Off the cuff and from the heart; or just off beat?
I have watched most of the Ed Milliband’s major speeches . I watched last year’s to conference and shook my head sagely; I watched the year before and the birth of One Nation Labour and frowned; and the year before….I cannot recall… I saw him recently speak in July, again off autocue and direct to audience. That was the bacon sandwich speech. He is not an orator – platform or pulpit – Cameron is that – Ed is rather serious in demeanour – I assume deliberately – more dull schoolmasterly in tone – he can’t easily do self-deprecating. He isn’t preachy like Mrs T or emotional like Kinnock or high octane like Blair or gatling gun statistical quick fire like Brown. I suppose its all rather conversational in style – and it’s not nervous at all like say IDS or hectoring like howard and dispatch-box grand like Haig. He is in that very sense a man for the time – uncertain times.
To be frank I never think Milliband is particularly good in these public speaking fora but thus far the public’s reaction to his speech-making has always been warmer. He does an awful lot of this style of ‘town-hall meeting – a borrow from US elections – and when he does it he certainly does not come over as contrived. He doesn’t talk down to people. My gut feeling is it plays better in TV debate format than anything else.
The rhetoric has not pleased his critics….but them Blair’s verbless oratory pleased only when he became a sure fire winner and Thatcher was lionised only when she had acquired the patina of office. Maybe we will never know more because Miliband is about to be played off stage. The sins of omission in the speech – the fiscal deficit and immigration – matter only in the sense that the Media have fed this as the story. That does matter and how Labour responds to it will matter since this is the stuff that makes election campaigns fizz and froth. The public I suspect have made up their mind on Labour and EM’s omissions and commissions will probably not move many votes either way.
The BBC was determined – as they were on local election night with regard to UKIP – to run with the speech as one to the Labour heartlands and to its core vote. Like Mr Miliband the Media may have been over-prepared. Given Labour’s core vote at 2010 was 29% I think that is a very shallow take on the strategy.
I’d say this – Miliband and team believe the LibDems who pealed off from Labour in 2010 – maybe 6-7% of the vote – will decide the election and the policies he enunciated – pretty clearly- are peculiarly attuned to them and to their concerns. They do therefore resonate more widely than the core and many will think many of them sensible and restrained. The Mansion Tax for example has as many holes as a tea strainer but it goes with the grain of what people think is fair. EM also does convey his sense that there’s something seriously wrong with the whole business of politics – even if it’s not clear what his single answer to the problem is – perhaps he’s right on this – perhaps there’s no single answer or panacea.
For the first time since the Scientific Revolution we live in an age without a counter cultural political philosophy – the ideas of the likes of Hume or Voltaire or the Jacobins or Marx, Lenin, or the social democracy articulated by the New Deal; the Webbs and later Tony Crossland. But Empires can fall when there appears to be no good reason for them to fall as they’ve won all the arguments – it happened repeatedly in the ancient world. In cultures when religion provided the philosophic core value system – like Christianity; Islam; or Confucianism – divisions can spring up that give us Crusaders, Reformers and jihadists. Many wars have been fought over small differences of emphasis between rival groups of zealots. The fear that there is no alternative is the corrosive fear that we cannot choose to give meaning to our lives.
Maybe Mr Milliband thinks pretending there are a string of easy answers to all these difficult problems will only further alienate the electorate. Maybe he is right – maybe he is plain wrong. Maybe – alike Thatcher – he hopes to ride the Time’s favourable zeitgeist of fairness and togetherness only unveil the Socialist geni once safely inside No 10. There are many to decry this speech for its shallowness. In that it was very much like Mrs Thatcher from October 1978….she risked nothing to frighten the horses and gambled instead on her political enemies in power making mistakes.
As I am in the minority of those who see all these problems as hugely complex I am not the best person to judge whether this is clever or not. I think the wider public perceives things just don’t work and it blames politicians of all parties and hues whom they see as big heads; show offs and all of them in it for themselves.
Clearly the Media politicos also think Labour are to lose judging by their gratuitous rudeness when interviewing Labour spokesmen – Andrew Neil was particularly rude to Chukka and again Eddie Mayer was rude to Burnham. Bad manners make celebrity and have carried many like Dr starkey and Mr Paxman to the Media heights. It is seldom enlightening and again the public endures it rather than enjoys it. As an historian I have no particular gripe about being cruel to politicians – politics is today and always has been a blood sport and the Media pack today are no worse behaved than any bunch of hungry blood hounds baying at what they believe to be a wounded prey.
EM’s proposals – promises – if you will – have as far as one can tell been carefully tried and tested in the famous focus groups beloved of modern politics. They will have proved popular or he would not have risked them. What ever the omissions and commissions of EM this will all have been carefully thought through. One may not like his thinking; one may not be convinced by anything he says; one may believe the Conservatives will bounce back on the back of this and run away with the election. It is possible. but one thing is certain is that Miliband has thought about it all carefully.
The Media is now in full throttle over a tory landslide – I’ve seen 1986 mentioned and the other Thatcher triumph of 1983. This just does not feel like 1983 – or 1997 to be balanced. I can’t recall the 1920’s so I’m stuck with the early 1970’s. One thing I will say – I think turnout might be much higher than is expected. sometimes when people are really fed up they actually do vote.
In all this we must consider whether the electorate thinks more of the Conservatives than in 2010 and less of Labour. On balance I think the answer is no. They certainly think more of UKIP and the SNP and less of the LibDems. Chronic uncertainty chokes politics and politicians and makes for strange inexplicable political deaths of parties – ask the Liberals.
The relative closeness of the Scots referendum is another straw in the wind – it puts the Union on a precarious footing. The political reforms of this Parliament: to term and to election conventions; to the composition of the Commons; the AV referendum; the proposed reforms to the Lords; Police Commissioners and now English laws for English MP’s (which I take to be MP’s elected in English constituencies) hardly adds up to the sort of scale of change now needed to reinforce the Union. These were policies driven by party advantage – a fudging passing itself off as root and branch reform. In that they’re reminiscent of the reforms of the ancien regime in France before the Estates General was summoned in 1789 – tinkering too little too late to no real effect – and in that they will only serve to make voters more disengaged and more angry.
The undertow beneath all of all this foam is the nature of the last recession and its causes – the institutions we were told we could depend upon have catastrophically failed – they still govern us though we have no respect for them – we have no respect of the politics and politicians who serve these financial gangmasters – internationally it has included political parties both of left and right – and the nature of the recovery underway disillusions us – as does the illusions of fiscal deficits married to quantitative easing until one becomes the other and neither seems much to matter – the growth seems to hardly able to trickle down let alone percolate through the thick cream of privilege at the top of our society.
It could be David Cameron is the modern Baldwin and a landslide is on the way. It could be Miliband is Lansdowne and not Atlee. It could be Cameron is Hoover and well meaning austerity will be judged not to be enough. I must admit i do not see Miliband as FDR. but there are darker parallels from the Great depression lurking in the shadows.