It will be interesting to see what is said by speakers at this year’s Labour Conference. While it is always easier to be in opposition, Labour doesn’t seem to be capitalising on this enough. What Ed has dubbed the Coalition’s “addiction to austerity” – i.e. the Coalitions brutal assault on a number of state services – hasn’t pushed up polls as much as many predicted it would do.
When the election does come round, call me naive, but I think that the people who give a political party victory are those that just genuinely ‘like’ a candidate. Like you ‘like’ the guy at work who is funny, never fucks you around and doesn’t talk about you behind your back. Of course there are other factors, but Labour faces a huge struggle now that Ed has the reins and not his brother.
I don’t dislike Ed at all – in fact I think he’s beginning to improve his ability to deal with the media and present himself as a viable Prime Minister. His commitment to his beliefs and his passion to refound the Labour Party is clearly evident in the more recent interviews he has done, most recently with Andrew Marr.
His ability to remain calm while articulating his views with wide, listening eyes is impressive – a quality both the Miliband brothers have. Rumours are circulating that Ed is having media training. This is probably a wise idea.
Watching his brother David on Question Time with anti-war campaigner Tariq Ramadan; the pro-Iraq War hawk Richard Perle; Defence Secretary Liam Fox (who recently said to a defence magazine that he wants to run the MoD “like a business”) and playwright and critic Bonnie Greer made me realise that if David had won the leadership contest a year ago, things would be different for the Labour Party. Although I don’t idolise Tony Blair or the decisions he made as Prime Minister, at times his communication skills were captivating. Although David was under less pressure on the Question Time panel due to being largely absent from frontline politics, you could see his intellectual eloquence radiating when discussing the invasion of Iraq. It is telling that a poll from the Mail on Sunday reports that four times more people think David rather than Ed should have won the leadership – and according to the Sun, just 5% of people view Ed as a “natural leader”.
It’s not just about how photogenic a Prime Minister is, though. Ed has made it very clear that he has values and does not try to hide them, and that he believes politics is changing in a profound way. Not being ‘Prime Ministerial’ enough is a criticism some have made of the opposition leader. I think it could do him some favours, to be honest. The pictures of him walking into Lime Street Liverpool Station with his kids on his shoulders might make a small change in the overall public perception of him as a person, not just as a potential Prime Minister. After all, he isn’t a Prime Minister (yet) and the general election is several years away. Connecting with the public is one of the keys to the ‘refounding’ of Labour – all the talk of engaging with communities depends on how a leader can listen to them, but at the same time present themselves in the right way. It’s difficult, but it can be done. A suit taking a brief walk round a poor suburb of London isn’t always attractive, particularly if they are a member of government. Breaking away from the established method of political public relations is drastic, but it will be interesting to see whether or not his relaxed attitude to his role as the leader of the Labour Party works.
This week’s Labour Conference will confirm whether or not Ed is a viable leader for his party. Policies come from the party machine itself, but he is the messenger and the figurehead until he enters government and becomes one of the most powerful men in the country.
Let’s hope that he can prove to his party that winning the next election is a race they can win.