Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Tory Bashing and Academic waffle are the limits of Ed Miliband’s leadership

The most memorable line in Peter Shaffer’s terrific 1984 film, Amadeus, comes after an audience have been treated to another of Mozart’s spectacular operas. At the conclusion Mozart is warmly congratulated by Emperor Joseph II, only to be told that his latest masterpiece contained “too many notes.” Mozart’s retort is both brilliant and arrogant, asking the Emperor to identify which such notes he should dispense with.

I won’t overburden him and describe Ed Miliband as the Mozart of the political world…but fast forward 200 years and a similar affliction affects the Labour leader.
There is quite simply something of the too many notes about him.

His Labour Party is overflowing with ideas. Full to bursting. Miliband’s stewardship has already come complete with a vision for a fairer, more responsible, capitalism. There’s a whole dossier outlining how he hopes to reformulate the state.
I can’t remember an opposition leader who’s tried to address so many issues all at once. Attacking rewards for failure, bankers’ bonuses, the need to share the spoils of victory, empowering local communities (find me a leader who hasn’t promised this over the last decade). It’s all there.

Early criticism that the party lacks ideas now looks foolish. The real problem is that the party has too many ideas. And yet on the one idea that matters, how it’ll do more with less should it win, it falls worryingly short.
From the moment he took over, Ed Miliband has had a lot to say about everything. His problem has been putting his thoughts down into a coherent sentence. One that someone whose only political act is voting in a general election can understand.

Last weekend, Labour MP John Mann (£) and other party figures finally articulated what any observer with half a brain knows and has been saying for the last couple of years. They warned Miliband of “trying to be too clever.” Now was time for some “understandable” policies.
Mann urged him to start speaking:

“The language of voters in Bassetlaw not academics in Hampstead. It’s talking clear, simple language that people understand. It’s all too clever at the moment. A reshuffle of his speechwriters would help.”
“We're trying to be too clever - too many nuanced messages to too many different people. It needs to able to address my constituents, and people like them around the country in simple unambiguous terms.”

When Ed Miliband wasn’t spending time delivering another academic-type lecture, he was wasting time in the early days of this parliament opposing. Opposing Tory cuts  - all of them – opposing public service reform (in education in particular).
Without articulating alternatives you are no better than a protest party. A party where people can register their discontent and anger.  Not a party ready to govern. Certainly not a party for the undecideds or the non tribals of this world.

Under Ed Miliband, Labour has become more tribal than ever before. Recent keynote speeches have summed up an obvious problem with his leadership: he is at his most comfortable when playing to the gallery. That is, when playing it safe, saying things that his party’s core base want to hear. Saying things that will get a rise, that will get his troops united in their loathing of the Tories and their Lib Dem puppets.
Which can work, but only to a limited extent.  You’re expending energy convincing people who are already convinced.

Last year’s Party Conference speech was a classic case in point. In his 2012 Conference speech, his demolition of the coalition – weakened and bruised after that year’s budget – was inch perfect.
Last year we should have got more of what a future Labour government would look like in another austerity parliament. Instead, we got another episode of Tory bashing. And Murdoch bashing. And NHS pedestal raising.  And of course the members lapped it up. This is why they came. But, they were all going to be voting Labour no matter what Ed Miliband said.

And so it’s continued. Heavily trailed speeches since have followed a similar pattern. If Miliband peaked during Conference 2012, Conference 2013 highlighted a leadership on the slide. The slide hasn’t stopped since.
Tory bashing only gets you so far because in the end, in order to win power, Labour might actually need the support of some of these Tories. And nobody likes to be bashed for long.

The leadership are behaving in much the same way as your average Labour activist on Twitter: uninterested in the constructive criticism and heavily defensive. What the hell do you know, they shout. We’re ahead in the polls. That line of attack is now a few months away from vanishing.
This first appeared on Speaker's Chair on Tuesday 25th March 2014

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