Ed Miliband's big speech at union conference fell flat (Reuters)
Miliband's big speech at union conference fell flat (Reuters)

Well he didn't get booed or jeered but neither did he get a rousing reception, that would have been expecting too much. Probably the best that can be said about Ed Miliband's speech to the TUC conference is that it didn't make matters worse.

He told union delegates he would not be backing down from his plans to end the automatic affiliation of members to Labour and predicted, with a completely straight face, that his proposal would see thousands of individuals signing up to the party, more than doubling membership to half a million in fact. Former deputy leader John Prescott tried for double that number in the mid 1990s heyday but failed to break through the 500,000 mark.

"It is you who have been telling me year after year about a politics that is detached from the lives of working people. That's why we have to have the courage to change," he declared.

"I respect those who worry about change. I understand, but I disagree. It is the right thing to do. We can change, we must change, and I am absolutely determined this change will happen," he said. He even appeared to pause, waiting for the jeers that didn't come.

Having done his "not for turning" bit, which did not have the feel of a game changing moment, Miliband quickly moved onto the audience-pleasing sections of his speech, attacking the government's "recovery for the privileged few" and pledging to ban the hated zero-hours contracts and to tax big bankers' bonuses, both of which had been comprehensively briefed beforehand, leaving little fresh for the speech itself.

So the whole thing was lacklustre and almost instantly forgettable. If he had been, figuratively, lynched by the delegates he would never have been allowed to forget it.

And he certainly did not want an image of himself as the trades unions' biggest cheerleader being broadcast to the nation.

Of the two he might have preferred the more hostile reception as a way of showing those "Red Ed", "Union stooge" labels were absurd. He got neither. After all the hype and pre-briefing, this actually ended up as a non-event.

Of course, union leaders don't easily assassinate "their" political leaders, even when they are not sure those leaders are really on their side at all. Tony Blair probably got the worst receptions in recent years - which is exactly what he wanted to underline his "New" Labour credentials. All Miliband got was the cold shoulder.

The only time the whole thing came alive was during a question and answer session after his speech, when one woman delegate claimed his approach to spending cuts and wages caps was "contradictory and confusing" adding: "Are you for or against austerity?"

That brought the biggest cheer from the floor of the Bournemouth centre and the clearest sign of what these delegates think about Miliband's One Nation Labour.

His response was equally straightforward, saying: "No we are not in favour of austerity" before instantly going on to insist there were no easy choices in dealing with the deficit and spending limits. Which sounded a bit like just a different sort of austerity.

Notably, there was not a single question from the floor of the conference about the plans for reforms to the Labour party's links with the unions. Those discussions will now go on for many months, running dangerously close to the next general election.

So this was neither a disaster for the Labour leader, nor a defining moment which re-cast his relationship with the unions.

That moment may yet come. But many in the conference hall will be worried that it will come at exactly the time the Labour party should be concentrating all its efforts on winning the 2015 general election.