Labour must be the party of the South and of Middle England, Ed Miliband said yesterday in his keynote speech at the Labour conference.
His 65-minute speech, for which he roamed the stage, noteless, won roars from the party faithful.
He stole the phrase “one nation” from Tory favourite Disraeli and used it almost 50 times, as he presented himself as the man who can unite Britain, healing divisions he said had been torn open by the Coalition Government.
The speech showed his determination to win back seats across the West that Labour held under Tony Blair in 1997, but have since lost.
He asked: “Now what does it mean to the Labour Party to be one nation? It means we can’t go back to Old Labour.
“We must be the party of the private sector just as much as the party of the public sector. As much the party of the small business struggling against the odds, as the home help struggling against the cuts.
“We must be the party of South just as much as the party of the North. And we must be the party as much of the squeezed middle as those in poverty. There is no future for this party as the party of one sectional interest of our country.”
The one nation slogan was coined by Conservative icon Benjamin Disraeli 140 years ago, when he was Leader of the Opposition, in a speech made just yards from where Mr Miliband was standing.
Yesterday, Mr Miliband said David Cameron had lost the right to call himself a one nation Prime Minister “because of the way he has governed and his decision to hand tax cuts to millionaires while cutting services and benefits for the poor”.
There were also personal sections, as he told of his upbringing as the child of Jewish refugees from Nazism and his education at a London comprehensive school.
While there were few policy announcements, he did unveil plans for a new qualification to be taken at 18, called the technical baccalaureate, as the Daily Press revealed yesterday.
He also said the “first big mission of the next Labour government is to sort out our banks. Sort them out once and for all…We need banks that serve the country, not a country that serves its banks.”
Next he addressed the “squeezed middle”, struggling to make ends meet.
“They think the system just doesn’t work for them. And you know what? They’re right. It doesn’t work for them but for the cosy cartels and powerful interests that government hasn’t cut to size.
“I want to talk to them and all the millions of people across our country who don’t think they get a fair crack of the whip.”
Mr Miliband said he understood why people turned away from Labour at the last election, and voted Tory, willing to give Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt.
“But I think we’ve had long enough to make a judgement. Long enough to make a judgement because they turned a recovery into the longest double-dip recession since the war. Because there are more people looking for work for longer than at any time since the last time there was a Conservative government.
“Now look around you, you know the problem is the British people are paying the price of this Government’s failure.
“You’re going to the petrol station and not filling up your tank because you can’t afford it. Your tax credits are being cut because the Government says it can’t afford it. Your frail mum and dad are not getting the care they need because the Government says it can’t afford it.
“But there are some things this Government can afford. The wrong things. What do they think at this most difficult economic time is going to get us out of our difficulties? What do they choose as their priority? A tax cut for millionaires. A tax cut for millionaires.
“Next April, David Cameron will be writing a cheque for £40,000 to each and every millionaire in Britain. Not just for one year. But each and every year. That is more than the average person earns in a whole year.
“At the same time as they’re imposing a tax on pensioners next April. Friends, we, the Labour Party, the country knows it is wrong. It is wrong what they’re doing. It shows their priorities.
“And here’s the worse part. David Cameron isn’t just writing the cheques. He is receiving one. He’s going to be getting the millionaire’s tax cut himself.”