Ed Miliband used his conference speech a few weeks ago to try to steal the mantle of Benjamin Disraeli*, the 19th century Conservative prime minister. Or at least his “One Nation” phrase.
Michael Gove has made a speech at Politeia today where he praised the Miliband effort, calling it “beautifully-written and elegantly delivered” while hailing the Labour leader for being “gifted“, “thoughtful without being ponderous, serious without being humourless” and so on.
This, of course, was just a warm-up before the Tory education secretary laid into Miliband.
Irony of ironies, key to the Gove critique was the idea that the speech showed how Miliband was “in almost every sense of the word” conservative.
Under a section of the speech marked ED MILIBAND AND THE FORCES OF CONSERVATISM he admitted that citing Disraeli was an “attention-grabbing” move.
Disraeli would not have chosen the former Tory prime minister by accident, continued Gove, going on to describe him as “a man whose political instincts were already reactionary in 1874.”
The Victorian politician was someone who scorned commercial innovators and the emerging middle class in favour of an alliance between “plain working people and leaders drawn from elite salons,” he pointed out.
Not only did Disreali like to shelter from “the shock of the new”, continued Gove.
“He (Miliband) will have certainly appreciated that Disraeli’s single most important, and memorable, political stand – on the Corn Laws – was in favour of protecting declining industries and crippling the growth of a new, job-generating, wealth-spreading, opportunity-enhancing economics.”
Gove added that the long-dead Tory PM would have been at home in Blue Labour, the “small-c conservative” strand of thinking of some Miliband intimates such as Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas.
And so, concluded Gove, it was an “inspired” choice for Miliband to take Disraeli as a model for his speeches and polices.
(As a history student I was something of a Disraeli fan, especially the moment when he dismissed Gladstone as: “A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.”)