Ed Miliband may have found a way to shake off the label “Red Ed”. Unfortunately for him it could simply be replaced by the even more damaging nickname “Robot Ed”.
It’s hard to believe that just last September Miliband’s acceptance speech as leader of the Labour party was greeted by a chorus of relief. The wooden and cold Gordon Brown had been replaced by a youthful, honest, reasonable and approachable man, not afraid to at least attempt a joke and flash a bumbling but genuine smile. Now though Miliband’s PR machine is working so hard to preserve this flattering initial image of reason and humanity, that they have forgotten to let him be natural at any moment, even between highly choreographed press conferences or interviews.
I am always keen to write about the policy as opposed to the personalities of politics. The culture of spin and press manipulation too often overshadows the important debates about what Britain needs or what would be a better way of doing things. There are so many pressing challenges to thrash out swift but credible and long term solutions to, that it is plain irresponsible and arrogant to get bogged down in ideological or personal differences. Miliband’s shadow cabinet have been far too slow to produce viable and inspiring policy ideas.
However as the shocking revelations of the past week have shown, dishonesty and deceit are facts of life on a national scale. Rightly or wrongly the public digests the truths, half truths, lies and simplifications of the press every day. And for the average voter that mysterious quality of “likeability” will always prove crucial to which party they back at the polls.
Ed Miliband’s team are clearly aware of this, as anyone working in politics must be. But rather than supporting the key work on policy behind the scenes, the Labour leader’s media experts have meddled to such an obvious and unsubtle extent, that the overwhelming impression of Miliband amongst the public of late has been one of fakery and artificiality. The most embarrassing incident for Miliband has been the exposure of this interview about the planned strike of teachers across the country: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZtVm8wtyFI
It makes for excruciating viewing. The journalist conducting the interview has written and spoken about his frustration. And it really is the sort of snippet behind the curtain of political life at the grim reality of it all that makes you doubt the truth of anything any MP ever says. Miliband delivers the same answer, reordered a little each time, to ensure a carefully crafted soundbite makes the news. His delivery, seen in context, is terrifyingly robotic. At no point is there even a glimmer of the man himself or a hint of his own opinion.
Ironically Miliband is now speaking out boldly against such negative elements of the press because of the ever growing scandal engulfing News International, forcing the closure of the News of the World. Cynical onlookers will criticise Miliband for yet another case of opportunism. But whatever his political motives, it’s clear that Miliband is putting himself in the firing line of an extremely powerful Murdoch empire in a way that no politician has previously done, to first and foremost, do the right thing. He has defended press freedom throughout and simply called for the proper investigations to go ahead.
In the midst of the phone hacking turmoil, an interview with former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been buried, in which he openly criticised Gordon Brown’s betrayal of New Labour. He stressed the importance of occupying the centre ground to win elections. Miliband responded in an interview with Andrew Marr by saying that he believed the centre ground had moved, presumably to the left.
Another factor Miliband must consider as he takes the initiative on phone hacking, is avoiding categorization as a popular leader of the “politics of protest” Blair warns against, which might count against his credibility as a potential Prime Minister. In other words, the fallout from the News of the World crisis might win Miliband supporters as a leader of the opposition, but ultimately not convince them that he has what it takes to lead the country.
This may be the crisis that establishes Miliband’s credentials as an opposition leader with influence. Then again Miliband may have sowed the seeds of his downfall by angering Murdoch and perhaps even more dangerously, leaving himself open to charges of hypocrisy. His PR team need to dramatically alter their strategy and have more confidence in Miliband’s ability to be himself and to speak through policy. Otherwise the correct case he is making about the BSkyB takeover and the immorality of hacking the phones of Milly Dowler and others, will be undermined and defeated.
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The demise of President Barack Obama’s support in the USA, confirmed by this week’s Mid-Term election results, is a depressing triumph of pessimism over optimism. I found myself swept up in the wave of hope and positive expectation two years ago, as did millions of others across the globe. For me it was simply irresistible in a modern age in which nothing feels genuinely new and groundbreaking to be witness to true history unfolding. The first black President and one with a truly progressive agenda, felt like a huge step forward into a new era. Who knew what could be accomplished with an ordinary, sensible citizen at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation? Real change felt possible. Many will say that the capitulation of the fervour and enthusiasm that propelled Obama into office was inevitable though. They will point to the relative ease of Opposition compared to governance, the scale of the tasks Obama set himself and the harsh realities of politics. To a large extent they will be right: Obama simply could not fulfil such high expectations and his downfall acts as a warning to any politician elected on a platform of change for change’s sake, including Cameron’s coalition. But the President’s own actions and inaction has contributed to the dissipation of his popularity and can go some way still to restoring it in time for a second term.
All the talk now is of the necessity of Obama finding common ground with his newly powerful Republican foes. The advice is to consolidate the achievements of the first two years and work tirelessly on modest improvements the Republicans will support for the last two. Be a President who gets things done. However from across the pond the key disappointment of Obama’s time in office so far has been his withdrawal into work. Clearly he was conscious of the threat of his opponents labelling him as an empty orator, forever preaching but never getting his hands dirty. The danger of devoting himself completely to mammoth projects such as health care reform and securing an economic recovery though is that his enemies will have free rein on stage to belittle his accomplishments, as well as stalling them behind the scenes. And the fact is despite the huge change Obama’s health care reforms represent in the USA; they were never going to be politically profitable. Supporters of extended health care will look at the universal systems such as the NHS in this country and wish Obama had gone further, whilst conservatives view what he has already done as an act of socialism, needlessly and immorally pouring away gallons of public money at the expense of the treasured American private sector. Similarly too with his actions to prevent financial meltdown, it is difficult to prove how much worse things would have been without a giant fiscal stimulus and bailout and whether or not ordinary American workers actually benefited. There’s no doubt that America initially returned to unprecedented growth, but as this has petered out those still unemployed demand to know what is being done and the energised Republicans rant as all those on the right do globally about a ballooning budget deficit and the need for a smaller state.
Bizarrely, whilst it seemed the election of a black President had ended an era of extremism and intolerance it has actually served as a catalyst for the more outspoken Democratic opponents, mainly of course supporters of the Tea Party. It’s understandable why the President might feel paralysed and uncertain how best to fight back. In the eyes of many of the fanatics whatever he does will be wrong, and he has little evidence to hold up in defence of his first years in office. Even his supporters insist he has failed to communicate the enormity of what he has achieved already, but the problem is greater than just communication. Yes Obama must defend the good he has done but he must also spell out again the vision that energised his Presidential campaign. From here in the UK Obama’s transformation from inspirational orator with stirring rhetoric into a closeted figure focused on domestic matters, has been a massive disappointment. He had the opportunity to lead internationally on issues such as climate change, aid and terrorism, but has now spent the bulk of his political capital by becoming bogged down over health care. To restore his popularity in his own country Obama must surely begin to appear like a leader again and aim high. He must make it clear he intends to lead his nation for the long haul and that there are many challenges left to face. It may well be politically advisable to cooperate with the Republicans on some issues as he initially promised, but if this were at the expense of the idealism that catapulted him to power it would be a grave mistake. His opponents lack real backing and have merely benefited from the dissatisfaction of voters with Obama’s progress. Let’s hope that he can get back on the road and make up for a largely wasted start to the journey.
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Tagged acheivement, America, American, Atlantic, bailout, Bill, Black, Cameron, campaign, capital, change, Climate, Coalition, communication, congress, cooperation, deficit, demise, dissatisfaction, economy, Elections, era, extremism, fall, finance, first, freedoms, health, history, international, intolerance, liberty, Mid-Term, motivate, new, Obama, Opposition, orator, Party, Politics, Pond, President, progressive, recovery, reelection, reform, Republican, rhetoric, right, rise, second, senate, spirit, stimulus, Tea, term, USA, voters, wing, withdrawn
This article should be up on DemoCritic soon, and I’d ask any readers of my blog to check it out as my political pieces are usually published there along with great and varied contributions from a variety of others. So join the debate, express an opinion! Also check it out for the funky revamp of the look of the site alone!
It seems certain that the next leader of the Labour party will have the surname Miliband. The leadership contest so far has largely been a quiet, muted, good natured affair, perhaps mainly because of the brothers’ boring pact not to attack each other but also disappointingly by the failure of a third serious contender to emerge. In a previous article (A Two Ed Race? 28th June) I praised the vigour with which both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls took to opposition, whilst questioning the tame safety of David’s approach. Sadly whilst Balls has continued to display a dynamism on policy not matched by the other candidates it’s clear he has failed to gain enough support to make the battle a more interesting three way clash. Doubts also still remain about the benefits of either Miliband becoming the next leader.
With David the worry is stagnation. At a time when the Labour party requires a rebirth the elder Miliband brother may only offer repetition; a repetition of the failures of New Labour. For whilst David may rightly defend the successes of the Blair and Brown administrations against unfair rewrites of history by both the Tories and some within the party, to not make a decisive break with the past and all New Labour did wrong will not reinvigorate or cleanse the party in the eyes of the public. And the party needs a new lease of life. At the moment the Lib Dems are fragmenting, getting cold feet at the helm of power but not enough to pull the plug on a Conservative government. The cuts in public spending and particularly to the welfare state ought to provide a catalyst for a new generation of Labour activists to take the fight to the next election with renewed gusto. That election could come at any time, as who knows how precarious the coalition will become as tensions mount within the Lib Dems, especially once the holy referendum has passed. David Miliband is the walk-in Prime Minster candidate of this Labour leadership election, but would his Labour party reinvent itself sufficiently to win back voters?
With Ed there are perhaps more worries, more unknowns but the concern is not lack of change. He has enthusiastically denounced the Iraq war, a significant break with the failed past of New Labour. He has also advocated alternatives to tuition fees and made it clear Labour needs to win back the worker, the ordinary man the party’s foundations were built upon. It seems that a Labour party under his stewardship would be undoubtedly more left wing. An article in the Guardian today claims that Ed is the only Miliband to offer the Labour party the change it needs but others worry a realignment too far to the left, coupled with an inexperienced leader, would be catastrophic. I too have expressed concern that Ed Miliband would take the axe too severely to the Lib Dems, hacking away Labour’s chances of a coalition in a new era of closely fought, compromise politics. Both Milibands however must be aware of the drawbacks of their respective bids for power and I would therefore suspect a plan.
I’m not talking about the sort of shadowy deals that are now infamously connected to New Labour. I don’t think either Ed or David has seized the napkin at a family dinner, hastily sketched out his cabinet, a timeline of power and then thrust it across the table for their sibling’s signature. I think they are both genuinely contesting the leadership. However it shall be interesting to see exactly where the losing Miliband turns up in the shadow cabinet. Could David settle again at the Foreign Office and will Ed feel confident enough to demand the Treasury? The answers to these questions shall no doubt prove interesting as they unravel. More realistically though I would hope that Ed, on becoming leader, would divert his energy and verve to the creation of policy and the opposition of coalition policy, rather than simply targeting Lib Dem voters. Clearly winning back those who defected to the Lib Dems is one method of rebuilding Labour’s electoral strength but it does not go far enough to undo the damage and Ed’s current course of rhetoric sets him on a collision course that would make a Lib-Lab coalition unworkable when it could be likely. He calls Nick Clegg a traitor to Liberalism for example but they share many policy objectives and Ed would do better to emphasise similarities between his refreshed Labour and the Lib Dems than continually hammer on about the differences. An emphasis on similarities would still have the benefit of highlighting Labour’s new liberal credentials to undecided voters, whilst also sowing seeds of doubt within the coalition and laying the ground for a future alliance. Ed must surely be aware of all this and this leads me to suspect he will tone down his approach if elected, but keep playing the role of the change candidate for now.
David’s plan must be a bigger secret. He has so far revealed very little about the direction he would take Labour in, playing it safe with well meaning but fluffy talk about reconnecting with local activists and restoring trust. Today he acquired the backing of Jon Cruddas, an influential, left wing backbencher. Does Jon know something we don’t? You might have expected him to back Ed, whose programme of realignment towards the left so far seems much more radical. David must surely have plans to refresh his party, even if he disagrees that it needs a complete rebirth he must see the craving for new direction from its members and voters and the opportunities presented by a cutting coalition. He might be playing a very clever game; slowly accumulating the backing of his party before wrong footing the Conservatives with the revelation of his vision, an accessible, popular, new Labour party. If he does not have a plan then Labour supporters and perhaps the country should worry. Labour could find itself with either an unattractive, bland continuity figure unable to shake the legacy of Brown or an equally unelectable young, left wing scaremonger. We might find ourselves hoping for a third Miliband; a fusion of the two. This Miliband would be experienced, Prime Minister material and yet youthful, detached from New Labour but proud of its achievements, passionate about change but wary of not alienating middle class voters and, perhaps, a woman.
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Tagged 2010, ballot, Cameron, candidate, Clegg, Coalition, Conservative, contest, critic, Cruddas, David, deal, Dem, demo, Democrtic, direction, Ed, election, electorate, facebook, fees, government, grass, Guardian, Jon, Labour, leadership, left, Lib, Liberal, Miliband, new, plan, policy, Politics, realignment, roots, tuition, UK, vision, VoteCleggGetClegg, voter, wing
Hope remains, the dream lives. Tomorrow’s papers will be bursting with optimistic rallying cries rather than gloomy obituaries and angry rants. The headlines will be oozing with the juices of glory and we, the long starved masses, will enter a phase of frenzied belief, salivating as we devour every cautiously hopeful word that makes us think “maybe this year…” The doubters and pessimists will remain a constant presence, this is England after all, but they will be shunned and ostracised. Against Slovenia the patient was revived and for a while buzzed with a brightness we all insisted was there all along. No matter that he only just staggered to the next ward for further treatment, elbowed to the side by a forceful American on the way. For the time being we’ll laugh and say it wouldn’t be England without the tension and the worry.
There are genuine reasons for enthusiastic optimism. This was the best England performance in a long while. It was a match played at a Premier League tempo often called for by commentators and fans, who rightly question why it is their heroes perform so much better each week for their clubs. Capello also appeared to resolve some selection dilemmas once and for all. James was a solid presence in goal under considerably more pressure than he was against Algeria and Upson passed a tough test to emerge as the sensible partner for Terry in defence. Milner proved himself a performer in midfield and particularly as a winger with some beautiful crossing and much needed running at the full-back. Defoe showed he could score when it counted and that the team played better having to think about their service to him, as opposed to mindlessly lumping it up field to Heskey. Capello shall also no doubt win plaudits for his passionate touchline display of emotional gesticulations that would have been unthinkable from a certain ice cold Swede.
Capello was also right to decide against the diamond midfield formation that Eriksson toyed with unsuccessfully as England coach. The BBC commentary debated whether this was due to the Slovenian full-backs attacking tendencies and represented it as a last-minute tactical change of heart by Capello that was proven a masterstroke by events. In reality Capello would have recognised the gamble of changing the system well into a tournament and its possible destabilising effects. I believe Capello wrongly came to this World Cup without a plan B. He had a qualifying campaign that ended prematurely and warm-up games in which to experiment with other formations and has not done so. I accept there is a strong argument that England’s players play their best football in a 4-4-2 and over complicating the system will not help them. I also think Capello would be unwise to change the formation again now at this tournament. Where Capello should be surer however is who plays where in his formation, most crucially in midfield.
The best teams at this World Cup and those that are successful will be the ones who arrived with a well practiced system, understood by all the players and a regular starting eleven, with healthy competition from the bench. The best managers will be those who can choose the right substitute at the right moment of a game to change things on the pitch for their team. Tactical changes that have the most impact will be minor tweaks to existing formations rather than wholesale switches between them. This is Capello’s first World Cup and in many ways it is showing. He failed to change things decisively against Algeria, resulting in a surge in pressure for the Slovenia game and ultimately a second place group finish that may lead to the tough task of Germany on Sunday.
Capello’s biggest failing at this World Cup has been the personnel of his midfield, just as it was for those who preceded him. Having settled on 4-4-2 the Italian has not been bold enough, despite a media image of him being above the celebrity status of footballers, to axe one of his better players. This is not, as may have been the case with Eriksson and Beckham, because the manager is blinded by a player’s fame but from a genuine desire to select the best eleven players available. However an England midfield given more balance by the exclusion of Gerrard or Lampard from the starting line-up would surely lead to more of the football seen in the better spells against Slovenia. Joe Cole on the left and Milner on the right seems to be the way forward against better teams, as a wandering Gerrard would leave Ashley Cole exposed. Capello has left it too late to try a five man attacking midfield in support of Rooney properly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Cole or Gerrard unleashed as effectively a second striker or fifth midfielder, depending on who has the ball, should England go far in the knockout stages.
For the next game I can’t see Capello changing things and I hope England can replicate their best moves against Slovenia with more end product. Rooney’s brief rest at the end of this match will have him rested and hungry for goals and I still can’t help but think any real England hopes rest on whether or not he can find form. Our opponents in the next round should be fearful if he can, with 60 million souls greedy for glory getting behind him, as well as a manager who might’ve wasted opportunities in preparation but still holds the keys to success. Come on England!
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Tagged 2010, 4-4-2, boring, Capello, CaughtOffside, Cole, Cup, disappointing, England, Fabio, football, Joe, left, Liam, Milner, Slovenia, Tactics, Trim, win, wing, World Cup