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What was Ed Miliband’s most successful moment as Labour leader?

It was during the 2013 Labour conference, when he announced the freeze on energy bills. Putting aside the economic merits or demerits of this, it was an electrifying moment, not quite comparable with Neil Kinnock’s anti-Militant speech of 1985 — “the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers . . . you can’t play politics with people’s jobs” — but still a major agenda-setting event.

The importance of Miliband’s speech was not just that it mentioned high energy bills: it showed a general recognition of the financial struggles people were facing. The Labour leader signalled to the public: “We are on your side.” It suggested also that there were unfair practices from the larger energy companies, all of which people felt to be true — such as charging an unfair whack on energy bills if you didn’t pay by direct debit.

I remember watching that speech, thinking that it would change the political climate — and it did. For a long time, the media talked of little else. Over many weeks, the coalition was on the back foot and forced to come up with one policy or another to try and fill the void that Miliband had created for the Conservatives. Yet, for one reason or another — and with later mistakes like the “Edstone” — Miliband lost the momentum on this policy and the results of the 2015 election were there for all to see. Labour’s retail offer got lost in a haze of incoherence and credibility.

The real problem now is that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is designed to repeat the success of 2013 Miliband, not just once at a conference, but day after day, week after week. His appearances both inside and outside Parliament for the most part are focused on “retail” policies which follow clear rules: they are simple and understood by the public at large, they focus on a specific problem that millions of people face and they try to show the electorate that Labour is on their side. Whether it be high student fees, low-paid McDonald’s workers or public sector pay, these are all areas that resonate and that people have sympathy with.

The Labour weakness in all this, is that at some point there will be a day of reckoning, in which the public ask, how will these things really be paid for? The difficulty for the Conservatives, however, is that this question may only come after Labour has won an election.

So often, Conservatives wrongly think that retail politics is just an auction of promises that we can never win. I have never understood this view. There is nothing to stop the government developing retail politics of our own, properly costed and thought out, in key areas of policy that are Tory in nature but help to solve pressing problems.

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