Until recently commentators such as Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home have been fond of saying that the Tories’ best asset at the next election will be Ed Miliband: geeky, awkward-looking, poor communicator and a bit Old Labour.
After yesterday, they might need to change their tune on the first three points at least. Even his opponents have conceded that his conference speech could mark a watershed in his career as Labour leader – a transition from a certain inexperience and uncertainty to a new confidence and assurance. Few opposition leaders who haven’t been in office before look like future prime ministers – even Tony Blair looked a bit implausible before he was elected. And Ed Miliband no longer looks an impossibility, as has sometimes been suggested.
Unfortunately charities and the voluntary sector didn’t get a specific mention in his speech, but it was there implicitly in his ‘one nation’ pitch. The sector is the glue that holds together the kind of cohesive and unified society he was talking about, in which all have a value and a place and receive help if they need it. Whether that’s also the big society is another matter, but let’s not go there just now…
But isn’t there a certain sense of ownership when Ed Miliband scores a hit? He began his career in government as minister for the third sector, and was by common consent the best occupant of that office in the Labour years. Shortly after his appointment he gave a memorable lecture at a Third Sector event about the importance of the sector’s role in campaigning for progress and reform. His belief in the values of the sector is more than skin deep, and one day that could be crucial.