How Ed can be bold without being macho

5th January, 2012 3:32 pm

Gosh Ed’s getting a lot of advice at the moment. Well, I say a lot, most of it seems to boil down to the same two key elements: Ed needs to define himself better and Ed needs to be bold. Sometime Ed is told to boldly define himself, sometimes to define himself boldly. But those are definitely the key themes, boldness and definition.

I agree that Ed has not yet properly defined his leadership with the public. The Westminster Press themselves are stumbling from Red Ed to Odd Ed via Dead Ed and Fratricidal Ed along the way. Ed needs a bold moment of definition, he needs a game changer.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think most of the voices calling for Ed to be “bold” actually mean bold. I think they mean macho. They want Ed to adopt some of Blair’s swagger, or Brown’s clunking fist. Even Ed’s admirers talk of his “core of steel” – a pointless hangover from too many comic book, 2D interpretations of what a hero is and can be.

But Ed is not macho. Nor does one have to be macho to lead. In fact the worst thing Ed could do now would be to attempt to adopt a macho pose he could in no way sustain, simply to appease those voices who would then turn around and decry him for being no good at it. It wouldn’t be bold. It would be a facsimile of what a political class has become used to being told is bold. It wouldn’t work.

For Ed to change the game, he needs to change the rules. I agreed with those who said that the post-hacking cries of “let Miliband be Miliband” were largely hubristic and overly indebted to what was, at the end of the day, a work of fiction that took a great deal of faith-leaping for granted. But actually, to be bold now, Ed must play to his strengths, and these include his thoughtfulness and reasonableness.

So how does one change the game by being thoughtful and reasonable? I would suggest, by doing so in an unexpected high-profile and unexpected arena. Where better than PMQs?

Ed Is regularly lambasted after PMQs for not being macho enough, and for letting Cameron win the battle of the jibes. Ed will never regularly win over the Bullingdon Bully if he continues to play by his rules. But PMQs is one area where the opposition can set the tone. The PM may have the last word, but he must respond to (but not – as we’ve see – necessarily answer) the questions put to him by Ed.

So Ed. I offer you this question for the opening of PMQs next Wednesday:

Would the Prime Minister agree with me that these are serious times, deserving of a serious debate? That, in his words, this isn’t the time for Punch and Judy politics? Will the Prime Minister join me in putting an end to the bluster, bad jokes and boorishness – from both sides – and agree to join me in an adult, dignified and informative debate on the issues the public care about?

At the same time, his team should release a statement saying:

In this time of unprecedented uncertainty in so many areas of our public life, the public deserve an opposition more interested in holding the Government to account than scoring points. I know I haven’t always done that.
David Cameron has some good jokes – some of them not even about my Brother! – and I’m happy to accept that this is an area he excels in. But this isn’t Britain’s Got Talent, it’s the one opportunity a week for the Prime Minister to be asked and to answer questions about the big issues his Government is dealing with.
I like a laugh as much as the next person. I love it when my backbenchers laugh at my jokes. I am human after all. But right now I think it’s more important that we get the answers the public deserve to the questions they want answered.
So here is my promise to the Prime Minister. I promise to treat the office of Prime Minister with the respect it deserves, and to work with the Prime Minister – if he’ll agree – to restore the dignity to these proceedings that he and the office he holds warrant. No more one-liners, no more point-scoring, just real questions that deserve real answers.
And to you the public I promise this: I will raise your concerns with the Prime Minister. Every week, anyone who wants to can email [email protected] with questions they feel the PM should answer. I can’t promise I’ll ask everything you send me, but I can promise I won’t let a week go by without raising your concerns alongside my own.
These are serious times, deserving of a serious debate. I hope we can work together to change the way we talk to each other in politics and public life, for the benefit of all those we serve who have been asking us to do so for so long.

So far, so bold. And here’s the thing – were Ed to take up this idea, I absolutely expect him to be crucified for it. At first. And that’s where the nerves of steel are going to have to kick in. I firmly believe this could be the game-changer Ed needs, but like many of his successes in challenging the orthodoxy it won’t be accepted overnight.

I’ve said before, that what Ed can most learn from Tony Blair is not his style, but his confidence in his own style. If Ed sticks to his guns, refuses to return to the jibes and point scoring, but merely illuminating the impact of the Government’s programme, does the kind of politics that suit him (and incidentally, do not suit the less serious David Cameron) this could be a Clause IV moment of his own, in his own style.

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  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    A nice – even bold – idea, but there is a problem.  Ed Miliband has no backbone, no definition, no nerves of steel, no charisma, no apparent intelligence, no assured instinct for the politically adroit position, no vision, no sense of history, no sense of timing or destiny.  What he does have is the misfortune to be the muppet who put his head above the parapet during the last leadership election, and was voted in by the unions as the least unacceptable candidate.

    He is clearly never going to be a Prime Minister, so the only question that remains is whether he is dumped by the Labour Party this side or next side of the 2015 General Election.

    • Usual nonsense. Glad that you will be supporting the Tories – I for one feel happier knowing you won’t be voting for us!

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Thanks Mike, if there were a GE tomorrow the only party that gains my approval is the SNP, not for the independence aspect, but for their non-independence policies.  But they don’t stand any candidates in Cambridgeshire, so I’m not at all sure who, or if I would vote for.

      • Anonymous

        I suspect a lot of others will be supporting the Tories as well or sitting at home wondering when we are going to get a leader to speak up for them, oh dam forgot Miliband mentioned  the middle class a few times this week, do you think you have enough middle class voters now to take you back to power considering Scotland has gone, ah yes but I’m forgetting the Tory swing voters your after.

        Some how this is looking more and more like the period  when Thatcher took over.

      • Anonymous

        Purity over electoral success. A winning attitude.

        • Oh yes, because making sure your core vote is disillusioned while you try and appeal to people who support policies like social cleansing and isolationism is SUCH a good idea!


          • J S Mills

            social cleansing is what happened in Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, need I go on….you little fool!!

    • John Ruddy

      Good to see the endless assertions without evidence are still here in 2012.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        I would indeed acknowledge any evidence of those characteristics I outline above, if there were any evidence.  It’s hard to prove something when there’s no evidence for it, but the counter-view is that on any number of occasions, when circumstances called for evidence of those characteristics, Ed Miliband did not oblige.  A year of flip flopping over any number of issues – the economy, where cuts would lie under Labour, Libya, Europe, the world financial crisis, even internal matters such as Refounding Labour – have shown him to be devoid of any of them.

  • Agree with that. Emma. I think its is always hard to move away from a stereotype particularly when it is one some seem to regard as a pre requisite for election – the smarmy, PR-approach of Blair and Cameron – but that is what we need to do.
    Perhaps its just me, but I find Alpha-males objectionable and to be avoided in all circumstances

  • Wasn’t this Cameron’s approach when he first became leader of the opposition? Didn’t work then, won’t work now I’m afraid.

    If Ed wants to be bold he should bring in OMOV. Now that would be bold.

    • Irrelevant. In any case, that would have to include our union affiliates. We are the Labour party, after all – not a wishy washy centrist liberal party based on individualism.

      • Anonymous

        We are the Labour party, prove it tell me  how you define this group of politicians as labour.

  • M Cannon

    At Prime Minister’s Questions Mr Milliband needs to stop asking about specific statistics (“Can the Prime Minister tell me how many paper clips were used by the Department of Defence in the first 6 months of last year?) and to address the issues of substance and principle head on.

    He might also try to use a trick Mr Hague used to some effect: commenting on the Prime Minister’s answer and then asking a question on a different subject.  This leaves the Prime Minister of the day trying both to deal with the response to his previous answer and answering the new question.  Mr Milliband has a tendency to get stucck in a rut.

    There is not much headway in trying to avoid “Punch & Judy” politics.  Like all leaders of the opposition he need to get himself on the TV news showing righteous indignation at the misdeeds of the government of the day. And pointing out how the government of the day has said one thing one day and done something quite different on another.

    That is not to say that there is not a time and place for statesmanlike questions, partiularly in relation to foreign affairs,  major disasters, etc. but there are not many headlines in that approach.

    The problem is that Mr Milliband does not appear to be sufficiently fleet of foot to make the necessary changes.

  • The Reality

    Jaime (or Tory Troll)

    Backbone-How about taking on Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking
    Definition-the squeezed middle, becoming the default phrase and the word of the year
    Nerves of steel- Taking Murdoch, see also standing in the leadership election in the first place
    Vision-See both conference speeches. A new economy, based on a more responsible capitalism, working for hard pressed squeezed middle of this country, not the irresponsible few.
    No sense of history-At least Ed knows when the second world war ended, unlike David Cameron
    No intelligence-That is quite frankly laughable. 
    No sense of destiny-Unlike David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg, he doesn’t strut around as if he is born to rule.

    As for the result of the next General election, it is a long way away but that Labour poll lead looks fairly solid. Can you tell me why any anti Tory, ex- Lib Dems are going to vote for either of the parties of Tory-led Gov’t?

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    A slightly different perspective.  Machismo in the Anglo culture has some quite negative connotations, about male superiority, perhaps a blinkered or un-nuanced view.  In modern Spain, which is now fully westernised it is the same.  I would argue that the more ancient hispanic usage of the word still has some utility, defining a sense of standing up for something as a noble cause, like a terrier dog may do.  The word derives from the 14th Century, and originally invoked a world in which a champion stood up not for his sex, but for people of both sexes against authority.  Catholic priests in the 16th and 17th centuries were encouraged to show machismo in their dealings with estate owners.  Even Don Quixote was proud when Dulcinea declares his machismo.  Of course, Don Quixote is a farce about the changing of the times from an ancient to a modern culture, but it is a farce still concerned about maintaining what is good of the past.

    Machismo is too undermined by modern connotations for any modern politician to want to be associated with the word, but perhaps there is still room for Labour – if not Ed Miliband – to want to inherit some of the original values and to proudly, and with passion,  stand up for the under dog, for the poorer sections of society, and to feel proud to represent them.  Perhaps the British bulldog spirit could be invoked?

    • Are you suggesting machismo succeeded, in any way, in Spanish culture?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        In the old sense, it did.  Simón Bolívar invoked it in the old sense – and acknowledged the lineage to his ideas to his great-great grandfather who came from Spain.  As late as 1936 the few Bishops and a number of Catholic priests who stood against Franco also invoked the word in sermons and letters to newspapers, but by then it was dying out in Spain in favour of the modern sense.

        To be clear, I am not making an argument for the modern interpretation, but only pointing out that in the past the concept was rather nobler than it is today.  If the old concept was today captured in another word there would be no point in me making this case, but I do believe that a sense of fighting on behalf if your community, your nation and for moral right – the original meaning of the word – is not adequately captured by any easy to grasp single word or phrase in modern English.  The closest I can get is to the British Bulldog spirit, but that is not exact and in any case has been appropriated by the tories and even the BNP.

        • Well, if you cast it as the spirit of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, I am quite keen to support it.  

          But it seems to me that feminist and LGBT groups such as Queer Nation and ACT-UP (both of which I participated in when I lived in New York, esp QN) manifested a lot of “spirit”.  

          I see no need to genderise “spirit”.

          I do agree though, that Ed seems to lack it.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            To be honest Paul I think that any proper academic examination of machismo would need to contain 3 distinct elements, and to try to draw a balance between them.  I am not an academic, but with your own interests in history (and no doubt powered by your own ideas of society and fairness), you could probably get some interesting material.

            The first element is the nature of the colonisation of South America, chiefly by Spain and Portugal, but also Dutch and English influences.  In most cases, the settlers arrived not as a result of disagreements with the nations of their birth, but rather with the agreement of governments, and with a desire to replicate their countries in the new territories.  They were conservative by nature.

            The second element is the nature of colonisation of the USA and Canada, where settlers arrived from many European countries and often getting away from poor conditions at home.  They were pioneers by nature, not conservative.  In terms of language and outlook, they diverged further from Europe than did the South American countries, and that very much continues today.  Now, many modern social movements – such as feminism – emerge from the USA.

            The third element is the nature of the Catholic Church which today loses power rapidly in South America, but which historically has been strong.  This has traditionally been a force for conservatism, even among revolutionaries.  There is a very tightly tied up set of thinking about morals, “rights”, standing up for yourself, looking after your community, and adherence to the concept of a nation state.  It does not all make sense in a left/right political domain, but it does as a sense of values.  In the South American sense, machismo is not a property of left or right, but has for hundreds of years been a noble characteristic to draw upon no matter what an individual was struggling for.  Of course, a force since the 1960s – feminism – now will slowly change that as well.

            So, after 300 years, it is entirely normal that machismo means one – noble – thing in South America, but in the USA and in Europe another.

            All of this gets away from the point of Emma’s article.  Ed does not need machismo, particularly if it is going to be misunderstood.  He needs cojones, which he does not have, and for which I think there is no dispute about meaning.

      • Sure. And the flip side to it, Limpieza de sangre. But he won’t want to talk about THAT.

  • Labour elected Milliband for the same reason you elected Foot. Both were seen as the least divisive candidate. In both cases you got what you asked for & then decided you wanted something else.
    In any case you cant change Leader now without tearing your Party apart.

  • Anonymous

    I occasionally listen to PMQs..  It’s all very well saying don’t be macho and lets be reasonable.

    It will only work if the House of Commons lets you. Which means changing the behaviour of all MPs from all parties. 

    I can’t see – for example – Dennis Skinner taking kindly to that.. Nor a host of Tory MPs..

    I think this article is whistling in the wind.

  • derek

    Emma with all respect it’s just more fluffy talk. What we really need to iron out is the deep divisions that still exist within the labour party and the fact that in the end new labour was an organisation that conservatives could only relate to. The tories have built their ethos around the notion the labour wrecked the economy and only they can mend it? Liam Byrne and the rest just play into the tory ethos and it is seen as nothing short than capitulation.When we continue with these all to evident splits between the Blairites and the Brownites and which brother would be best leader, all we are doing is creating the  impossible position for the leader to be a leader. Here’s what needs to happen, get the lot of the labour party PLP into a room and thrash it out for once and for all and in the end if those Blairites aren’t to happy well expel them, so yeah, Ed get tough, get them in a room and knock some heads together. 

    • Anonymous

      I liked that last bit Derek….

      • derek

        What can I say? I’m partly pleased! LoL 

    • Jonathan Roberts

      but what if the Blairites and progressives win that inter-PLP debate? Will the old left then have to be expelled? Or does the expulsion rule only apply to those you don’t like?

      • derek

        Jonathan, if that were to happen and the Blairites turned on Ed on a majority position, then I’d expect Ed to resign and millions of member with him.

        • derek

          Of course the labour brand and trade union affiliates would remain with Ed and the members, Blairites would be on their own without a political name nor brand.

  • Emma, 

    You really should be writing for Ed.

    And he really needs to do a Paxman at least once – asking the same question again and again until the PM actually answers it – in fact given how much Bercow and Cameron seem to loathe each other he could probably get away with it procedurally.  

  • Interesting to hear on the news today that Cameron has pledged to do more to take on tax avoiding corporations, promising a tougher approach towards big companies and their “fancy corporate lawyers”.

    This is an approach that Labour could and should take.

    Yet we all know what would happen if Ed said something similar: he’d be accused of “anti-business rhetoric” by a significant number of his own shadow cabinet.

    It seems, those who oppose unethical corporate power are not only found outside St Paul’s but also, surprisingly, on the Conservative front bench.

    You couldn’t make it up.

    • Anonymous

      Labour had 13 years to tackle tax avoidance. And did not.

      Which tells you ll you need top know about the priorities of all who worked in the Treasury.. Incl Balls. Indeed most of the Cabinet were wasters..

      “You could not make it up”..

      Well you don’t need to. Most of the people involved in the past 13 years of Government were unfitted to any senior post. Indeed their actions prove that (think expenses and lying about wars).

      I rate only one of them – who appeared both honest and competent . And he’s retired (Darling)

      • You only rate one of them… but Darling voted in favour of Labour’s biggest disgrace, the Iraq war.

        And Darling voted against an inquiry into the Iraq war.

        • Anonymous

          Miliband also voted against the investigation

    • Anonymous

      Look around you will a large number of labour front bench getting ready to become banking advisor.

  • Anonymous


    He’s a decent bloke but he doesn’t have leadership qualities.  He comes across as a nervous, awkward individual, lacking conviction and confidence.  We’ve been here before and we know where it ends.

    As a last ditch attempt, you want to re-write the rules of the game.  Fair enough.  It was tried with Brown (substance not style) and IDS (the quiet man of politics). 

    But PMQs is the least of our worries.  Cameron is dismantling the NHS – right now.

    It’s because of Ed’s awkward, unconfident, dithering management of the party that we don’t have a nationwide, in your face, city-by-city campaign to block the NHS bill.

    If they were led confidently, hundreds of thousands of people would take to the streets to protect our NHS.

    But who would take to the streets for Ed Miliband?


    PS. Remember M4C and all the big promises Ed made about this huge campaigning organisation? How’s that working out for us?  It’s just another example of his utterly absent leadership

    • Excellent points Jason. If only we had a nationwide, in your face, city-by-city campaign to save the NHS… 

      But because Labour started the ball rolling re privatisation a volte face now would seem opportunistic, unprincipled and dishonest.

      Unless, of course, Labour acknowledged previous errors and made a clean break with the past. But we know that just ain’t going to happen. Too many at the top would rather break the party than change course.

  • Anonymous

    What a brilliant idea!!!

  • Hamish

    Diane Abbott would be a bold leader.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve also been writing about this for ages Emma…..

    I think your suggestions are excellent- particuarly the first.

    I agree it would be totally false and ridiculous if Ed adopted
    some kind of macho guise; that’s not his style.
    Perhaps leave some of that to the Tories!
    It’s not in keeping with “modern life” anyway….

    I don’t think it’s so much the specifics on factors like boldness,
    (although that is needed in overall strategy;) as just developing
    the confidence and experience to be his own person, and speak his mind.
    He would gain respect for authenticity.

    As for strategy on direction of party etc;
    I think a huge amount more needs to be done, but very importantly,
    democratic process applied.

    I’ve written a lot about this elsewhere, but sometimes it feels like the blogs
    disappear off into the ether, so it’s hard to keep track of what’s already been said. 

    I think you have encapsulated really well Emma- great stuff.


  • Anonymous

    The tragically dim and weak Ed Miliband will NEVER lead his party to victory. Selah.

  • Devonchap

    Trouble with denouncing “bluster, bad jokes and boorishness” as a tactic at at PMQs is that if he feels the need ever to crack a joke or make a partisan attack, that statement will be thrown back at him. Parading holier than thou intentions only makes you look like a hyocrite when he inevitably breaks them.

  • Davidbrede

    The success of anyone at PMQ’s is for Ed Miliband to effectively ask the PM to vote against Christmas! 

    The PM then has to state why his opposition to Christmas is justified? 

    Last night the interviewer on ITV News asked the PM why as Plan A relied on 1m young people being out of work should he be considering Plan B? Of course he went on about his preference for being a one term PM doing the right thing etc but the point was made that he had accepted the assertion that he had put 1m young people out of work.


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