The British Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, said Tuesday that he supported the United States-led airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State militants, but implied that his support for British participation in military action would depend upon a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Delivered at the last Labour Party convention before May’s general election and amid persistent doubts among British voters about whether he has the heft to be prime minister, Mr. Miliband’s speech was considered especially important. He aimed for a tough tone against the militant group, which holds British hostages. But he sought to keep his options open while Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party is in New York talking to other leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.
Mr. Miliband also put the Labour Party firmly behind British membership in the European Union, in counterpoint to Mr. Cameron, who has promised to hold a referendum on British membership if he is still prime minister in 2017. Unless more powers are transferred to the European Union, Mr. Miliband has rejected that idea.
“Let me say it plainly,” he said. “Our future lies inside, not outside the European Union.”
While Mr. Miliband did not speak extensively on foreign affairs, he said that “we support the overnight action against ISIL,” an alternative acronym for the Islamic State, but “what needs to happen now is that the United Nations needs to play its part, a U.N. Security Council Resolution to win the international support to counter the threat of ISIL.”
A little over a year ago, Mr. Miliband’s party opposed and helped block British military action alongside the United States against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons in part because there was no Security Council resolution, resulting in even Washington giving up the idea.
Labour is currently ahead in opinion polls, but only narrowly, and Mr. Miliband is still regarded in the polls as a less credible leader than Mr. Cameron, who is none too popular himself. Labour is also considered a less trustworthy manager of the economy than the Conservatives, and Mr. Miliband spoke more extensively on domestic politics.
Speaking for more than hour without notes to a large hall and a national television audience, Mr. Miliband promised that a Labour government would make a large investment in the National Health Service, funded by a tax on properties worth more than 2 million pounds, or $3.27 million, and a further levy on the profits of tobacco companies.
The party faithful gave him standing ovations when he defended the health service and promised to spend an additional £2.5 billion, in part to hire 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more doctors, 5,000 more careworkers and 3,000 more midwives by 2020.
He promised more homebuilding and help for young workers to add to earlier pledges to increase the minimum wage to more than £8 an hour by 2020 and to freeze energy prices.
Mr. Miliband’s task is more difficult because the British economy is rebounding faster than most others in Europe, making a strictly economic appeal less convincing. Instead he sought to capitalize on the sense that middle- and lower-income Britons face a continuing squeeze on living standards and to portray Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives as heartless and uncaring servants of the wealthy.
He said Mr. Cameron was a friend to bankers in trouble, a “P.R. man” to energy companies and took big campaign contributions from Russian oligarchs and their spouses. “Well, David Cameron, you’ve been found out,” Mr. Miliband said. “He stands up for the privileged few.”
The Labour leader sought to draw on the lessons of the narrow victory of those wanting Scotland to remain inside the United Kingdom, saying that “a country that nearly splits apart is not a country in good health.”
He used it for his main theme of “Together, we can,” and said that any new constitutional arrangements to devolve power to England should be done carefully. And he accused Mr. Cameron of thinking less while lying awake at night about the United Kingdom than about the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, which threatens the Conservative hold on marginal constituencies in England. Praising the democratic exercise in Scotland, Mr. Miliband called for those age 16 and older to be given the vote in all elections, as they were in the referendum.
Mr. Miliband’s speech as a whole seemed to lack the impact of his speech last year and some said it was less passionate. He was competing against big news elsewhere — the aftermath of an exciting Scottish referendum, the airstrikes on Syria, even the conviction of another BBC radio personality, Dave Lee Travis, for a past sexual abuse.
Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the left-leaning Daily Mirror newspaper, said on Twitter: “Instant Miliband speech verdict: Thoughtful but needed more fire in his belly.”
Source: The New York Times