Sunday, 8 June 2014

Managing Ed Miliband

I've said this before, and I'll repeat it until I'm blue in the face. There is a current leader of a political party. His time in office has been marked by division, of colleagues going to war over who would be his successor, of backbench rebellions and open disloyalty, of habitually prevaricating in the face of crisis. There's him, and then there's Ed Miliband. Next to the Prime Minister, Ed's leadership has made the political weather on energy bills, zero hour contracts, low pay, Syria, and phone hacking. For the first time since 1992, Ed has been the first leader of a major party to break with the neoliberal consensus and lead on those issues that are anathema to market fundamentalism. He has shown himself to be tough. He has demonstrated resolve.

Yet, we inhabit a queer political juncture. Despite being - let's be fair to David Cameron - vacuous, unfeeling, incompetent and ineffectual, it's his opponent's mettle that is constantly questioned. Why? Apparently, Dave has the most elusive of qualities, of being 'prime ministerial'. Pinning this down is like tacking jelly to a notice board. As far as I can tell though, the PM's claims to this holy grail of politics is a smug self-confidence, the born-to-rule aura of someone who was, well, born to rule. That, and getting the last word at PMQs.

This, so the narrative goes, is a killer app our Ed lacks. Wholly undeservedly, Dithering Dave carries the air of competence. Ed on the other hand is, well ... he's just not like us. There is something of the wonk about him, a certain awkwardness that betrays an adulthood expended in constituency offices, think tanks, and Westminster. The "weirdness" voters attest to is an anxiety felt by many a party member and supporter. And in what will likely be a close election, questions about leadership will have a bearing on the outcome. Therefore, given the incessant belittling of the Labour leader and the traction the geeky tropes have, how do you manage Ed Miliband?

The short answer to that is not how he's being managed already. The leadership team Ed has assembled are experienced and look impressive on paper. But they don't know how to market 'Ed Miliband'. Time after time, they've tried to replace 'wonky Ed' with 'Ed the normal bloke'. A bacon sandwich later shows it to just look really desperate. Still, at least they haven't had him pictured with a pint and a fag. I don't want to say Ed's back room boffins are clueless, but they are clueless. I can understand that Labour need to fight 2015 as the, if you excuse the New Laboury phrase, 'reconnection election', but you don't do that by forcing on the leader 'I'm normal, me' gimmicks. Here then are some suggestions.

1. Turn a weakness into a strength. Everyone knows Ed's a geek. Everyone also knows geeks are clever, focused and passionate. So why not play up on this. I don't want to see Ed talking about the footy or having a campaigning takeaway. Instead, let's have snaps of Ed on the train with Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, The Economist, and Retro Gamer. More photo opps with Rubik's Cubes and pie charts. Occasionaly in-depth policy announcements. More pictures with acknowledged clever cloggs. Get the man an interview in New Scientist on climate change and green economics. Voters would like to think their leaders are very intelligent and have brains big enough to understand complex problems and propose solutions. Ed's an intellectual. Dave isn't. Use it.

2. The voters might think Ed's super geekoid, but they also rate him as most honest, and most likely to understand "normal people" problems. Already, the electorate has ceded us compassion and being 'most in touch' - helped in no small measure on the last year's focus on the cost of living crisis. Let's have Ed then constantly in works' canteens (cups of tea only!), children's centres, school gates, doctors' waiting rooms, CAB's and YMCA's. He absolutely has to be seen listening to ordinary people in ordinary locations about what matters to them as well as opportunities to sell policies that benefit the overwhelming majority of the electorate.

3. Relatedly, the "public meetings" in which the audience are hand-picked Labour friends and family have to be kept to a minimum. They might be alright for the odd set piece and good for morale - some party people love the idea of having "privileged access". But we need less Blair and Brown and more, yes, John Major. No, I haven't taken leave of my senses. In the 1992 election some, including lefties, mocked Major for travelling up and down the land to give stump speeches and answering all comers on a soap box. This allowed Major to claim the mantle of the authentic politician, of the one with the guts to face the public and not getting away with not answering questions. Ed has already done similar events ("Will you bring back socialism? That is what we're doing, sir!"), but more please. And yes, with a soap box - but make sure it's from a brand that pays all their taxes.

4. Regardless of the election's outcome, the 2010-15 opposition will go down in history as the most effective opposition ever. It hasn't stopped austerity in its tracks, and it has given the government some free passes - especially on immigration and social security. Yet, as I noted in the opening, no opposition has defined the political agenda more than this one. This speaks of Ed as a perceptive, consistent and occasionally ruthless leader. To have managed such feats and exploited his compromised opponents so successfully shows he is more than competent for the top job. So let's hear a more about this, sans Mandelsonian "I'm a fighter, not a quitter" theatrics.

These are Ed's qualities - his intellect, compassion, courage, and competence. May I humbly suggest to Ed and those around him that the best way to manage the leader is to play to his strengths.


Speedy said...

all well and good, but you're wrong on (4) - apart from Syria, what?

he totally lost (did not even make) the most important argument - he let the public sector take the blame for the crisis. Criminal incompetence.

furthermore it is not just being a geek - the public knows he cannot make a decision. He is congenitally indecisive, except when it comes to knifing his own brother (which was never going to go down well).

And he is indecisive Phil, it's not just a mis-perception. He will not win the election.

Gary Elsby said...

Point 7:

Then let's hope nobody minds not having a referendum vote on the EU.

Anonymous said...

The "knifing your own brother" claptrap is pure Daily Mail speak. We voted for him, remember, because we believed he was the right candidate

Speedy said...

er.... actually, as a Labour member i did not vote for him, because i knew he was the wrong candidate.

The majority of Labour members voted for his brother.

Ed was put in by the unions, looking out for their own interests. Ordinary members knew he was a loser.

the unions are congenitally stupid - ushered in Thatcher with their winter of discontent and handicapped Labour with their placeman, incapable of preventing them carving up the NHS or defending the public sector from the blame of the crisis.

What an utter, utter loser, only it's the people who lost. Thanks again unions.

Phil said...

It's funny how you go from ultra-leftism to right-wing positions at the flip of a coin, Speedy ;).

Just remember, it was individual union members who decided to back Ed by a small but significant majority. *Individual members*.

Okay, you don't like Ed. Fine, that's your prerogative. But put away your David blinkers and look at the evidence. Labour has led the way consistently on a whole raft of policy that addresses the lives of every day folk. That's not me spinning his record - it is demonstrable and real.

Do I think Ed should go further? Of course he should. Will he go further if he becomes Prime Minister. Yes, I think he will.

Your problem I'm afraid Speedy is you've already given up on 2015, that means you've given up on the chance of scrapping the bedroom tax, tackling zero hours contracts, building up to a million new homes, and significantly raising the minimum wage. That's a shame because all hands are needed on deck and for those, like you, who are anti-Ed, instead of moaning you need to start thinking about how to use his strengths more effectively - that is, of course, if you want us to win.

Jackie said...

I got here via a tweet.
I'm not a Labour Party member but voted for them in the last General Election after falling out of love with the LibDems during the 2005/7 leadership shenannigans.
I will not vote LibDem again, and I have and will never vote Conservative.
So, my vote is up for grabs and I've been hovering around Labour since the last election.
I absolutely believe you got the wrong Miliband, but what's done is done and you have to do the best with what you've got.
I've seen him 'in the flesh' a few times and he comes over as dedicated and thoughtful.
The thing is, you can mess around with Miliband Minor all you want, but you will not make him look like a leader while he allows himself to be made to look mindless by his so called advisors.
Either he hasn't got the instinct and perception to see that's happening, or he's demonstrating appalling judgement for not stopping these situations arising (advertising The Sun!) then he's not going to win in 2015.
If it was down to me, I'd get shot of him now while there's still time.

Phil said...

He's a curious beast. I think he has got nous and consistency. You don't get to the top of the Labour pile by being hapless. Then again, we all have our blind spots and this, in politics, are supposed to be the bits your spads and media people keep an eye on. Clearly, something is very, very wrong.

WHS said...

"Everyone knows Ed's a geek. Everyone also knows geeks are clever, focused and passionate. So why not play up on this."

"Ed's an intellectual. Dave isn't."

Yes, great, please go for this. All the voters go for geeks, especially out-and-out self-confessed geeks. Go tell the world Ed has "intellectual self-confidence", i.e. is a self-confessed bighead whereas Dave (scoff, snort, get this!)... doesn't! How can that old thicko possibly compete against Labour's campaign of the intelligentsia telling the little people what's best?

By the same token Stanley Baldwin will never win over the people with that pipe-chewing plain country-man shtick, and Thatcher (who - gosh! - only got a 2:2 at Oxford, Christ how thick is she?) won't get that homely housewife live-within-yer-means shpiel over.

What the British want is someone who can pronounce neo-endogenous growth theory like they know what it means. And who - most important - can sneer at the Tories for not playing the same game.

Phil said...

I never knew this blog would be the site of a medical first, but here we have it ladies and gentleman. In this here comment box we have isolated a digital sample of the British disease.