Saturday, 9 May 2015

He's no media darling, but Ed can deliver a better society - my 1st May Catholic Universe column


At last, we’re nearly there. The 2015 General Election is upon us.

In less than a week the polls will be closed and barring an unexpected majority for one party or another we will be into a protracted period of political parties trying to arrive at some workable arrangement for the next five years.

For anyone interested in the process of how these type of machinations work I would strongly recommend taking a look at Andrew Adonis’ excellent book ‘Five Days in May’ which focusses on Labour’s ultimately fruitless attempts to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats following the 2010 General Election.

For those of you not spending your time engrossed in political page turners there are just a few more days to go and time to pass on to you just a few more thoughts.

In the weeks and months that followed the 2010 General Election the Labour Party threw itself into a process which seemed to go on forever to elect a new leader following the resignation of Gordon Brown.

Five aspirant leaders put their names into the hat, Andy Burnham, Ed Balls, David and Ed Miliband and the rank outsider from the far(ish) left of the party Diane Abbott.

I must confess here and now Ed Miliband wasn’t my choice for leader, to be blunt, it was only the far left rhetoric of Diane Abbott that allowed him to scrape into my top four.

To me Ed was a wonk, someone whose entire life had been lived in politics, someone who had never experienced what it was like to struggle to pay the mortgage or to really know what it was like to have job insecurity and have nothing to fall back on.

What made it worse was that not only was Ed a wonk but a wonk who lacked the charisma and presentational skills of a consummate politician such as Tony Blair who, if media stories are to be believed, even Mr Cameron calls ‘the master’.

Looking back on my assessment of Ed in 2010 I still think I was spot on.

I also think I was massively wrong.

There is little doubt that Ed Miliband has never experienced what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet, to have to choose heating or eating, but then again how many of our political class have? Ed is certainly no more out of touch with life on the edge than virtually every other senior politician. Can we honestly believe for one minute that George Osborne or William Hague have had to seriously consider using a food bank?

The real question is can Mr Miliband truly empathise with those who are in that position? Despite my own initial misgivings I believe Ed has proved that he can. His initiatives on energy prices, on private sector rent controls and on the bedroom tax, issues which really matter to those on the margins, give clear evidence that that is the case.

I look back at my initial view that Ed was awkward in front of the television cameras and I think how right I was. In media handling terms Mr Miliband isn’t just bad in comparison to the likes of Mr Blair, he’s bad in comparison to virtually anyone.

Even Ed’s recent appearances on the television debates have been a little awkward. His answer of ‘Hell Yeah, I’m tough enough’ when asked by Jeremy Paxman had a little too much of Neil Kinnock’s 1992 ‘Well, Alright’ about it. His constant looking straight into the camera was more than a little off putting. 

Labour party members will often retort that anyone would look bad with a right wing media constantly looking for fault but the fact is it is Ed that has proffered the ammunition. It wasn’t the right wing media who had a bacon sandwich moment, it wasn’t the right wing media who had no idea about the cost of their weekly groceries on Good Morning Britain and it wasn’t the right wing media that forgot a key passage on the economy from his annual conference speech.

But ultimately all of these things are trivial. Even his conference omission was more about trying to remember a one hour speech from memory rather a lack of taking the economy seriously.

What I missed back in 2010 was that Ed is a man of substance.

At the height of the phone hacking scandal Ed was the only leader to publicly, openly and most important rightly castigate the Murdoch media empire for their role in that story. Despite the fact that he knew Mr Murdoch would come after him, and indeed he did, Ed Miliband did not back down.

As the banking sector has worked its way back to a relatively healthy state it is only Ed Miliband that has had the courage to take on the powerful vested interests of bankers to make sure that in the future the multi-millionaires in that industry are properly regulated and pay their fair share.

Indeed, of those who can be Prime Minister, it is only Ed who has turned up to the job interview that are the television debates.

I have never been Mr Miliband’s biggest fan. The pressures of a 24 hour news cycle have meant that he is both under constant scrutiny but also constantly pressured to change his narrative.

In 2012 Ed’s excellent conference speech contained a passage describing how the Labour Party truly aspired to be the political party to represent everyone, if you will, the One Nation Party.

In the years that have followed the terminology may have changed but the principle has remained the same. Ed believes that Labour is the party of fairness, the party who will look after the very wealthiest but who will provide a safety net for those living life on the edge.

For those of us in between Ed has set out a vision that will that will lead to stable economic growth whilst protecting the vital public services, such as education and health, upon which we rely.

Ed Miliband wasn’t my choice for Labour leader but he is a man of principle who has grown into the role and deserves his chance to become Prime Minister.

Over the past few weeks, as I have predicted on a number of occasions, the Conservative Party’s nasty campaign has tried to turn our attentions back to that 2010 leadership campaign. The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, accused Ed of being a ‘backstabber’ for running against his brother in that campaign.

It was an issue many people were uncomfortable with and indeed Ed has gone on record to explain that his relationship with David Miliband hasn’t been easy since.

On Friday David Miliband, who has since left front line politics to become President and CEO of the powerful NGO International Rescue Committee, tweeted a photograph of the envelope containing his postal vote along for the General Election alongside a very few words. He wrote ‘Proud to have voted #Labour. #Ed4PM.’

In those 6 characters #Ed4PM David Miliband is making clear no matter what the relationship has become between he and his sibling Ed is the right choice for Prime Minister. If setting aside ‘backstabbing’ is good enough for David then its good enough for me.

It’s time for Ed Miliband to step up.

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