Civil war rhetoric will bloody Ed Miliband's nose
There was an entirely characteristic standing ovation for the leader — reported as “awkward” by a party member. An awkward ovation — Ed-watchers have come to expect nothing less.
The ovation for the new party secretary was, by contrast, thoroughly generous, convincing and faintly malevolent. The leader had wanted someone else in the post but this character Iain McNicol was elected instead.
Ed himself started the day with a confident performance on The Andrew Marr Show. “I am my own man and I say what I think,” he said bravely. I didn't disbelieve him.
There were a few things for scoffers and cynics to bark at.
Ed said disparagingly that the welfare net was “full of holes” (nets are mostly holes, aren't they?).
He said we wanted to “get stuck into Europe and get it to grow” rather than “just viewing it as a problem”. Ah, the optimism of youth! And he proclaimed himself determined “to change the way the economy works”. That is his grand project, to remake the soul of man. It makes Cameron's Big Society look as simple as a clockwork toy.
In the conference hall, McNicol made his speech; it leaned heavily on the credulity of his audience. To applaud his ideas you had to believe that the Tories were an army of occupation whose purpose was to crush the hopes and realise the most macabre fears of the poor. As I say: an immediate ovation.
It's not entirely clear that Ed Miliband finds this civil war rhetoric desirable. It does cast a good half of the electorate as the enemy. Not just the enemy of Labour but the enemy of mankind. That's not necessarily a winning strategy. It certainly didn't work for Gordon Brown.