Has Private Eye done one of those “Ed Miliband – An Apology” items yet? You know, the one that goes – “In a previous article we may have given the impression that we thought Ed Miliband was a hopeless nerdy loser, doomed to drag his party down to ignominious defeat. In a paragraph headed ‘More of a Wally than a Wallace’, we may have unwittingly stated that ‘the lanky clown ought to be sent back to an LSE seminar on carbon trading’. We now realise that Mr Miliband is in fact a Man of Destiny the like of which we have not seen for many centuries, possibly millennia. We are blessed to have him with us at this time, and look forward eagerly to his next pronouncement.”
Judging by some of the write-ups of Prime Minister’s Questions this week, parts of the press are gearing up for the second half of the standard-issue Private Eye “apology”. Ed had wiped the floor with a red-faced Cameron, effortlessly displaying his mastery of the House. In fact, I think the Indy’s Steve Richards was right to point out that, while he had done well, this had not been a radically different performance from the Labour leader from those he had given before. He is dealing well with heckles and looks more relaxed. The real difference is the crumbling in authority of the government and the now semi-permanent poll lead of between eight and ten points. Ed has some momentum, and Cameron has none.
Iain Martin (of the Telegraph) deserves some credit too. He launched his Don’t Underestimate Ed Miliband Association (DUEMA) well over a year ago. True, it almost went into liquidation at one point, and lay dormant for some time. But he spotted what virtually no other Conservative commentator (and Tory front-bencher) did: that the early caricature of Ed Miliband as leader was a long way from the truth.
The ups and downs of Ed Mili’s reputation and standing say more about lobby journalism and the modern media than they do about the subject of all the chat. Since the non-election of October 2007, until the budget a few months ago, the dominant conventional wisdom in the media was that Cameron was an inevitability: born to rule, perhaps, but a natural at it. He knew how to stand up straight and read a speech out nicely. He looked and sounded confident.
Ed Miliband, by contrast, seemed more hesitant, awkward even. Warm and spontaneous in private, he was less engaging in public. He fought the dominant narrative, but rarely came off well. He had spoiled the lobby’s script – that his more Blairite big brother would recreate the New Labour magic and take the fight back to Cameron on some very narrow middle ground. The old order would be left more or less undisturbed. No new thinking would be required.
Well, bollocks to that. It hasn’t turned out that way. And Ed Mili has been rewarded: fortune has favoured the brave, so far. As Polly Toynbee suggests in the Guardian today, that approach needs to continue. And the signs are that it will – sharing a platform with Tony Blair one day, and another with the Durham miners (or what’s left of them) the next.
Labour has not won the next election. The government has not yet lost it. Eventual economic recovery, which will come (but when?), will change the mood. The next two years will require a steady ramping up of credible policy proposals and principled opposition. The Labour leadership team clearly understands this.
What the Con-Lib coalition and the media need to understand, though, is that they have, in the words of President George W Bush, misunderestimated Ed Miliband. They laughed at him with his bad jumpers and his Rubik’s Cube. But there was perhaps a clue even there. The guy who fixes a Rubik’s Cube likes a challenge and solves problems methodically, leaving things better organised than they were before. Whereas the guy who spends all day with Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja is really just pissing his life away.