This morning Ed Miliband wrote a piece for The Sun. That’s a point that’s worth noting on its own. The Labour Leader hasn’t written for (and has had little to do with) The Sun since the phone hacking scandal erupted nearly two years ago.
Whilst writing for a Murdoch paper isn’t (on its own) enough to anger some senior figures in the party (as it was when Maurice Glasman tried to write a column for the Sun on Sunday), it’s still a bit of a leap of faith for the Labour Leader, considering the bias in their reporting and their barely disguised dislike of the man.
But disliking a politician doesn’t mean you can ignore him. As David Cameron’s limited EU bounce dissipates, boundary changes are consigned to the dustbin of history, the government confirms its incompetence, the economy tanks and the Tory Party braces itself for its next internal row (Gay Marriage, if you were wondering) – even The Sun must realise that Ed Miliband becoming Britain’s next Prime Minister is not out of the question.
And The Sun are nothing if not pragmatic. It was never “The Sun Wot Won It” (don’t believe the hype) but they’re usually good at predicting how the dice will fall come Election Day.
But for Miliband to be accepted by the paper that lambasted him as “Red Ed“, he’ll need to present himself in a different way. Could “Everyman Ed” be the framing he needs?
Sure, it seems like a long shot for a cardigan wearing, Fabian pamphlet reading, Rubik’s cube solving self-confessed nerd to be accepted as an Everyman. Add onto that the lifetime in politics and the period as a lecturer at Harvard (not to mention being raised by Marxists) and the proposition begins to seem highly unlikely indeed.
And yet – being an Old Etonian, PR man, multi-millionaire (and horse riding with Rebekah Brooks) didn’t stop Cameron from rolling out the “Call Me Dave” schtick.
Today’s Sun piece is an example of what Everyman Ed might look like. The focus is on apprenticeships, the “forgotten 50%” who don’t go to University and the need to include everyone – not just people with educations like Ed Miliband’s – in the economy and the recovery. It’s all very One Nation, and also has some genuine policy meat too. Expanding the UCAS university application service to include apprenticeships and job applications is an eminently smart idea and avoids the cliff edge of young people going from full-time education straight into unemployment.
Most of the focus though is on apprenticeships. Miliband argues that a huge project like HS2 should produce 33,000 new apprenticeships. Compared to the number started last year in the country as a whole (a frankly pathetic 49,700) that’s a laudable aim.
But if Ed wants to be an Everyman, he needs to think like someone outside of the Westminster bubble. “Experts” may well say that a £33 billion contract should produce at least 33,000 apprenticeships, but to the average Sun reader, one apprenticeship per million pounds spent is going to sound pretty small fry.
Ed and those around him are beginning to talk the talk (I never thought I’d see an Ed Miliband article that talked about “the relegation zone”) but if he really wants to be an Everyman, appeal to the (somewhat mythical) ‘man on the street’ and stop being seen as a wonk, he needs to stop thinking like a wonk too.
Today was a good start. But the problem with Ed Miliband has never been the ideas, but the size of the ambition. Next month we should see a fleshing out of Labour’s plan to reshape the economy, perhaps even moving beyond “too far too fast”. Ed Miliband should invert that mantra when it comes to his own plans.
In he truly wants to rebuild Briain, then should be going further, and faster.