I’ll be in Manchester tomorrow to hear Ed Miliband speak at the UK Labour Party conference. Two years out from their next election, UK Labour are currently well ahead in the polls, and as one commentator points out right now Miliband is the most secure of the three political leaders. While the Tories regard him as their secret weapon, releasing a poll at the start of the conference comparing Labour’s supposedly improved prospects under David Miliband, Ed Miliband has surprised those who thought Labour chose the wrong brother. Ed is also receiving plenty of free advice about what he should say. I suspect he will continue to be himself, and good on him for that.
Andrew Rawnsley noted in yesterday’s Guardian, Ed Miliband’s big test is to make voters see him as Prime Minister. Miliband’s approval rating has improved 31 points since mid-January while Cameron has slumped by 25. The Tories plan is to brand the Labour leader as too weird and too left wing to put inside Number 10.
The Labour leader cannot help coming over as agreeable, idealistic, a bit pointy headed and rather earnest, because that is what he is…
The sort of stunts performed by previous leaders of the opposition – Tony Blair doing headers with Kevin Keegan, David Cameron riding with huskies in the Arctic Circle – won’t work for him. We are now familiar enough with such manipulations to have become suspicious of them and anyway there would be a high risk of him looking like a prat. So his best bet is to attempt to flip the flaws in his image into an advantage. The earnestness and wonkishness at least suggest an authenticity that might be contrasted with the sort of slickeries practised by David Cameron en route to power.
Amen to that. I’ve always believed that in politics eventually authenticity will trump public relations. It has taken a while with Key, but he is now revealed for the fraud he always was. Just like Cameron’s Conservatives in Britain, National in New Zealand is being shown up as the most right-wing government since before the war.
Jackie Ashley returns to the same theme in today’s Guardian
Let’s deal first with the Ed Miliband question. Are we really still so politically childish that we believe a Big Character, armed with all the meretricious tricks and lures of celebrity politics – the faux-working class diction, the camera-adoring glances, the fabricated backstory – is going to stride out and save the nation?
Ed’s just Ed. He’s a serious, politically brave and thoughtful north London intellectual. I once coined the term “Zen socialism” to describe his almost eerie sense of self and calm. Frankly, I’m still delighted to be watching a Labour leader sans bullying spin doctors, sans cheesy photocalls and, above all, sans a bloated, swaggering sense of personal destiny.
She then goes on to say:
The far bigger question is the shape of the Labour politics emerging under this man. And again, to see it, you have to stop asking the wrong questions. Of course Labour can’t set out a detailed shadow budget this far away from an election. But we do already know from Miliband that the top tax rate of 50p would be restored, that there would be a much greater focus on creating jobs, and that the banks would be reformed and the NHS changes reversed.
More than that, though, Labour is talking of a badly damaged economic system which requires not just a leader, and not even just an election, but a national transformation to put it right.
Double amen to that. The parallels with New Zealand are obvious. And as with Britain’s Eds, Miliband and Balls, we should be noting that in New Zealand Labour’s Davids are asking the questions and challenging the old orthodoxies that haven’t worked, laying the groundwork for that transformation. It’s not all there yet but it is well under way.
As for Labour’s leadership, an issue that is also under discussion on both sides of the world, Andrew Rawnsley coined what he called the “close your eyes test… Can voters close their eyes and imagine this person standing on the threshold of Number 10?”: It’s a bit unfair in relation to Miliband; while he is no oil painting he did use to sound rather adenoidal. But he’s had an operation to correct that, in my view an interesting sign that he is ready. While David Shearer is better looking, his main problem is the habit of a repetitious stutter step in his speech; it didn’t matter before he had to go on television so much, where it makes him sound more indecisive than he is. That too could easily be corrected.
For the rest, let Ed be Ed and Shearer be Shearer. Idealists with integrity and a proven track record. We could all do with those qualities standing on the threshold. In my opinion they will win out in the end.