Ed Miliband needs to tell Britain what he’s really thinking—if he knowsby Jonathan Derbyshire / August 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
The 10 brains of Edwardian Labour
In late July, on the hottest day of the year, a couple of hundred Labour Party members, trade unionists and local authority workers crammed into a stifling third-floor room at the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, just down the road from Waterloo station in London. They were there to hear Ed Miliband explain proposed changes to the party’s relationship with the unions. This was his response to the debacle in the Scottish constituency of Falkirk, where, it was alleged, the Unite union had tried to rig the contest to select a parliamentary candidate.
Miliband, tieless and speaking without notes, said the proposal to end the automatic affiliation of some three million trade union members to the Labour Party was “historic.” This was a chance, he declared, to turn Labour into a “genuinely 21st-century party.” For too long, the Labour leader went on, ordinary trade unionists “have felt that one side in politics, the Tories, writes them off, and the other side, Labour, takes them for granted. Now we as a Labour Party will have a direct interest in saying to those working people, ‘We can’t take you for granted.’ We’ve got to reach out and persuade them to become affiliated members of our party.” This was stirring stuff, and a reminder that, at close quarters, Miliband does revivalist fervour with a flair that belies the popular image of him as a man more at home in the seminar room than on the soapbox.
It remains a source of frustration to many sympathetic observers that he and his handlers have not worked out how to project these qualities on a wider stage—something confirmed by the YouGov poll commissioned this month by Prospect which shows that Miliband’s personal ratings remain stubbornly low. His biographer, the journalist Mehdi Hasan, tells me he thinks the Labour leader is “best when he’s himself, authentic, unmediated, speaking from the heart. We saw that during the phone hacking scandal—perhaps the high point of his three-year leadership of the opposition—and in his response to the ‘omnishambles’ budget in 2012. But he doesn’t get many opportunities to do so.”
In defending Miliband in this way, however, Hasan points to a more profound problem—not just with the way Miliband conveys his message, but with the message itself. The Labour leader has failed to turn the…