Ed’s desperate play for popularity

Last Friday, in a speech launching Labour’s “summer offensive”, Ed Miliband said he could not compete with David Cameron’s slick approach, but that voters were more interested in big ideas than image.

His speech came following a series of gaffes, one involving a copy of The Sun and another a bacon butty. His personal ratings trail behind those of his party and in June fell to the lowest ever recorded in an ICM-Guardian poll, says the BBC.

His remarks about image are a “bit rich”, coming from a man who has just advertised for a £80,000-a-year “broadcast officer” and who is consulting professors of autism about how he can show more empathy in public, says Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph. And frankly, he’s pretty short on “big ideas” as well.

He’s repeating things he’s been saying for years, about bashing the banks and poking energy companies in the eye (both of which are counterproductive), but doesn’t appear to have any detailed plans for big issues such as education, welfare or housing.

It’s true that Miliband can’t “explain away his deficit in charisma” in this way, says Mary Riddell in the same newspaper. Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s “shrewd” former spin doctor, has described Milband’s policies as a “great, steaming pile of fudge”.

However, we should not dismiss Milband’s wish to make politics kinder. He may yet persuade the voters he needs – in particular the women who gave Tony Blair his victories, and the young, who are “most likely to support Labour but least likely to vote” – that his is the nicer party.

Well, his tactic of repeatedly telling us that he is an “intellectual revolutionary” isn’t very sensible, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. After seeing the country “toy with oblivion in 2008, shrink by 7% of GDP, stagnate for another four years and only now get going again”, trying to persuade Britons to “take a punt on big ideas that add up to what he has called a wholly new economy” is madness.

And when he says he wants a rupture with the past, he does not mean four years of Conservative-Lib Dem government, but 35 years of economic liberalism.

It doesn’t matter whether his ideas, “which are of the market-tampering, price-controlling variety”, really are radical. The point is he wants voters to see him as radical. This is “an odd reading of the electorate… The mood next May will be all nerves and vigilance.”

Miliband’s claim that his image is his only problem is the “last desperate ploy of the failing politician”, says Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Image and ideas can’t be separated as easily as he suggests: “connect with the nation and charisma comes as part of the package”.

It’s wrong to think that a better communicator could take his ideas and use them to seduce the mainstream. Miliband has some clever ideas but he gives us “seeds, not finished products”; fine for a newspaper columnist, but not for a future PM. “And if he really did speak human, then the ideas themselves would be more human, too. But he doesn’t. So they aren’t.”

Merryn

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