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Convince me, Ed, by convincing Josephine and Xiomara

Miliband Hope imageLabour could elect a leader equipped with movie star sex appeal, a double first in applied astrophysics, Churchillian oratory, the ability to juggle three flaming torches simultaneously and serious talent as a hard bop tenor saxophonist. And still the first thing the Tory media would say about her is that she was ‘unconvincing’.

Such is the designation that the Quentin Letts of this world have made stick to everyone who has held the top job throughout my adult lifetime. Variously they have been lambasted as donkey jacketed coffin-dodgers, Welsh windbags, staid Scottish bank managers, satanically-possessed crypto-communists or closet autistics who only bother to get up each morning to advance their own prime ministerial ambitions.

Whatever today’s variation, the charge has been that “Labour is out of touch”, and that those who head it understand average voters about as well as they understand colloquial Swahili. The latest victim is Ed Miliband, routinely portrayed as the Sheldon Cooper of British politics, a geeky loser with all the stage charisma of those I-speak-your-weight machines once found at tacky 1960s seaside resorts. Chin up, mate. It kind of goes with the territory.

Part of the evidence is the the speech he made last week, which I have just managed to catch up on, after contriving to spend the duration of Labour conference on a hectic work trip to Hong Kong. Watching it online after the event, it plainly does not deserve the adjective ‘inspirational’. Then again, British politics doesn’t really do inspirational anymore, does it?

Those of us that recall Benn, Scargill and Skinner in full flight at mass public meetings during the miners’ strike, or who watched Norman Tebbit electrify the annual Conservative Nuremburg rallies of the period, will know that all of today’s major politicians are duds on this score.

Miliband is no rabble-rousing Red Robbo in the Longbridge car park, then. So heavy-handed is his delivery that he probably couldn’t raise a belly laugh at a northern working men’s club if Roy Chubby Brown was scripting the gags.

So what? This does not make him obviously worse than his competitors. Nobody comes away from Clegg or Cameron speeches in a state of mild quasi-erotic arousal, either.

Like many on the Labour left was struck by Miliband’s apparent timidity. Six national goals seems a bit unambitious when Germany managed seven against Brazil.

As Owen Jones makes clear in his Guardian commentary, an £8 an hour minimum wage, more money for the NHS, and building 200,000 more houses each year fall short of what is needed. Yet they are indisputably progressive policies that activists can sell on the doorstep. Two cheers, then.

But most interesting of all to me is that while Miliband’s speech didn’t mention class in the sociological sense of the word, class was clearly the central theme. Alongside the obligatory bolt-on praise for “great entrepreneurs”, there was frequent recognition that Labour is there to look after the Josephines and the Xiomaras, the working people of this country.

Also repeated were the references to “the tiny minority at the top“, “the small elite”, “those who have all the power’. It’s spookily like Miliband can remember some of the content of some of his old man’s books.

The working class hasn’t gone away, you know. As the Scottish independence referendum and the inroads UKIP has managed to make in some traditional Labour seats underlines, Blair’s strategy of studiously ignoring them because they have nowhere else to go no longer seems particularly clever. What is at stake is existential for the Labour Party as a whole. We have no claim on blue collar and unemployed support in perpetuity, and once the work of generations is dissipated, it is unlikely we could ever win it back.

Underneath the inevitable thicket of euphemism, the speech seems to show – to use the current political cliche – that Ed “gets it”. For my money, that alone is enough to mark him out as the most ‘convincing’ Labour leader in two decades. Nobody on the left should echo the Blairite-inspired Daily Mail mantra that Miliband is somehow not a serious politician and a one-way ticket to failure at the next general election, because it simply isn’t true.

But whether he has the political courage, or even the political opportunity, to turn this realisation from speechifying to a programme that persuade the people that got a name check is not yet proven. Convince me on that, Ed. Please convince me on that.

5 Comments

  1. John Reid says:

    I appreciate ,Ed’s not trying to play the PR game, and we all have off days but, really the Sun,and football, he should have known better, the 35% strategy, of trying to get those who ent to the greens Libdems at the expensec of getting those who abstained, but Also voted labour for the first time in 1997′, it’s not tht the Tories re sneering for the sake of it, he has to look like he knows what to do and will do I,if he wins, at the moment he just looks like he does nothing

  2. Robert says:

    For Christ we are trying to win an election the people who will take this country forward will be those who have a plan an idea an ideology.

    Not one who eats skittles so the TV cameras pick up fiddling in his pockets and then shoving them in his mouth while nodding his head.

    The next leader will be working with some of the most important people in the world and if he spills his skittles, come on Miliband looks a nice enough lad but that’s the problem we are all saying he seems to be a nice enough lad, nobody is saying he looks like a world leader , he looks like somebody I would not be happy with on the world stage.

    The problem is Miliband Junior was picked so that his brother would not get the job, not that his banana eating Brother with the dopey look on his face is any better .

    But take a look at labour front bench for god sake it’s middle class full of people who could have been Tories Ball’s for example was one his excuse was they had better drinking clubs says it all really.

    Progress, Labour, socialism, working class, does not do it for me, Progress upper middle class and conservatism with a bigger C is more like it.

    The fact is I’m not a Tory I will never vote Tory, so the answer is why the hell should I vote for a middle class middle of the road Progress lite with a labour leader who is basically a child who is more interested in keeping up with the Tories then having his own plans cuts cuts cuts deficit deficit deficit, I mean can you imagine this labour party in 1945 we have had the American flag flying now.

  3. John Reid says:

    I was with you Robert upto the 5th paragraph,
    The eagle sisters, Sadiq khan, Emma Reynolds, Andy Bunham,I don’t know how one could define working class, for people under 35′ regarding Stella Creasy, or gloria De Perio, their parent were working class, bought their council homes, but I doesn’t mean they had it easier ,than those parents who didn’t ,Yvette cooper, jim Murphy, shame Rushanari went as she’s working class , Rosie Winterton, emily thornberry , the fact they’ve all forgot their working class roots is another matter

  4. Robert says:

    Yawn a right winger like you for god sake talking about working class, ah well never mind.

  5. John Reid says:

    Robert,In my day we worked 27hrs a day, down mill, and came home to a cardboard box in the middle of the road,and our father would kill us in cold blood,,,, if we were lucky

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