Miliband's vision of a better capitalism could secure plenty of business support, so why did the Opposition allow the message to become muddled?
What is the difference between a good and bad company, a "producer" and a "predator", a "wealth creator" and an "asset stripper"?
It was arguably the most significant question of this year's party conference season, apart from the all important issue of whether or not a man could be deported if he owned a pet cat, obviously.
While the Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences offered few surprises, beyond the timely reminder Tory support for green issues was more of an electoral gambit than a fundamental reconfiguration of the party, Labour's week in Liverpool made it clear that Miliband has embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious and high risk attempt to win the next election from an overtly centre-left position.
Labour apparatchiks would reject any attempt to characterise Miliband's speech as a lurch leftwards. But, by their own admission, it does reflect a remarkably bold challenge to the current economic settlement, which if successful will result in a genuine reshaping of the capitalist model.
In a conference season characterised by a paucity of big ideas, it was one very big idea indeed. Hence the continued speculation about precisely what Miliband meant and how his vision of a new type of capitalism might work.
It is worth quoting the section of the speech on the need for a new settlement with the business community at some length, as it goes right to the heart of what both the opposition is trying to achieve and what growing numbers of progressive or green businesses now accept to be true:
"You've been told all growth is the same, all ways of doing business are the same. But it's not. You've been told that the choice in politics is whether parties are pro-business or anti-business. But all parties must be pro-business today. If it ever was, that's not the real choice any more.
Let me tell you what the 21st century choice is: Are you on the side of the wealth creators or the asset strippers? The producers or the predators? Producers train, invest, invent, sell. Things Britain does brilliantly. Predators are just interested in the fast buck, taking what they can out of the business.
This isn't about one industry that's good and another that isn't. Or one firm always destined to be a predator and another to be a producer. It's about different ways of doing business, ways that the rules of our economy can favour or discourage... We must learn the lesson that growth is built on sand if it comes from our predators and not our producers.
For years as a country we have been neutral in that battle. They've been taxed the same. Regulated the same. Treated the same. Celebrated the same. They won't be by me."
It sounds like a pretty revolutionary concept, but then again it is not as revolutionary as the press reaction branding the Labour leader as "Red Ed" would have you believe.
Miliband's speech builds on RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor's keynote address earlier this year on Enlightened Enterprise (not that surprising given reports Miliband tried to convince the former Downing Street policy advisor to join his team), which itself was built on what is already happening at those hundreds of progressive or "enlightened" businesses who now recognise the economic and environmental harm wreaked by short-term corporate thinking.
We would not be so bold to suggest Miliband was also drawing on the BusinessGreen Charter, but there are clear echoes of our hypothesis that there is a new breed of business leaders who have done the climate risks assessments, weighed up the clean tech opportunities, and as a result are fully committed to the development of a sustainable low carbon economy, even if that means abandoning business-as-usual.
They might not like everything he stands for or endorse all his policy proposals, but the global businesses investing billions in clean technology or lobbying for more effective climate change policies would agree with Miliband's assertion that there is a new way of doing business – after all, they are already working hard to deliver it.
The problem, and this is rapidly becoming a defining feature of Miliband's leadership, is that he managed to intelligently elucidate a new concept that large numbers of people from across the political spectrum would agree with, before then managing to be comprehensively trounced in the resulting media battle.
The failure to provide a clearer definition of what constitutes a "producer" and a "predator", coupled with the failure to offer more than one example of a good company (Rolls-Royce) and two examples of bad companies (RBS under Sir Fred Goodwin and the private equity firm behind the collapse of the Southern Cross care homes), immediately opened Miliband up to accusations of being both too vague and too overtly anti-business.
Cameron and Osborne were never going to miss the open goal, with both branding Miliband's attempt to distinguish between good and bad firms as "ridiculous" and "unworkable". Most notably Osborne conjured up the wryly amusing image of a future Labour Chancellor "sitting there in Number 11 every morning, with a copy of the Financial Times in one hand and the Guardian in the other, weighing up corporate Britain on some homemade scales of justice".
The frustrating thing is Miliband could have avoided this elephant trap by providing more examples of the good companies he was talking about (again, if we can be so bold, just spend a week reading BusinessGreen if you are unsure who they are) and putting some flesh on the bones of how these "producers" and "predators" should be differentiated.
As Osborne knows full well, the Labour leader was not for a single second proposing "two newly created rates of tax... one for companies a Labour Chancellor likes, and one for companies a Labour Chancellor doesn't like".
What he was instead proposing – as evidenced by his one solid policy commitment that "all major government contracts will go to firms who commit to training the next generation with decent apprenticeships" – was a new policy, regulatory, and tax framework.
He was surely envisaging a scenario based not on a Labour chancellor branding companies good and bad, but on a Labour chancellor reorganising the tax regime so that polluting businesses face ever higher tax bills and green firms are rewarded with ever more generous tax breaks. It is a concept that was included in the government's coalition agreement, and which was today endorsed by Richard Branson, of all people.
He was surely envisaging a scenario where the distinction between good and bad businesses could be drawn through mandatory carbon reporting requirements for large firms and the wider promotion of green and ethical investment indices, both of which are again supported by senior figures within the government.
He was surely envisaging a scenario where the government goes beyond promising to bar firms that do not offer apprenticeships from winning public sector contracts and sets up ambitious green procurement rules that drives demand for the most efficient and sustainable goods and services. Yet again the government is already attempting to do precisely this with the roll out of green procurement rules for different departments, albeit at too slow a pace.
Miliband already has the answer to the question of how to distinguish between a predator and producer – it is just that he chose not to provide it. He delivered a brave and progressive speech that could have commanded support from across the business community, and then bottled completing the vision, presumably over fears it would be characterised as a pledge to raise fuel taxes or increase red tape.
Miliband's speech was revolutionary, but it was not that revolutionary. Much of what he wants businesses to do is already happening, albeit at insufficient pace and scale. Countless green business leaders from Richard Branson to the CBI are on record as supporting many of the concepts the opposition leader touched upon, just as the more progressive voices within the coalition are on board with many of the policy measures he was hinting at.
But his failure to complete the vision of a better capitalism means Miliband has, for now, bungled the opportunity to lead the formation of a new political consensus on the need to create a greener and more sustainable business settlement.
Sadly, it is the producers and wealth creators that Miliband so effusively praised who will miss out as a result.
BEIS and Treasury officials warn they will be prepared to act if voluntary take-up of TCFD guidelines don't meet expectations
Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner tells conference 'connectivity is fundamentally changing how we get from A to B'
Energy supplier says plan to pay customers to use electricity when supply is abundant and demand low is a world first
The government has once again lost a court battle over its air quality plans, how it responds will tell us a lot about how serious its Green Brexit vision should be taken