The most interesting moment was when the Labour leader was asked if he had any background or experience in business. He began by saying that his grandfather was in business in Belgium before World War 2 and then selling handbags in London. As Paul Waugh overheard one businessman say: “Er, a bit long ago.”
Miliband then tried a more honest approach by saying he wouldn’t claim to be a business expert. “Empathy comes not from where you come from but from your ability to listen,” he replied.
It’s not a bad answer, and one which could equally apply to David Cameron (brief spell in television PR) and Nick Clegg (brief spell as Brussels lobbyist). Even so, Miliband struggled to sound hugely enthusiastic about entrepreneurship; his effort sounded a bit like someone’s speech about a country he or she has never visited.
This is what some of the delegates told me afterwards:
* “I don’t think he came across very well, he doesn’t strike me as a Labour politician, he came across as a professional politician which I don’t think this country needs, we need ordinary people with life experience in Parliament,” said Tom Johnston of Renfrewshire chamber. “He claims to put forward an alternative but I don’t see any difference, I’m still not sure what his message was at the end of the day. I think his brother (David) was more dynamic and had more charisma.”
* “I thought he was the most pleasant person here today on a human level, Vince Cable and Osborne were more professional,” said Gill Edinburgh of Sussex chamber. “He didn’t seem totally confident, he was good when talking about energy, less so on Leps and other broader business issues. I think he was okay to admit he isn’t a business expert, a politician has to be expert on the economy, schools, everything, why should he be an expert? Is he a future world leader? No.”
* “I was very impressed by the way that he dealt with questions, gave very personal responses and asked questions of his questioners,” said Steven Leigh, head of policy for Yorkshire chamber. “He has a difficult job because he has to provide an effective opposition but it is hard to argue with what Osborne and Cable are doing in terms of cutting the deficit.”
* “I think he has a lot of potential, but we will have to wait to see the full detail of what he proposes and whether it is credible,” said Richard Sheehan, MD of Shropshire chamber of commerce. “The experience issue is important, I think you can learn but I think it is difficult to gain credibility from the starting point when you are in his situation.”