August is a month for harvesting
and holidays and this year, if you’re a senior figure in the Labour Party, for
While Ed Miliband, the party
leader, has been away, the Labour mice have been playing – some brazenly out in
the open, others more discreetly in dim smoke-free corners. Either way, the singular object of their
mischief is always the figure of their leader.
The charges are that he doesn’t
have a grip on his job and doesn’t have any vote-winning policies to promote. Worse, he’s being painted in many quarters as
an amiable twit who’d be in over his head running a scout troop.
Fair or foul, the accusations have
caused Labour’s once huge lead in the opinion polls to erode to a marginal edge;
with a general election just two years away, the opening campaign salvoes a
mere matter of months away. Meanwhile,
the British economy is recovering nicely – or so we’re told – and public
spending being brought under some semblance of control. Inflation is modest; crime is down; house
prices are rising. This is the plot that
Ed seems to be losing, and it’s because the man who appears to be writing it is
It’s a little early even for us
floating voters to be thinking about which way to vote, but over the next few
months the differences between the two main parties, and between their leaders
will becomes clearer.
Floating voter! Moi?
Never did I think I’d find myself
writing those words. From adolescence
through adulthood, I’ve always despised floaters as namby-pamby, clueless,
gutless nincompoops. My inclination has
always been – and largely remains – resolutely leftward. On social issues I might even be called an
extremist. Moreover, I don’t much care
for this Conservative government, or the Prime Minister who heads it, or the grey
Eton-burnished suits around him. They
are, after all, Tories.
Even so, they fail to stir in this
writer’s radical soul the remotest sense of outrage.
They might if there were some worthy,
truly intelligent alternatives against which they might be judged, but there
are none. The UK Independence party is nothing but a crypto-fascist joke played
upon the gullible, the prejudiced and the aspirationally sinister. The Liberal Democrats are relevant only as
convenient coalition sidekicks. Let me
say, anticipating raucous guffaws, that George Galloway, for all his egotism
and self-aggrandizing gall, often makes more sense than his mainstream rivals –
and at least livens up the BBC’s Question Time – but the Respect Party is never
going to be anything but an outlet for his soaring flights of ego.
But, having said all that, and no
matter how far over backwards I bend to give Ed Miliband the benefit of the
doubt, I can’t see myself ever coming round to the idea that he ought to run
the country. With his throttled vibrato,
he doesn’t sound like a potential Prime Minister. Nor does he look like one. If Spittin’
Images were still around to make a puppet in his likeness, Ed, with his
popping eyes and lugubrious down-turned mouth and slobbery lips, would be the
parody of the puppet, not the other way round.
And if that seems insultingly superficial, I ask you to recall that,
throughout the ages, the British electorate has instinctively and almost
unerringly insisted upon electing someone whom – politics and policies aside – at
least seems to measure up to the part.
(I’d be delighted to argue about the exceptions.)
As for the advisers who surround Ed,
whether colleagues in the shadow cabinet or strategists paddling round in think
tanks, I realise as I write that I can scarcely summon up the names of more
than two or three. Even more than Ed
himself, they’re dimly-lit figures, political phantoms, like ghosts seen by
home-going drunks. They may occasionally
be spotted in the bowels of the newspaper on slow news days, but rarely do they
step out of the sepulchral gloom to command the front page – unless there’s a
Of course, there’s the other Ed –
the loud, stocky, pugnacious, very visible and – as far as I can tell – profoundly
disliked Mr. Balls. Would you even buy a
new car from this man? Of Mr. Balls, a
putative Chancellor of the Exchequer, possibly even party leader, all I can say
is that if Labour entertains serious thoughts of winning a general election, he
should be confined to the wings of the stage and only at dress rehearsals, and
never allowed to march across it at show-times.
And so, back to the first Ed: above
and beyond all the questions of competence or appearance, there is the altogether
different issue of character. His true
self surely emerged during that curious business of the leadership race in
which, from the start, his brother David had been the clear and present front-runner. As we now know, Ed’s intervention, backed by
the unions, was decisive. Now, regardless
of Ed’s sundry qualities as a human being – and they may be manifold – what
kind of man does that?
It’s not as if the brothers were
known to have hated each other. On the
contrary, they evidently liked each other personally and admired each other
politically. David as party leader may
arguably have left something to be desired, but Ed should not have been the man
to point it out, and ought to have been the last man on earth to bring him
Sorry Ed, but I can’t avoid the
conclusion that you have all the makings of a loser – and you’re already a
Hand me my blue rosette.
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