Tristram Hunt: 'Too great a distance between the rich and poor harms us all'
SO, WAS it good enough? Did Ed Miliband's speech at last week's Labour Party conference turn the leader of the opposition into a credible, potential Prime Minister? Can we see him entering number 10 in 2015?
For my money, it was an important step along the road.
First, because of the sheer success of giving that impressive speech without notes in front of a big TV audience.
He looked far more confident, relaxed and in control than before.
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Image matters in politics. You have to look like someone in whom the British public can put their trust and Ed passed with flying colours.
Then there was the speech's theme: One Nation Labour.
This was a clever conceit, stealing the Conservative Party's clothes, while also offering a coherent strategy for the Labour party in office.
As Ed Miliband told conference, he took the One Nation idea from the 19th century Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who first explained the philosophy in his 1845 novel Sybil, or the Two Nations.
At its heart was Disraeli's criticism of the economic inequality that industrial England was fostering.
As the political leader of the Tory 'Young England' movement, which argued for a return to the social ties and duty of pre-industrial England, Disraeli attacked the greed and division of industrial cities like Manchester, Birmingham and indeed Stoke-on-Trent.
There could now exist, he claimed, within one city two entirely different nations, "between which there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets".
These two nations were 'formed by different breeding', fed by different food, and governed by different laws. They were 'the rich and the poor'.
Disraeli's Sybil was one of a number of 'condition of England' novels condemning the social consequences of rampant industrialisation.
In Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, the anti-hero John Barton was similarly troubled by the gulf between rich and poor: "Why are they so separate, so distinct, when God has made them all? It is not his will that their interests are so far apart. Whose doing is it?"
In North and South, Gaskell further explored the notion of Two Nations – this time geographically split between genteel, professional southern England and the industrial, entrepreneurial north.
Which is all very interesting, but what does it offer Labour Party canvassers on the doorstep?
I think it provides a renewed commitment to challenge inequality and recommit the party to its historic duty of lifting the life chances of the poor.
This no longer means just throwing money at the problem. Rather, under Ed's plans a new strategy for decent vocational education and proper skills training – by far the best route to decent work and wages.
But Ed's vision of One Nation Labour also entailed a new sense of responsibility for those at the top of society.
Like Disraeli, he believes too great a distance between the rich and the poor harms the overall social fabric and impoverishes us all.
As Britain becomes two nations, between which there is ever less contact, our sense of solidarity and national cohesion is undermined.
So, Ed would not currently be reducing the top rate of tax to 45p (although I think that should be a long-term objective), and he has demanded the banks sort themselves out or else a Labour government will.
To my mind, One Nation Labour also has something interesting to say about the nature of the UK.
As the only national political party with substantial representation equally in Scotland, Wales and England, it will be up to the Labour Party to make the case for the union.
When the referendum on Scottish devolution arrives, Ed's belief in a single UK stronger together than apart will form a crucial part of the conversation.
But the One Nation banner contains serious challenges for the Labour Party as well.
If the Tory Party has abandoned any claim to the One Nation title by its political absence in the north of England, the Labour Party is in bad shape in the south.
Outside of London, we hold just 10 out of 197 Parliamentary seats in the South West, South East and East of England.
These are the voters concerned about immigration, welfare dependency, and the relentless squeeze on living standards.
If Ed wants to make it into Downing Street, we need to win those lost southern voters back.
If we are really One Nation Labour, we have to start speaking to their political concerns.