Miliband gets his retaliation in first

28th July, 2014 8:24 am

Of course Ed Miliband isn’t really like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. If he was he’d have been eating a Wensleydale sandwich instead of a bacon one, and none of this fuss would ever have happened.

OK, maybe not. The leader of the opposition, especially one who is seen as a threat by newspaper proprietors and other powerful interests, is bound to be scrutinised relentlessly and sometimes not very fairly. It happens – and the Labour leader knows it.

Which is why he was right to confront the question of his image in that speech on Friday . It was going to be discussed in any case from now until the election. Trying to put his side of the story – trying, in effect, to reframe the whole question of image and leadership – was a wise thing to do.

The speech has achieved several things. For one, it will now be just a bit harder – but only a bit – for the lobby and broadcasters to run endless pieces about Miliband’s appearance and demeanour. They still will, of course. Indeed, some will take Friday’s speech as an act of defiance and a provocation, which must be met by an even greater focus on the leader’s teeth, hair, eyes and so on. But Miliband now has an easy answer to any questions on this subject: it is to sigh gently, smile sweetly, and say that he has dealt with that, and that voters in the run-up to an election would probably rather think about more important matters. And when he says that he will be right.

In fact, more thoughtful and sensible Conservatives think so too. As Toby Helm reported in yesterday’s Observer, several leading Tories (and especially Tory women) are worried about the impact of an excessively personal and mean-spirited campaign targeted on Miliband. If you are trying to convince people you are no longer the “nasty party” then being nasty would not seem to be a very good idea. Cameron was partially successful in his attempted “detoxification” of the Tory “brand” in the run-up to 2010, and won back some support. Renewed toxicity will cost him crucial votes.

Friday’s speech also reframed the question of leadership. Miliband said he believed leadership was about “big ideas, principles, decency and empathy”. The contrast with David Cameron was deliberate, stark – and telling. Cameron, after all, has declared proudly that “there is nothing very complicated about me”. He is suspicious of big ideas and would rather not think too deeply about any of them. The principles he espoused in opposition – of being committed to green policies, of believing in compassionate conservatism – did not survive contact with his red boxes. The man who took Andy Coulson with him into No 10 on a nod and a wink, and who will turn up on a tennis court for the highest oligarch bidder, can hardly be said to be concerned about decency in public office. And the driving force behind the bedroom tax and severe work capability assessments is clearly rather lacking in the empathy department.

Ed Miliband’s opponents attack him on his appearance because they are worried his ideas will win support. They will try to deny him a hearing, and focus instead on trivia and superficial issues. The Conservatives will accuse Miliband of being weak even while they are too scared to agree to televised debates.

Ideas, principles, decency and empathy – it would make a pleasant change, wouldn’t it? I favour seriousness over smarm, and I choose decency over sleaze. By polling day quite a lot of people may do so too.

Stefan Stern is Contributing Editor of LabourList

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  • thewash

    With regard to setting the agenda for the next General election, I think Labour and particulary Ed Miliband, are ahead of the game. They are undermining, to some extent, the attack positions of the Tories and making life difficult for them on specific issues.

    The Tories on the other hand are fighting last century’s battles with last century’s language and failing.

  • Pete Firmin

    Many Labour supporters (and members like me) have always thought it was about substance not appearance. But we see that as the problem – the policies Ed comes out with are so mealy-mouthed and timid that they enthuse no-one. Just saying you will continue with coalition policies with some kind of more human touch doesn’t really do it. The attitude to rail renationalisation says it all.

  • markmyword49

    In the age of rolling news and all other types of media the suggestion that it should be policies not presentation that voters take account of when putting their cross against a candidates name is laughable. Its a combination of both.
    I read somewhere that its the first ten seconds when you meet or see a person that decides your opinion of them. Its said Miliband makes a favourable impression when met face to face. Sadly the same cannot be said when seen on TV.
    I blame Miliband for part of his problem because he isn’t pushing his shadow cabinet team to be more high profile. He’s taking far too much airtime and column inches. I realise its difficult to get the media to interview opposition politicians but there needs to be an effort made to get more of them out there. If they can’t do it then sack them and replace them with ones who can.

    • Mike B

      A good point on pushing forward the cabinet. They are a strong group although I think some kind of reshuffle is likely soon.

  • MrSauce

    Can someone please post that set of Ed posing with The Sun pictures again?
    Let’s just see how much Ed is ‘seen as a threat by newspaper proprietors’.
    Ta.

    • Doug Smith

      His support for military intervention in Libya – now, like Iraq, a failed state – tells us all we need to know about Ed’s “principles” and “decency”.

      • Gerald Allen

        As a 70yr old pensioner; what makes my blood boil, is the response of the trolls on here to the vicious personal attacks on Ed Milliband by the media puppets of the the most vile, reactionary government we have had the misfortune to suffer since the coalition of Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s.
        The absolute priority of any decent progressive on here, or anywhere else must be the defeat of Scameron and his ConDems. While I am not a member of the Labour Party(actually, someone who worked for George Galloway in the Bradford W. by-election and also made a financial contribution to his campaign)I shall be doing everything that I can to achieve the return of a Labour government; while I expect very little from a Labour government, particularly with the constraints they will have to face i.e. any progressive legislation they will try to implement that costs more than £1.50p they will come under attack from the speculators of the City of London, Wall St, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Singapore, Zurich etc to destabilise any Labour government.
        I always remember the words of Bill Jones, a leader of the London busmen at a conference in 1967 to ultra leftists who were calling for a general strike to defeat Barbara Castle’s anti union legislation. Bill Jones told them from the platform “You are saying Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle are betraying the working class; well let me tell you comrades, I haven’t seen one Labour government betray the working classes, I’ve seen three Labour governments betray the working classes and until we can build a movement strong enough to prevent them from betrayals they will carry on doing so.” Therefore Doug Smith etc the answer is to buld a movement that will be able to resist the attacks on a legislative programme that Labour will/may enact. A very difficult, but not impossible task, also, when seeing the media attacks plus the ConDem’s tuppenceworth just paraphrase Bill
        Clinton”IT’S THE POLITICS STOOPID.”

        • Steve Stubbs

          That’s a new one, a Respect Party Troll…

          • Gerald Allen

            Steve Stubbs; Where did I say that I was a member of the Respect Party? Regarding trollery, you post on here far more than I do, so I suppose if the cap fits wear it. Again, not very often that you’re right Steve, but you’re wrong again, as always.

          • Steve Stubbs

            Wel I stand to be proved wrong, but I don’t think I have ever on this or any other blog disparaged anyone for their looks, demenour, ability to eat bacon rolls, tennis playing etc.

            Where I have taken issue with Ed and mini-Ed is the lack of firm policies, the use of soundbites that turn into nothing, uncosted and not thought through pie-in-the-sky statements which then sink without trace. I don’t believe I am a troll here, it says at the top it is for discussion on all things labour so to speak, and as a paid up party member yes, I do have my say. And often. As someone on the right of the party spectrum, I reserve the right to point out what I think is rabid nonsense from some of our more left-leaning posters, and the one thing that gets up my nose is hypocrisy. Such as those who complain about personal attacks on labour grandees whilst making the self-same personal attacks on tory grandees themselves.

            Like you I remember watching Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle being humiliated by egotistical union leaders, who then went totally out of control, brought down the labour government in 1979, and left us to the tender mencies of Margaret Thatcher, a direct result of their ego trips.

            I am only 3 years younger than you, and have lived through the same series of labour governments. I still think that this party is no place for the hard left – if they want hard left policies and leadership then they should go start their own party, and not hide here pretending to be labour when they are way to the left of any labour party I recognise. Entryism I think they call it, riding on the coat tails of others rather than be honest, publish their own manifesto under their own banners, and generally stop polluting our patch.

          • Doug Smith

            “union leaders, […] brought down the labour government in 1979”

            Callaghan issued his suicide note when he accepted the neo-liberal settlement in 1976. In a speech he said: “We can no longer spend our way out of recession.”

            This led to the wage caps which precipitated the Winter of Discont, bringing about Callaghan’s downfall.

            Callaghan could teach Labour an important lesson: mimicking Tory policy doesn’t work. Blair offered a radical programme in ’97 and won a landslide. But, once elected, it was mostly abandoned and consequently Labour lost 5 million votes during the New Labour era.

          • treborc1

            We can no longer spend our way out of recession.”

            I knew I have heard that one before and for the life of me I could not put my finger one it, we will not be the party of tax and spend those days are over, yea MIliband is Callaghan.

          • Steve Stubbs

            I think he also said “you can’t borrow your way out of debt crisis” . Sounds sensible to me.

        • Doug Smith

          “I shall be doing everything that I can to achieve the return of a Labour government; while I expect very little from a Labour government”

          So much energy expended, so little expected in return.

          Labour ignores you when it knows it can depend on your vote.

          • treborc1

            70 years old and learned sod all.

        • ColinAdkins

          Thank you. I think I have found another person posting who isn’t afraid of being called ideological!

          • Steve Stubbs

            All politics is ideological, from the far right of Fascism via the Racism of Respect and the BNP to the far left of the SWP and Communism. Without ideology you have no politics. To pretend that only one set of views is ideological is total nonsense.

          • Gerald Allen

            No need for any thanks Colin; I’m only stating what should be the bleedin’ obvious. gunnerbear , JoeDM & co are obviously Tory trolls so we expect nothing from them, but their specious arguments that they put up have to be rebutted. What gets my goat with the likes of Doug Smith, Treborc1 et al is that their posts are so unrelentantly negative; as I/we have often stated,yes we know that Labours programme is very lukewarm/wishy-washy and they’re wetting themselves to get on here and join in with the yellow press and media in the vicous personal attacks on Ed Milliband, without realising that if Labour were to produce policy statements that were to call for wholesale nationalisation etc the yellow media would unleash such a barrage of propaganda that would make the 1992 election campaign against Labour and Neil Kinnock look like a vicarage tea party,and there would also be Mandelson, Flint, Murphy, Alexander and all the other Blairites surrounding Milliband, let alone the ConDems.
            While I want to see a far more vigorous campaign from Labour(and for me personally a socialist programme of the like which Labour hasn’t produced since 1945 is what I would like to see) I have to accept that the absolute priority has to be the defeat of this bunch of class warriors next May. Therefore, there has to be a minimum programme of maximum unity to achieve the defeat of these vile ConDems and follow the advice of Polly Toynbee at the 2005 election ie: “When you go into the polling booth to vote Labour, stick a clothes peg over your nose”

          • treborc1

            Sorry I do not use clothes pegs to vote for people who tried to send me back to work through ATOS, or tried to get me moved to JSA by using UNUM Provident .
            I threw my clothes peg away a long time ago.
            I’m sick or the Tories and the Tory Lite party.

          • Gerald Allen

            Treborc1;There really isn’t much point in discussing politics on here with you, but it’s an open programme and anyone can post on here, but, don’t you think you would feel more at home on a UKIP site or even ConservativeHome. where I’m sure you will feel very much at home. Leave this site to those of us who can see that this vile bunch of class warriors will make Blair/Brown/New Labour look like philanthropists should the electorate be crazy enough to re-elect them, and are salivating over the prospect of(highly improbable)re-election, and an even bigger onslaught on the health service and all other public spending than we have seen over the last 4 years.
            Btw I was an early victim of Blair/Browns creation ATOS after 45 years in the building industry

  • Stephen Rogers

    I think, it is a little unfair to state that Ed’s policies are mealy-mouthed. I for one am enthused by his poliicies. I can assure you that I am no Blairite, but we can’t afford to alienate the general voters. Last week, I would have agreed with your point about the renationalisation of the railways. The idea of cooperatives and mutuals sounds interesting. We have to move forward and ideas have to change with the times. I would consider myself left of centre, but the Labour Party has to break out of the rut of knee jerk responses. The Party that will win the next general election, will be the Party with exciting and original ideas, which are seen as fair. I have complete trust in Ed , as I think he genuinely wants to make society fairer. So let’s,at least,give serious consideration to the policies that are being put forward. We need to evoke the spirit of 1945, but we also need also to move with the times. Having said that, I really do believe that Ed can be the 21st century Clem Atlee.

    • Dan

      “but we can’t afford to alienate the general voters.”

      That’s right. So why are Labour promising to continue austerity, when 60% of the public say there is no need for 5 years more of cuts according to a Lord Ashcroft poll?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Why should you trust a poll? Most members of the public are not economic experts. It doesn’t matter what they think, it is nothing more than emotion and utterly valueless.

        • Doug Smith

          “Governments should do the right thing”

          Your naivety is touching.

          There is no consensus among ‘expert’ economists as to what the ‘right thing’ is, and they often disagree ferociously. In reality there are a variety of ‘right things’.

          The ‘right thing’ is best revealed by voting/polling: the position/policy receiving the most votes becomes the ‘right thing’ for most people. Sorted.

          • Steve Stubbs

            No. The right thing is not revealed by voting and polling, it is revealed by the results of the decisions that were made, were they right or were they wrong?

        • ColinAdkins

          I agree Jaime. They say one thing in the polls but vote another way. Whilst polls are good indicators they are not set in stone.

        • Dan

          “Why should you trust a poll? Most members of the public are not economic experts. I certainly am not, nor is anyone else who comments on LL who I have read in the last four years. It doesn’t matter what the public think, it is nothing more than emotion and utterly valueless.”

          But this is a different point. What I was getting at is that people are constantly defending Labour’s timid and cowardly programme on the grounds that “it’s not worth it if you don’t appeal to the public”, yet the polls show that the current economic stance of Labour in support of more austerity is unpopular. If appealing to people is the name of the game like Stephen Rogers says, then it’s necessary to move well to the left on economic issues.

          For what it’s worth, I actually agree that parties shouldn’t just agree with whatever the public says regardless. MY main reasoning for wanting Labour to oppose austerity is not because it would be a popular stance (even though I think it would be), it’s because Labour backing Tory spending plans will inevitably increase inequality and poverty, and decimate public services

  • althejazz

    Nothing wrong with looking like Wallace – he is a lovable character of impeccable taste and slightly eccentric. Cameron and his cohorts are exactly what they look like – a bunch of shysters who will smile in your face and stab you in the back when you turn away. I am particularly incensed by that nasty little oik, idiot drunken stiff who seems to think he has the right to treat everyone but his class ridden cronies with as much respect as something he would scrape off the sole of his shoe. Ed should be distancing himself as far as possible from the bunch of crooks who currently run this country for their own benefit. Happily, he seems to be doing this very well so all it needs now is to get the right policies lined up to attract the voters and leave the U kippers to undermine the tories’ vote

    • Paul Bateman

      Wallace is also inventive, and a three-time Oscar winner.

      Less is said about David Cameron looking like Iggle-Piggle from In the Night Garden. Iggle-Piggle is blue, carries around a blanket and falls over a lot.

  • treborc1

    Well really if you disagree with Austerity or you think wage increases are now needed then sadly none of the three main parties are worth bothering with.

    I do not know what Farage answer is to all this I suspect it will be the same, austerity for the poor, bankers bonuses for the rich.

    Labour sorry One nation Disraeli party of the Progress party will be on your side if your in work hard working and middle class.

    Does it matter how a person eats his food , it does if you look at how Miliband eats a sandwich of course it does, can you imagine him as a gig do in some country with the wine and a sandwich brigade and Miliband does what he did, he looked terrible.

    We all know these day how you look, how you dress, what you do matters to this young brigade who see Celebrities in all aspect of life.

    But whom every is writing Miliband speeches they better have somebody with him because it failed with Brown, these speeches look every much like when Brown had his image problems we all remember the famous add with Brown, sadly he was a car crash waiting.

    I suspect the young will not vote the pensioners will not care and the poor will know which ever one you vote in Austerity is here for long time, but for the poor not the rich.

  • treborc1

    Well really if you disagree with Austerity or you think wage increases are now needed then sadly none of the three main parties are worth bothering with.

    I do not know what Farage answer is to all this I suspect it will be the same, austerity for the poor, bankers bonuses for the rich.

    Labour sorry One nation Disraeli party of the Progress party will be on your side if your in work hard working and middle class.

    Does it matter how a person eats his food , it does if you look at how Miliband eats a sandwich of course it does, can you imagine him as a gig do in some country with the wine and a sandwich brigade and Miliband does what he did, he looked terrible.

    We all know these day how you look, how you dress, what you do matters to this young brigade who see Celebrities in all aspect of life.

    But whom every is writing Miliband speeches they better have somebody with him because it failed with Brown, these speeches look every much like when Brown had his image problems we all remember the famous add with Brown, sadly he was a car crash waiting.

    I suspect the young will not vote the pensioners will not care and the poor will know which ever one you vote in Austerity is here for long time, but for the poor not the rich.

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  • gunnerbear

    “The principles he espoused in opposition – of being committed to green policies, of believing in compassionate conservatism – did not survive contact with his red boxes.” And neither will Ed’s if he gets into power – because being in govt. means making decisions and attempting to steer the ship o’ state in the real world, not from the beach.

  • gunnerbear

    “And the driving force behind the bedroom tax and severe work capability assessments is clearly rather lacking in the empathy department.”All either introduced or planned to be introduced by Labour when they were in power.

  • glassfet

    Ed’s principles are clear for all to see
    Monday, fly half way round the World for a selfie with Obama instead of debating Ukraine in the HoC
    Friday, make a speech decrying photo op politics
    Self serving cynicism and contempt for the voters are not attractive principles

  • Graeme Hancocks

    Quite. Well written.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    The biggest problem for the Tories saying “Ed looks weird,” is that most people’s response will be, “…and you don’t?”

    Osbourne is the evil twin of Tim Nice-But-Dim and Gove looks like Pob.

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