LABOUR leader Ed Miliband scored a mostly positive response in Sheffield to his party conference speech in which he declared his ambition to ‘rebuild Britain as one nation’.
The Doncaster North MP explained how his upbringing as the child of Jewish refugees from Nazism and a comprehensive schoolboy in north London helped to form his political beliefs - contrasting his education with the ‘privileged’ coalition Government.
He said: “I went to my local school, I went to my local comprehensive with people from all backgrounds. I still remember the amazing and inspiring teaching I got at that school.”
He pledged to focus on improving the prospects for youngsters in state schools and those who do not go on to university.
A Labour administration would also show its ‘one nation’ credentials by governing for both the private and public sector and for the squeezed middle as well as those in poverty, Mr Miliband added.
Mr Miliband sympathised with frustrations of people who felt they were comfortably off but are now struggling - troubled by rising fuel prices which do not drop when the oil price falls, or by gas and electricity bills that go up and up.
Mr Miliband said he ‘understood’ voters who turned their backs on Labour in 2010 amid the financial crisis and gave David Cameron ‘the benefit of the doubt’. He added: “I think we’ve had long enough to make a judgment.”
But in a warning of further austerity, Mr Miliband said: “To be one nation we are going to have to live within our means. And because borrowing is getting worse, it means there will be many cuts this Government made that we just won’t be able to reverse.”
The speech was welcomed by Sheffield Labour Party chairman, Paul Wood, who said: “I think Ed Miliband has now settled into his role and that his performance, along with that of a number of other shadow ministers, is warming the public’s feelings towards the party.”
Terry Green, treasurer of Base Green Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said: “The country is in such a state I think everybody has got to pull together to get it out of that. I think what is also a priority is the poverty gap, which is getting wider under this Government.”
However, he added: “Ed Miliband is a nice enough guy but he doesn’t seem to have enough charisma.”
Retired miner Ken Wain, of the Friends of Charnock Recreation Ground, said: “I think the current Government does not understand what ordinary people are going through. I agree with Ed Miliband’s sentiments entirely.”
Andy Jackson, of Heeley Development Trust, said: “It is not poor people’s fault the present economic crisis occurred but the cuts affect brilliant organisations like advice centres which support people going through difficult times.
“We haven’t had any reassurance from Labour about whether austerity measures would be any different.”
But Rob Prior, a company director from Broomhill, criticised the lack of acceptance by Labour for the role high public spending played in causing the economic crisis.
He said: “I think Miliband is performing very poorly and his brother was the person who could have been a credible leader. Labour just won’t accept responsibility for what they did and I have very little patience with them.”
Nationally, Mr Miliband’s speech was warmly received by trade unionists and the Confederation of British Industry praised the aim to provide skills for young people who do not go to university.