Labour Party leader Ed Miliband is the sort of gawky, uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin human being to whom looking happy does not come easily. Indeed, when Ed tries to affect a smile, the resulting rictus looks like something on the face of an ultra-posh cocktail-party hostess (who in a 1970s TV sitcom would have been played by Penelope Keith) who’s just witnessed her most pissed guest barf up 50 shades of vomitus onto her most expensive hand-woven Persian rug but is determined to grin, bear it and keep up those oh-so-important appearances. So perhaps it’s just as well that in the past fortnight Ed has had absolutely no reason to look happy.
With the Conservatives now in power for four years – four years during which they’ve done little or nothing to alter the common perception of them as being a bunch of filthy-rich ex-public-schoolboy bastards who’re perfectly willing to suck up to big business and the banks whilst making sure that those who bear the brunt of their much-vaunted austerity cuts are the poorest, weakest and most disenfranchised members of British society – Labour, with Ed at the helm, should be cruising far ahead in the polls. But this hasn’t happened. According to a recent opinion poll commissioned by the Evening Standard, Labour’s support is now three percent behind that of the Conservatives (though at 29 and 32 percent respectively, the support-levels for both parties are nothing to write home about). Meanwhile only 13 percent of the people surveyed believed Miliband was up to the job of being Britain’s next prime minister. Indeed, nearly 60 percent of Labour supporters were unhappy with his performance as party leader.
Admittedly, other polls have put Labour ahead by a whisker, but that whisker can’t be much comfort to the party and its supporters. There’s still nearly a half-year to go before the next UK election on May 7th, 2015, and – as usually happens – the party in power can expect to see its support-level rise as the election campaign gets underway. And with the Conservative Party, having big business behind you to fill your campaign coffers and most of the British newspapers on your side to trumpet your message doesn’t hurt, either.
Meanwhile, Ed’s woes have intensified further thanks to rumours that about 20 Labour frontbenchers are so disenchanted with him that they’d be willing to back Alan Johnson if he announced himself as a leadership contender. The affable Johnson who, as a one-time Tesco shelf-stacker, one-time postman, one-time amateur rock musician, one-time Marxist, one-time trade union official and one-time Home Secretary, has had everything that Ed hasn’t had – i.e. a life – has, luckily for Ed, ruled himself out of such a leadership challenge. Johnson realises that being Labour Party leader entails a risk of ending up Prime Minister, a position that he once candidly admitted on Desert Island Discs he didn’t think he had the qualities for.
And just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, Tony Blair declared the other day that Ed Miliband had his ‘full support’. The kiss of death, in other words.
I can’t say that any of this surprises me. Even back in September 2010, when he won the contest for Labour Party leader, the Great British public were already cheesed off with having as their ruling class a bunch of bland, privileged, autocratic, out-of-touch, never-done-a-proper-day’s-work-in-their-lives career politicians. I thought the party was insane to adopt as its skipper the upper-middle-class, Oxford University-educated and stiff-as-could-be Ed Miliband, whose CV consisted of the following job items: student politician, media researcher, policy researcher, speechwriter, special advisor, MP for a safe Labour seat and cabinet minister. This cosy, politically-incestuous career trajectory seemed to represent everything that ordinary people despised about modern politicians. (Although along the way Ed did take a year’s sabbatical at Harvard University, presumably to keep him in touch with, you know, the real world.)
To be fair, Ed becoming leader wasn’t simply a case of the cosseted upper echelons of the party choosing one of their own for the top job. His leadership bid was actually supported by the big trade unions like Unite and UNISON. Mind you, there wasn’t much choice on offer. All the main candidates for the party leadership seemed to be cut from the same cloth — including Ed’s own brother, the only slightly-less-gawky David. So whoever ended up in charge was going to be as bland as the Ed-Miliband brand.
I admit Ed has come out with the odd opinion or policy I approve of. Apologising for how the Labour Party had, while in government, propelled Britain into the second Gulf War was a good start to his leadership. (It would’ve been nice if he’d also promised that, when in power, he’d ship the smirking, lying Tony Blair off to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes, but I suppose that was too much to hope for.) And I liked his promise to do something about the Great British utilities rip-off, i.e. to freeze gas and electricity bills for 20 months after coming to power.
But most of the time he’s done nothing to convince me that a future Labour government with him in Number 10 would be anything other than Conservative government-lite. Having the calculating and conniving Ed Balls as his Shadow Chancellor probably hasn’t helped in that regard.
For me, the proverbial writing on the wall came three years ago when Ed was interviewed about the public-service-worker strikes happening at the time. Determined to sit on the fence, he managed, eerily, to give the same answer, with a few words and phrases shuffled around, five times within two minutes: “These strikes are wrong, at a time when negotiations are still going on, but parents and the public have been let down by both sides, because the government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner… After today’s disruption, I urge both sides to put aside the rhetoric, get around the negotiating table and stop it happening again.” The interview, with Ed behaving like a malfunctioning android, can be watched in all its toe-curling glory on youtube, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnbNGCq6TjU.
What I find amusing is that the opinion-threads on the websites for left-leaning newspapers like the Guardian and Independent are currently full of posters blaming Ed’s woes on the mainly right-leaning British media, which they say is determined to give him non-stop bad publicity between now and election day. And I have no doubts that the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph, to say nothing of the coven of titles owned by Rupert Murdoch, will do their utmost to rubbish the Labour Party leader as May 7th draws ever closer. They have past form in that, as the hapless Neil Kinnock will testify from his experiences in 1992.
However, I can’t say I heard any complaints from Labour-ites about media bias during the two years before the referendum on Scottish independence on September 18th, 2014, when the Mail, Express, Telegraph and co. poured scorn relentlessly on pro-independence politicians like Alex Salmond and on their supporters. When it came to the prospect of the Scots having full say over their own affairs, Labour was only too happy to climb into bed with the right-wing scandal sheets of Fleet Street. By the way, despite the media’s torrent of anti-independence propaganda, I’m heartened by and proud of the fact that 45 percent of Scottish voters still told them to go and stuff it and voted ‘yes’.
At the time of the referendum, I made the following prediction on this blog: “as Scotland disappears off Westminster’s radar again… the press hunkers down for the next big story – the 2015 General Election. The Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun re-align their artillery, away from Salmond and towards Ed Miliband, whom they spend the next months portraying as a weak, out-of-touch socialist bumbler who’ll run Britain into the ground if he gets the keys to Number 10. Labour Party politicians start complaining about ‘bias’ in the media. This provokes great Schadenfreude from certain people north of the border.”
Aye, Schadenfreude. Believe me, the feeling you get from that is better than the high of any drug.