content or not, this was potentially a defining moment in his leadership of the Labour Party. Within the speech, Miliband, without notes, set out a narrative similar to Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2007, which will likely lead his party into the next general election. Again, similar to Cameron, the narrative was vague and policy light, little time being given to in depth solutions to the economic issues facing the country. Instead, more time was spent on attacking the Coalition and presenting a hazy vision of what Britain might look like with Miliband at its head. This was, though, exactly what his party needed at this stage of his leadership.
However, what exactly did Miliband’s speech mean for Liberal Democrats? Ed has, over the last few years, been attempting to entice disaffected Liberal Democrat voters into the Labour tent. Although we hate to admit it, he has clearly taken a number of former Liberal Democrat voters with him, even if his attempts to attract Lib Dem activists have had little success, Miliband coming across more like a leering drunk in a nightclub than a serious political leader. This speech felt more like an appeal to the ‘squeezed middle’, the sort of voters that bought the Conservatives seats like Harlow, rather than another attempt to plug away at the Liberal Democrat vote. The speech, for example, introduced the much talked about ‘One Nation’ idea. Despite the idea seeming just about as vague and as likely to fail as David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, it felt like a direct appeal to those who may well have voted Conservative in 2010, voters who worried how society had become more divided under New Labour and cared about the key services that hold the nation together (the police, the NHS etc) but also now unsure as to whether Miliband could be a good Prime Minister. If Miliband is to secure a majority next election, he cannot simply rely on disaffected Lib Dems. He needs the support of those who chose the Conservatives ahead of Labour last election to win back seats like Harlow.
The Liberal Democrats, despite this, are in a far better position to appeal to this demographic. We are, as Nick Clegg stated in his conference speech last year, the party that is on the side of ‘alarm clock Britain’. We’re not in hock to the Trade Unions or millionaire businessmen, we can appeal to voters in diverse areas in the country and have proved over the last two years that we’re not only a party of government but also a party that is on the side of the demographic of voter that Miliband was posturing towards. The way to create Britain as ‘One Nation’ is to give everyone the same opportunities, to alleviate inequality by closing the gap between rich and poor and by representing diverse socio-economic areas within the nation. This is something that is a key aim of the Liberal Democrats in government and something which the previous Labour government failed in doing. We cannot allow Labour to monopolise the ‘squeezed middle’.
Miliband, on Wednesday, delivered the best speech of his leadership so far. His party are energised. We need to be just as energised and capture the ‘squeezed middle’ by proving that we are the party that have and will stand up for them, not Labour.
Nick Sutton is eighteen years old, Chair of St Albans & District Liberal Youth and a member of his local party’s executive. He is currently studying English Literature, History and Politics for his A Levels. He has a particular interest in the history of the Liberal Democrats and is looking to study History and Politics at University. You can follow him on Twitter at @nick_sutton22
This article is solely the view of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of the Liberal Democrat party, Liberal Youth, nor the editorship of the Libertine.