Barely a month ago and according to a many lobby hacks and commentators, Ed Miliband was the political equivalent of a ‘dead man walking’. Here, for instance, is a flavour of the venom being poured into one newspaper, The Times, by David Aaronovitch ; “He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping.”
Admittedly Aaronovitch’s main motivation was incandescent fury at Ed Miliband’s successful blocking of the race to war in Syria. The ‘scavenging vulture’ that was Ed Miliband along with Douglas Alexander had taken a long, hard look at what David Cameron had planned for Syria and recoiled. As a result of the Parliamentary vote, British and American missiles were not launched at Syria that same night. Instead Russia and America entered into direct negotiations which led in turn to a UN Security Council resolution being passed aimed at destroying the causus belli, Syria’s chemical weapons. The resolution was accepted by Syria and that process is underway.
As a direct result of Miliband’s leadership and that Parliamentary vote, a momentous thaw in relations has begun between the United States and Iran. It is even possible that the anonymous Russian who said of Britain prior to that vote in Parliament that Britain was a country that no one made ‘much attention to anymore’, may have recanted.
So much nonsense has been peddled about Ed Miliband, and more lately his father, it must be hugely tempting for those close to him to shield him from the daily bile, much as Charles Clarke and Neil Stewart were wont to do for Neil Kinnock. But it would seem that Ed Miliband is that unusual politician, who appears largely unruffled by the brutish attacks launched on him, if not his late father, Ralph. It would also appear that by and large he takes the longer view, which might explain that aura of Buddhist serenity conferred on him by Tom Watson. Either way, that Westminster disease of short-termism doesn’t appear to afflict him, which is perhaps why he appeared so relaxed at the prospect of the big energy cartels kicking back violently against his plans for a two year price freeze.
So the month that saw Ed Miliband go from dead man walking to tall man soaring puts Harold Wilson’s old saw about ‘a week being a long time in politics’ into a new perspective. It also goes to show – even taking into account the strangely politically inactive preceding year from sections of Labour’s front bench – how over excitable and increasingly mendacious sections of the press and social media have become. The universal dumbing down also continues in the broadcast media, although Newsnight’s loss in recent months has definitely been Channel 4 News’ gain.
So given the levels of hostility that have been on display against Ed Miliband (and so far in front of a General Election), what can he and the Labour Party expect over the next eighteen months and what if anything can be done to counter it? The response to the Daily Mail attack on Ralph Miliband gives an idea of what can be done. Rather than take and absorb the low blows, triangulate and grovel, the Labour leader directly challenged the ludicrous hatchet job and extracted an apology for the Mail on Sunday’s gate crashing of a private memorial service. An overwhelming majority of the public sided with Ed Miliband as did a majority of Daily Mail readers. As much as the Mail may wish to wreak vengeance, it is equally now possible that if it does, the public – wised up and aware – will continue to judge it negatively.
The press, as Stefan Stern has argued elsewhere on LabourList, continues to decline in circulation and influence – but it does still help set the agenda for much of our dumbed down broadcasting. So not only does Ed Miliband and the Labour Party need to come out fighting hard wherever necessary, he and it need to be getting the message out more powerfully and effectively in the broadcast media.
There needs to be far more interaction with the public, far more appearances in the regions and much more activity with regional broadcasters and of course social media.<
Ed Miliband certainly looks and sounds more relaxed on television, which is where the majority of voters will see him and make their decisions about him and the party as we run into the next General Election. However all too often not enough thought is being given to how and where he appears. The Labour leader could also do with some broadcast training. (I should declare an interest here, as I first suggested that Ed Miliband could do with broadcast training two years ago to his office, and that as a former broadcast journalist I would be happy to help. I hasten to add that I am not doing so again).
If Ed Miliband is to get his voice heard over the so called Westminster belt-way, even more effectively, he needs some of the brightest and the best to find and make use of everything that the broadcast and social media can offer. It may mean reviving the ‘Rapid Rebuttal Unit’, while all the while appreciating that New Labour spent far too much time inventing headlines for the press, while triangulating and watering down policies that didn’t meet that same press approval.